Curtis Smelker never knows what he’ll be auctioning off on any given Friday night at Wellington Auction Service, 3739 Cleveland Avenue in the center of downtown Wellington. What he does know is that what comes in during the week will indeed go out on Friday night so there will be room for another batch of items the following Friday.
Since 2004, when he took over from his dad, Gary, Curtis has been full-time in the business of selling the stuff people no longer need or want to those intent on having it, as either collectors or users. Wellington Auction Service has always been a family business. As early as 1986, Curtis went off to auctioneer school in Kansas City, Missouri where he learned the fine points of the auctioneer’s “chant.”
Today his wife Milly, mother Lela, and daughters Elizabeth and Margaret, both students at Wellington Middle School, work together in the business. The women in his life do everything from keeping the books and taking in the money on Friday nights to answering the phone and giving the bleachers back of the premier auction seating a new coat of red paint. Together they are working on a redo of the auction hall’s bathroom.
Curtis never turns an item away. Whatever it is, he knows there’s someone out there who will buy it. The seller takes his chances on what his items will bring. Nothing on the floor in the auction house is for immediate sale. Curtis makes a commitment to everyone who brings items to his auction to run them across the auction block. Visitors can look all they want during the week but must wait until auction time to make a purchase.
The front rows of seats in the auction area of the building are plush and comfortable. Many of them are marked with the names of “regulars” who claim them most Friday nights. “We used to open for inspection at 9 a.m. the day of the auction,” Lela explained. “These days we don’t open until 2 p.m. and that’s when people begin to congregate.”
That gives auction goers three hours to check out the items going on the block that night and perhaps enjoy a meal somewhere along Cleveland Avenue. Smelkers’ Friday night auctions have become a staple of local entertainment and regularly go on until midnight. “We’ve even gone as late as 3 a.m.,” Curtis said.
On July 8, he was getting ready to auction off an unusually large number of consignments. Because he’d been busy with Fourth of July activities the week before, and did not hold an auction July 3. Instead he was preparing to serve as master of ceremonies for the Wellington Fourth of July Parade and to participate in the dirt drag later in the day with his favorite Bronco. His daughter, Elizabeth, sang the national anthem to start the parade.
Here’s a small sampling of what went up for sale on July 10 billed as a “unique and antique” auction: an Atlas machine lathe, air compressor, radial arm saw, arc welder, oak roll-top desk, washtub, lantern, knives, milk cans, dolls, glassware and kitchen items, deer horns and a treadmill.
“See those pictures on the wall,” Lela said, pointing across the room and singling out a big metal sign that read ‘drinking water.’ They’ll all be gone and replaced by a new bunch next week.
Curtis obviously loves the work he does. While to the outsider the bookkeeping looks tricky, he claims to have a workable system down. “The hardest part is managing the weekly turnover,” he said. “All my inventory is gone every Friday.”
One of the things he likes about his work is the fact that every week is different. One week tools will be the featured items, the next week it might be knickknacks and railroad collectibles. “It’s whatever shows up at the door,” he said.
He’s proud of the fact that his daughters are enthusiastic about the family-run business. In addition to helping out wherever they can, they are both active in 4H and the performing arts (singing and dancing) and they raise and show rabbits.
The welfare of his hometown is important to Curtis. He has a positive attitude toward growth but has some concerns about the viability of Wellington as a destination for tourists seeking out retail shops with some charm, appealing products and committed to remaining open seven days a week.
His is a business with its own degree of funky charm. He knows of no other auction houses close by and he knows for certain that things will be hopping every Friday night on the 3000 block of Cleveland Avenue, Main Street in Wellington.