WORTHINGTON — For nearly 40 years, Jack Sliver chanted his way through hay racks filled with household goods, antiques and tools. He’s auctioned off everything from coins and jewelry to furniture and guns, and now he’s setting aside his gavel and planning his next fishing trip.
On Saturday, Sliver conducted his last auction as part of the Prins-Sliver auction team. He retired just weeks shy of his 40th anniversary in the business.
“I probably should have retired a couple of years ago,” Sliver admitted a day before his final auction. “My legs have been bothering me. I’ve always said when it stopped being fun, it was time to get out of it.”
For the better part of three decades, it was a fun career for Sliver, who is quick to admit it’s a business that requires other work to supplement one’s income. For him, it was real estate and appraisals.
Getting his start
Sliver was working in advertising for the Worthington Daily Globe in the early 1980s, and he and his wife, Eunice, had an antiques business on the side. From time to time, he’d get calls to help set up auctions for auctioneers. After a while, he decided he’d like to break into the business.
Bob Vance, owner of the Globe at the time, gave his blessing — as long as Sliver’s sales didn’t slip.
With that, Sliver did what he was told — practice, practice, practice the auctioneer’s change. He did so when he was traveling to and from his advertising appointments and any other time he was in the car.
“I sold everything from stop signs to fence posts practicing with the chant you learn to pick up driving down the road,” Sliver said with a grin. “It’s just a matter of picking up filler words — Would ya give me?, Would ya bid, Would ya go? — you gotta have the filler words. It’s filler words and practice.”
Once he felt comfortable with the lingo, Sliver mentioned to some of his advertising clients that he was interested in doing auctions. His first auction was an estate for a downtown businessman’s mother.
Sliver, though, knew it was too big to do on his own, so he met with Lawrence Dirks, who at the time owned a used car dealership in Worthington. Dirks was willing to auction with Sliver, but he told Sliver he needed to get a sale first.
“I said I had one,” Sliver recalled, and Dirks was astonished.
It was the start of the Dirks-Sliver Auction Service.
It takes a team
Once Dirks and Sliver had their start, the jobs started coming in — three sales for a manufacturing company and sale at Hotel Thompson were in those early days of their career.
“I sold a wooden fire escape with a rope that you threw out from a second or third story window,” Sliver recalled of one of the Hotel Thompson auction pieces.
With his knowledge of antiques, Sliver soon began getting calls to handle those sorts of auctions — including one from a guy in Heron Lake who brought in an entire semi-trailer load of quality antiques from the East Coast.
“That opened the door for the antique sales,” Sliver said, noting he once sold a marble — the kind kids play with — for $1,750.
“We (he and Eunice) had the antique and household (knowledge) and Lawrence had a background in machinery as an Allis Chalmers dealer,” Sliver shared.
They made a good team, and it was made even better by their wives, who handled the clerking and bookkeeping duties.
Sliver is quick to admit he had a lot of good and faithful auction helpers through the years, and said the work wouldn’t have been possible without them.
A new partnership
Following the sudden death of Dirks after a brief illness, Sliver was in desperate need of help — good help. He had a machinery sale the day after Dirks’ death, and ended up bringing an auctioneer up from Iowa to help.
Alice Dirks wanted out of the business, and it was she who found Sliver his next auctioneering partner in Steve Prins.
“He was a third generation auctioneer,” Sliver said. “You couldn’t have picked a better partner. With Steve and Beth, we’ve had a great time.”
The two have worked side by side as auctioneers for the past 25 years.
“He enabled a young man to get started,” shared Prins. “I was right out of a machine shop and knew nothing about auctioneering. I owe him for my start-up.”
While Prins grew up around auctioneers — his dad and grandfather both operated a local livestock sales pavilion — it wasn’t something he saw himself doing.
“That was really a business that was not going to be long-term,” Prins said. “I needed something that was going to help me keep me in it. Jack had me get my real estate license and also my appraising license. I’ve been doing both of those since the late 1990s.”
“People ask if I ever find anything valuable, and yeah, we do,” Sliver said.
Most of the time, they are tipped off by family members who simply can’t find a family heirloom or the stash of money.
Sliver talked about prepping for one household sale in which the kids said silver coins were hidden in the house, but they couldn’t find them.
“The family had a jeweler’s safe with big double doors and they brought a guy in from out of town to open the safe,” Sliver recalled. “And it was full of booze.”
It was a couple of Sliver’s helpers that found the stash of coins — hidden inside paint cans and stacked underneath the basement stairwell.
“On the outside, it was marked as paint, and inside, they were full of silver coins,” Sliver shared.
In another instance in Fulda, a family couldn’t find their mother’s diamond ring when they were preparing for the estate sale. Eunice found the ring in a treadle sewing machine drawer, in a box with hearing aids.
“Just recently we were loading up a trailer in Round Lake and all of a sudden we heard a squeal,” Sliver shared. “Beth (Prins) and Sally Hibma were in the house and over $12,000 in $100 bills fell onto the floor.”
The money was stashed in a hidden drawer in a jewelry armoire, he added.
There are many other memories, as can be expected during a nearly 40-year career that began at the same time the 1980s farm crisis hit. Sliver recalled the time a group of Groundswell members showed up to protest at a farm sale — there wasn’t any trouble, and the Murray County Sheriff’s Office, Minnesota Highway Patrol and Slayton Police Department were on hand just in case.
Another time, a bidder stopped an auction to complain that he paid too much for a piece of equipment.
“Lawrence looked at him and said he should get off the yard,” Sliver said with a chuckle. “It’s been an interesting career.”