By Joel van der Veen
BLADWORTH — As Bill Burgess watched the collection of a lifetime hit the auction block last weekend, he seemed resigned to its fate.
“It’s not easy, you know,” he said, “but I realized it had to happen, so I thought we’d better do it now.”
Burgess’s collection of farm equipment, vehicles, tools and other paraphernalia, as well as the buildings that housed them all, was divested in a sale conducted by Manz’s Auctioneering Service on Bladworth’s main street on June 6.
The sale of the vast collection drew an equally enormous crowd from across Saskatchewan and Alberta, including multiple antique dealers.
Upwards of 250 bidders registered over the course of the day, and Jan Manz estimated that more than 500 people had come through to bid, glance over the items for sale or simpy watch the proceedings.
Manz said the sale date was booked last fall, giving their staff plenty of time to promote it but also leaving them at the mercy of the weather. Employees spent a total of four days sorting the items for sale.
“It was just going to have to go ahead,” she said, noting that aside from a brief windstorm on Friday night, the weekend weather was ideal for the sale. “We were lucky.”
Bladworth Mayor Ron Bessey observed that, aside from the village’s annual Sports Days, it was rare to see so much activity in town.
“I’d be lucky if I recognized half of the people here,” he said, adding that it was good to see such a large crowd and fortunate that the weather co-operated.
Barkley Prpick, who owns and operates Barkley’s Bar with his wife Tannis, said his establishment was enjoying the extra business.
His children and their friends were also selling ice cream from the patio; they could later be seen walking through the crowd to sell their wares.
Prpick said he has known Burgess for many years — both as a frequent presence in the village, and for his maintenance work in area schools — but added, “I don’t know what possesses a person to collect all of these things.”
His comments were echoed by others, including Don Wilkins of Girvin, who said he was “overwhelmed” as he looked through the collection.
“The last words I heard leaving the house were, ‘You don’t need anything,’” he added.
Among the featured items in Saturday’s auction were four vintage John Deere tractors restored by Burgess and still in working condition.
Mary Walker, who attended the sale with her husband Lee and other family members, recalled that the tractors were a frequent presence in Bladworth’s Sports Day parades.
The sale also included other farm implements, vehicles in various states of repair, tools, musical instruments, and a host of smaller items, ranging from fire extinguishers to bank calendars.
Four buildings also went up on the auction block, including the former pool hall in which Burgess had displayed some of his collection, and the Silver Lake schoolhouse, which he had converted to use as a workshop.
The buyers of the buildings were told to make arrangements either to purchase the underlying lots through the village office, or to have the buildings moved elsewhere.
Watching the progress of the sale with Bill Burgess was Kay, his wife of almost 64 years. Together the Burgesses raised six children; they now also have nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Bill and Kay were married in October 1951 and lived on the family farm, located 22 miles east of Bladworth, until 1959. They have lived in Imperial ever since.
After leaving the farm, Burgess worked as a carpenter, attending STI (now Saskatchewan Polytechnic) in Moose Jaw to get his certificates. As his first project, he was part of the crew that built St. Pius X Roman Catholic Church in Imperial.
In 1973 he became maintenance supervisor with the Davidson School Unit, remaining in that position for 21 years.
Burgess recalled how he would continually add to the collection, restoring some items and putting others on display in the old pool hall, which he called his “museum.”
Asked how she coped with her husband’s growing collection, Kay Burgess said that for the most part she wasn’t aware of it.
“I never knew he bought it,” said Kay, who turns 91 this year. “He would see these things all over the country, and if he wanted it, he bought it.”
Bill, who turns 87 in September, said he plans to keep busy working in his shop at home.
Greg Burgess, their second son, said most of the family had returned home for the auction. He added he was surprised at the extent of the collection.
“I didn’t think he had that much stuff,” he said. “Every building had something in it.”
Greg added that there were no “first dibs” for himself or his siblings. They were told that if they wanted anything, they had to show up and bid like everyone else.
And there was plenty of bidding going on. The tractors and buildings sold for thousands of dollars each, but even some of the smaller items attracted their share of bids.
A keychain collection numbering in the hundreds sold for $270; a collection of pins and buttons went for $70; a lot consisting of four bank calendars and a tobacco sign sold for $190.
Yet there were deals to be had. Trevor Mooney, a 12-year-old lad from Imperial, paid $55 for a black Gibson electric-acoustic guitar. The instrument needed some work, but Mooney was pleased with this purchase.
Another satisfied customer was Greg Prpich, a retired farmer who now raises bison four-and-a-half miles northeast of Bladworth.
Prpich paid $80 for a cloth banner once carried by Bladworth students, bearing the slogan “For King and Country”; he guessed that it dated back to at least the 1940s.
He said he has known Burgess for decades and remembered seeing the banner in his collection. He wasn’t sure what he would do with it but said it would be a unique souvenir.
“It’s my hometown,” said Prpich, adding, “I just wanted a keepsake to remind me of Bill.”