Nick Bennett congratulated Allison on his graduation from the Western College of Auctioneering (WCA) in Billings, Montana in 2017. Bennett is the president of WCA. Kate Loose photo.

Cariboo Calling: From pastime to passion, small-town auctioneer calls it like it is

‘If it wasn’t for cattle, I wouldn’t have a paycheque’

At the ripe age of 21, Russell Allison has already established himself as a well-known auctioneer throughout the province, but his passion for all things agriculture started back home in the little village of Clinton, British Columbia.

Allison attended Clinton Elementary School before it closed, and graduated from the kindergarten to Grade 12 school, David Stoddart, in 2016.

As a child, he participated in the local 4-H program, as many young people from Clinton do. Between 2009 and 2012, Allison participated in four market steer projects, one carcass steer project, and one photography project with the 4-H club.

“4-H helped with my public speaking a lot,” he recalled. “I think I won my category on speech day all four years.”

Those skills would take him far, as Allison went on to discover the world beyond his small town. Growing up in a ranching community like Clinton definitely coloured his choices to pursue a career connected to agriculture, though, he said.

“When I was five or six, pretty well every Tuesday that Kamloops had a sale through the summer [and] when I wasn’t at school, I would go with Grandpa to the sale and I’d sit there all day. That was when he was buying cattle for different feedlots in Alberta and that. He showed me a lot of the math that he had to do in order to price the cattle and figure out how he could make it work. Then we’d go out in the country and see what he was thinking of buying as well.”

Russell’s grandfather, Red Allison, is a prominent “old-timer” in the community, a label commonly bestowed upon local figures who have helped to shape the village of Clinton in some way, whether through volunteer involvements in community organizations and clubs or as respected ranchers in the area.

“Anything to do with a horse or a cow, he could tell you,” Allison said of his grandfather, Red.

Read more: Cariboo Calling: Portrait of a cowboy: Red Allison

Russell’s parents also played a role in influencing his love for agriculture. “They were the ones putting in the weekends taking me to rodeos and 4-H functions. It definitely gave me a jump start on knowledge of cattle because I was learning it from such a young age. I was told once if you want to make money, do something you know.

”That was about all I knew how to do,” he explained. “I went to school to be a welder and a heavy-duty mechanic, but here I am still. If it wasn’t for cattle, I wouldn’t have a paycheque.”

Allison graduated from the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Montana in 2017, but has actually been working on his craft for much longer. Prior to the completion of his official 10-day program, Allison spent years accruing a knowledge base through watching and listening to other auctioneers in person or online through YouTube videos.

“I just fell into this career so easily. It kind of grabbed me. When I finished my heavy-duty program I had a job waiting for me at Co-op because I had already worked there. I thought I’ll go and work there for a fall and I might find something else, but I haven’t found anything better yet, and I don’t know if I will.”

Allison said that he would love nothing more than to be an auctioneer full-time.

During his education as an auctioneer, the first thing Allison had to do was sell a rig. After that, he was told to forget everything he thought he knew.

“They strip you back to nothing and more or less teach you how to count,” he explained, referencing the auctioneer chant that is now a second language for him. “They give you a rhythm and teach you to count in increments.

“They call this the western rhythm and want you to keep in this cadence,” he said, demonstrating the chant on the spot.

Read more: Cariboo Calling: Cutting costs means losing cattle as expenses rise for B.C. ranchers

Most students who entered the auctioneering program already had a bit of a knowledge base, like Allison, who has been at it for almost seven years now. “I started working at the Co-op in 2013 and I was selling by then.”

He explained that in order to do charity sales and fundraisers, auctioneers don’t actually need a license or a bond.

“Anybody can just go and stand there and stutter their way through it, so that’s what I did for quite a while.”

He spent about five years learning through hands-on experience, but it was a close childhood friend who originally suggested that Allison give the auctioneer chant a shot.

“We were in Barriere,” he recalled. “I was sitting at the 4-H banquet after the Provincial Winter Fair, and there was a guy doing the sale.”

As they watched the experienced auctioneer together, his friend turned to him and said, “I bet you could do that.”

“I just kinda messed around with it,” Allison remembered. “Did a little rattle there, and his eyes got all wide and he said, ‘Oh, you can do that.’ So I just kept on working away at it until I got better and better.”

In total, 18 students participated in Allison’s auctioneer program in Montana, but just one participant was female. “There were two other Canadians there,” he added. “I was the youngest in the school at the time. The oldest guy would have been [about] 65.”

A major part of the course involved learning about the different types of auctions within the career field.

“There are guys that go just to be charity auctioneers,” Allison explained, “And fundraiser auctioneers, antique auctions and equipment sales, online auctions [where there’s] no bid-calling at all, just clicking a button to place your bid on the computer, but you’ve still got to learn how to run the program and do all the listings. It was just a touch on everything, but anything you need to know, they told you. Everything you need for setting up your own auction from start to finish.”

Related: Cariboo Calling: Swiss ranchers bring fame and buffalo to the South Cariboo

Allison is currently employed at the B.C. Livestock Producer’s Cooperative, commonly referred to as the Co-op. It recently had its first small animal and exotic livestock sale, he said.

“A lot of people say that you can’t make a full-time gig at auctioneering, but there [are] different ways,” he explained. “I have quite a few of my own charity and fundraiser sales.”

He has worked at the Clinton and District Outdoor Sportsman’s Association’s Wild Game Banquet, the Ducks Unlimited auction in Prince George, and also does three auctions per year for the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.

“I’ll go anywhere in B.C. Whoever calls me, I’ll go.”

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