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'Auctioneer Idol'

LANESBORO — What prepares a person for a career as auctioneer?

"They say you can throw a handful of marbles in your mouth," said Paul Witte. "And when you get done spitting them all out, you're an auctioneer."

Witte, 50, of Lake City was one of 27 contestants in the Greater Midwest Livestock Auctioneer Championship Saturday at Lanesboro Sales Commission.

Part frenetic sale of mooing merchandise, part cowboy-hatted version of "American Idol," the event conducted the sale of some 2,500 head of locally raised cattle.

Meanwhile, judges scored contestants from nine states on qualities including their voice clarity, poise, and how well they catch bids and expedite sales.


Witte was one of two area contestants. Murt Boyum of Rushford was the other.

Boyum, 62, made the cut of 10 finalists.

"That isn't the almighty important thing to me," Boyum said. "It's to promote the cattle business and show off your wares a little bit.

"You do have to have a certain knack and a personality," he said.

Boyum's ceaseless staccato barrage, punctuated by winks and a gap-toothed grin, is a style all his own, developed during four decades in the business.

"I just picked it up on my own," he said. "Every time I'd be in my car or by myself I'd practice. I've had different chants over the years, and I've kind of settled into this one."

"You've got to have some heart in it (auctioneering)," Boyum said. "I figure the day you never get nervous … if you call it just another sale, that's probably the time you should get out.

"Every man's cattle and every man's possessions that he sells is the most important thing in the world at that time to him. You've got to treat each and every one the same."


Like Boyum, Witte, who works full time at the Central Livestock Sale Barn in Zumbrota and is a board member of the Minnesota State Auctioneers Association, came to auctioneering in childhood, through his father's interest in it.

"I was the one that rode in the pickup with him and went to sale day," Witte said.

He attended Mason City Auctioneering School, graduating in 1990. A Wisconsin native, he won the Wisconsin Junior Bid Caller contest in 1992. He's been a participant, off and on, in the Greater Midwest Contest since 1993. This was his fourth.

"I thought we'd better jump in and get our feet wet again," he said.

A round of competition takes just about five minutes.

"It goes really fast," Witte said. "You just get warmed up, and you find out you're just about done."

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