Saturday, July 20, 2002

Auto auction

The site's new, but it's same ol' characters

        Somebody should make a movie of Warren County's Queen City auto auction.

        Held Fridays in Franklin on the grounds of the Adesa vehicle-auction complex, the sale to used-car dealers could be captured only by a filmmaker with a flair for the unusual and a taste for exhaust fumes.

        Someone like David Lynch would have plenty to work with.

        Colorful characters resemble the cars on the lot. Everything from polished luxury models to smoke-spewing clunkers.

        Cars are sold by the hundreds. Some go in seconds and cost slightly more than a hubcap.

        The auction has a long history. But not here.

New digs

        Friday marked the first Queen City sale at Adesa, one of a chain of auction lots.

        Two Fridays ago, the auction was held for the last time at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds.

        The site was home to the auction for 24 years. So many used car lots sprang up nearby, dealers dubbed the neighborhood, “Little Deee-troit.”

        Harold Pence has been the auctioneer at the Queen City sale for 22 years. He auctioned off the last car at the fairgrounds. He rang up the first car Friday in Franklin.

        First, he barked at the crowd for looking and not bidding.

        The dealers might have been suffering from culture shock.

        “I'm lost here,” said Dillard Hoskins. “It's so big and new.”

        Dillard was with Matt Russ, owner of Bimble Auto Sales.

        “We're in Bimble, Ky.” Matt said, adjusting his Vietnam Veteran ballcap. “It's just us, a gas station, feed store and a trailer selling cigarettes and other stuff that'll kill you.”

        Dillard nodded and yawned.

        “Had to be up at 4 a.m. to get here. We're near Tennessee in the hills where people like what feels like home. That's why we feel lost up here and miss the old place down there.”

        The difference between Dillard's “here” and “there” is mighty.

        The Adesa site is computerized and huge. Eight lanes of cars can run through a viewing arena the size of a warehouse. Every year the Franklin auction house moves 50,000 cars.

        At the fairgrounds, a pad of paper held by office manager Katie Schwarte functioned as the auction's laptop.

        “We sold 15,000 cars a year,” said Ron Johnson, the auction's former owner and now Adesa's general sales manger.

        At the fairgrounds, two lanes of cars squeezed into a barn built to hold rabbits and poultry during the county fair.

        The low-end cars at the auction earned the barn its nickname: Bay of Pigs.

Giving a sign

        The bay attracted Tristate dealers as well as one from as far away as Nigeria.

        On the final Friday at the fairgrounds, Azuka Okafor, a native of Nigeria, bid on cars for his Madisonville lot, American Auto Brokers.

        Wearing a Montreal Expos cap, he gave a thumbs-up sign every time he made a bid.

        Other dealers signaled with a pull on the earlobe, a tug at a mustache, a twitch.

        “Everybody has a signal,” said Rodney Zinck. And, he's seen them all. For 20 years, he's been Harold Pence's ring man.

        At Friday's auction, Harold sat on a riser called the block. Rodney stood by the car in the lane or ring. When someone signaled a bid, Rodney pointed their way and yelped, “Yes!”

        Grace Anderson, the only female dealer and black woman in attendance, bid with a wave.

        “As the auction goes on,” said the dealer for Budd's Automotive in Walnut Hills, “I'll nod my head. Or wink.”

        Although she likes the auction's new home, she misses the old barn.

        “Everybody knew everyone's name there,” she said. “Here we have to wear name tags.”

        Still, she intends to return Friday to Franklin with the same cast of characters.

        Get ready. Roll the cameras.

        Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail:



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