GRANTS PASS, Ore. — For the past 40 years, Wayne Liska has auctioned off an incredible variety of property, including guns, vehicles and land.
Almost an institution in Southern Oregon, he has served as auctioneer at estate sales, bankruptcy liquidations and charity benefits, calling out for bids in a voice that carried well.
On Saturday, for perhaps the last time, Liska auctioned off a few items for old times’ sake — his own.
He’s retiring, and he and his wife, Barbara, are getting into their motor home and moving to Arizona “to go fishing.”
A hundred or more visitors showed up at his home west of Grants Pass to take away treasures or just a memory.
“Kind of a new adventure in life,” Liska told the crowd.
The last item he sold before allowing another auctioneer to take over was a small cast iron pot.
“Hey-what-do-you-give-for-it?” he began, using the distinctive fast-paced speech of an auctioneer.
Bidding ebbed and flowed, with audience members calling out bids and Liska encouraging them. And soon it was over.
“Sold, at $30!” he said finally.
He then handed the microphone to fellow auctioneer Bryon Millard, who thanked him for all he’s done, as the crowd applauded.
“He helped out a lot of people, a lot of families,” Millard said.
“It’s hard to walk away from a business you’ve been doing for 40 years,” Liska said. “I’m 82 years old and it’s time to move on.”
In the quiet of his nearby home, Liska spoke about his craft, learned at the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Mont., and refined by learning from others and practicing often. He would even practice while driving down the freeway, “selling everything down the road.”
“Be very clear, so people can understand you,” he said. “Clarity is the most important thing.”
If not, people won’t bid.
Liska, originally from the Dakotas, described himself as a country redneck but street smart in the auction business. He said he built his business by being honest and friendly.
“People have got to like you,” he said.
He said Grants Pass was the best town for an auctioneer, and that people here were auction-oriented.
Barbara, his wife of 33 years, said they started with nothing and built a business that was good to them. She served as bookkeeper. Profits were invested and their retirement will be comfortable.
Their show horses already have been sent south, where it’s warmer, much to Barbara’s liking. They’ll be taking their boat with them, along with their shooting bench. Wayne’s poker table is making the move, too. He said he’ll miss his single-seat, four-wheeled ATV that was auctioned off Saturday, but vowed to buy a two-seated, side-by-side replacement. They’re moving to Cave Creek, near Scottsdale.
As Liska spoke, his wife wiped away tears. He wrapped an arm around her as he told a few stories, including one about a 7-year-old boy named Max who dogged him years ago to teach him the craft. Max even offered him $12.50 for his trouble.
Yes, he told the boy, he would teach him, on the condition that the lad would engage in no smoking, no tattoos and no earrings. The boy agreed, and Liska “taught him everything.”
Max’s first auction, at age 8, brought down the house when the youngster sold a rifle scope during a hunters association benefit, calling out for bids while standing on a table, a cowboy hat on his head, like Liska would wear. Liska later bought Max a big $250 belt buckle the lad coveted, similar to the state grand champion auctioneer buckle Liska won in a competition and wore on Saturday.
Max, now grown, is still calling auctions, in California.
“He still owes me $12.50,” Liska said.
Liska has encouraged others in the profession, including Debbie Thomason, owner of the Galice Resort and an avid auctioneer. Thomason, now in her 50s, was 16 years old and working as a waitress at the Red Baron restaurant that her folks managed on the north end of town when Liska would drop by regularly from his job, then at a nearby gas station. She remembers his excitement when he told her about his decision to go to auctioneering school.
“He was thinking about doing something with his life,” said Thomason, who was part of Saturday’s crowd.
She also recalled the time he helped her raise $1,600 to attend a high school 4-H conference in Washington, D.C., by serving as an auctioneer at a fundraiser for her. He had told her to collect all the donated items she could from friends and family, and then he auctioned them off to a big crowd in the Allen Dale Elementary gym, not only raising money for her, but enough to help send four other 4-Hers to another conference.
Thomason eventually attended the same auctioneer college that Liska attended. The course of study wasn’t long: it lasted 10 days, 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. She said the school emphasized integrity and professionalism.
Thomason, who is selling the resort and continuing with auctioneering, walked away Saturday wearing a jacket stitched with the words “Wayne Liska Auctioneers.”
“The name Liska is huge,” she said.
One of Liska’s longtime customers, Jack Eubanks, also was there Saturday. He said he “never saw anything go bad in any way” with Liska, whom he described as very conscientious.
“I really enjoyed knowing the man,” Eubanks said.
Former Liska office manager Suzie Shoemaker was there, too. She said Liska’s business expanded as he used the Internet, but that he was still grounded enough to do charity benefits after putting in a long day.
“He was good for the community and the community was good for him,” she said. “He worked hard all his life.”
Among the items sold Saturday was Liska’s yellow 1977 Chevrolet Corvette. It went for $6,350 to Patrick Mc Carthy of Central Point, who said his wife was going to kill him for making the purchase.
Mc Carthy vowed to continue the car’s restoration work begun by Liska.
“It’s a beautiful car,” he said. “I’ve always wanted a Corvette.”
Bidding on the car had gone back and forth before the other party gave in and Mc Carthy got his treasure.
“I got it for $50 more than they wanted to spend,” he said.
Information from: Daily Courier, http://www.thedailycourier.com