The last time I'd gone to an auction at a farm, I was a boy living on a small farm in Colorado during an era when family farms were shutting down. I learned some valuable lessons from my father. Go in with a price in your head and don't get caught up in auction fever. When bidding gets above your price, move on. Otherwise, your own farm may end up like this one.

I tried my darndest to follow these words of wisdom this past weekend at the Hoffman Nursury liquidation auction. Mr. Hoffman died earlier this year and the family decided to sell off the 60-plus years of plants, equipment and junk that had gathered at the place. Everything, even the soil and rocks, were for sale.

Curious, I decided to go and check out a small, innocuous item mentioned in the auction list. As a newspaperman, I have always fancied the idea of collecting lead type, and the printing press and lead letter cabinets mentioned held some nostalgia of the old ways for me. There were five big cabinets, a nonfunctioning press, a paper shear and numerous boxes filled with wood type, lead, printing blocks, spiders and probably Hantavirus. All had been pulled out of the corner of the back barn where it looked as if it had sat for at least 20 years, gnawed on by farm rats and gophers. It was in bad shape, but some of it could be salvaged. Maybe.

Listening to the antique dealers talk about the cabinets, each with numerous skinny drawers holding complete sets of lead type, I was encouraged. They wanted the drawers. I wanted the lead type. But if I worked a deal for the type, where would I put it? I needed the drawers, too, and I was damned if I was going to let them melt all those letters down for fishing weights, as I heard one bidder mention.

The bidding was tough. I let the first two cabinets go, unwilling to pay the top price. But I wasn't going to let the next two, or the big double-wide cabinet in the barn, slip by. Now I have almost a ton of lead type and no press to print it on. So, if you have an old press in the garage--or the barn--let me know. I just might bid on it. I've got a price in mind, but I warn you, it isn't much.

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