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Fast talkin' Perham auctioneer Mitch Barthel competes for world livestock hawking title

By Louis Hoglund and Jonathan Knutson

Forum Communications

He may not have finished in the top 10, but Perham-New York Mills area auctioneer Mitch Barthel's experience at the 46th annual World Livestock Auctioneer Championship was a rewarding one.

Barthel was one of 33 contestants in the Auctioneer Championship, which was held Saturday in Fergus Falls.

"It was a great experience," said Barthel, of Perham Stockyards. "I learned a lot, and have a few things I'm going to implement in my sales."

Aucioneering is the art of selling---rapidly. And it takes fast talking.

"The goal is to sell a lot of stuff in a short period of time, so you have to talk really fast," said Barthel. "I'll sell a cow every 60 seconds...I'll sell 200 cows in 200 minutes. If you don't go fast, you might be there all day."

Auctioneer Nick Caspers' rich, deep voice is quiet and low-key in everyday conversation.

But when he's earning his living, his voice jumps into hyperdrive, generating the rhythmic chanting of a professional auctioneer.

"There's a reason we do it. We're building excitement for the sale," Caspers, a Hecla, S.D., auctioneer said of his profession's fast-talking ways.

The event was a highlight of the Livestock Marketing Association's annual convention held in Fargo.

Contestants are judged by an interview, by voice quality, expedition of sale and other factors, said Barthel.

Appearance is one of the criteria.

"You're required to wear a jacket and a tie," said Barthel, who also wore a western hat.

So, did he tie his own tie?

"Naw," laughed Barthel. "My mother-in-law tied it for me. I just slipped it over my head after she tied it."

Barthel, who qualified for the world contest after winning in a tough field in the Billings, Montana, quarter-final contest, scored well in virtually all categories.

Another judging area is "bid catching."

"Some guys bid with a wink or a wiggle of the ear--and you have to catch all of that."

For the auction contestants, the event is a really big deal.

"It's like the Super Bowl. It's like the Miss America contest," said Justin Dodson, a Welch, Okla., auctioneer competing in the event for the 11th time.

A total of 32 contestants who competed Saturday qualified through regional contests conducted last year.

Saturday's event featured an actual livestock auction in which the contestants took turns leading.

The judging criteria included the clarity of their chant, vocal quality, bid-catching ability and conduct of the sale, said John McBride, the association's director of information.

Dodson said has worked long and hard at his craft, even listening to recordings of top auctioneers.

Barthel, now 34, he's been an auctioneer since he was 16.

And how does someone become an auctioneer?

"That's like asking how someone becomes a doctor or a baseball player," he said.

Barthel said he's been involved in the livestock auction industry most of his life and always looked for opportunities to work as an auctioneer. Barthel is a New York Mills High School graduate, and owner of Perham Stockyards.

The world championship has never been held in North Dakota and only once (in 1981 in St. Paul) in Minnesota, McBride said.

Last year's convention and contest were held in the Sioux Falls, S.D., area.

This year's contest was held at the Fergus Falls Livestock Auction Market.

Owner Joe Varner said he's long wanted to bring the championship to this area.

The winner of the world title was Ty Thompson.

The Billings, Mont., auctioneer won the 46th annual contest Saturday.

Thirty-three auctioneers were competing for the title.

Next year, Barthel, hopes to again be one of those 33 qualifiers--but this time, finish in the top ten.

Jonathan Knutson is a reporter with Forum Communications. Louis Hoglund is editor-publisher of the Perham Enterprise Bulletin and New York Mills Herald.