By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
When Larry Brannian was young, he had two goals: to be a cowboy, and to be an auctioneer.
In his 81 years, he has accomplished both, spectacularly.
Brannian was named the Wyoming State Auctioneering Champion in 2000 and 2010, which also is the year he was inducted into the Wyoming Auctioneers Hall of Fame. He also was named the Montana-Wyoming Champion in 2016.
And as a cowboy, Brannian told Cowboy State Daily he has more championship buckles than he knows what to do with.
“At last count, I had like 90-some buckles and two or three saddles,” he said, adding he competed in all five of the major rodeo events.
“I’ve worked the bareback ridin’, the saddle bronc ridin’, the bull ridin’, the calf ropin’ and the steer wrestlin’,” he said.
Growing up in Iowa, Brannian said the only way to be a cowboy was to participate in county fairs.
“Every county fair had a rodeo or a demolition derby or a tractor pull,” Brannian said. “And I didn’t want to get hurt in a car wreck and I didn’t like tractors, so I started rodeoin’.”
But Brannian was drawn toward the auction business because one man took an interest in him.
“When I would walk in and that auctioneer was busy selling, if there was a 5-second lull, he’d look over at me and say, ‘Good morning, Larry, it’s nice to see you today. Thank you for bringing your grandpa with you,’” Brannian recalled. “He acknowledged me. He wore a big white hat.
“He was clear as a bell, and he spoke like the man on the 10 o’clock news. I could understand every word that he said when he was selling.”
That man, Col. Joe Reisch, became Brannian’s mentor and his model of the ideal auctioneer.
He said he knew that when he grew up, he wanted to be an auctioneer, which is what led him to the Reisch Auction College in Mason City, Iowa.
What The Pros Know
There he learned the fine points of auctioneering, which is about more than just speaking quickly and clearly.
One instructor at Reisch was an opera singer, who taught the students how, when and where to breathe.
“She probably taught me more in 15 minutes than the cattle auctioneers and the real estate auctioneers and the farm machinery auctioneers ever taught me total,” said Brannian.
Reisch also stressed the importance of acting – and dressing – like a professional.
“I was eating lunch at the cafeteria, and he came by and laid his hand on my shoulder and he said, ‘Col. Brannian, before you come back to class, after lunch, you go to your room and put on a pair of dress pants,’” Brannian said. “And I said, ‘Col. Joe, I’ve got on the best pair of jeans on that I own.’
“And he said, ‘Well, you better come out and get in the car with me and we’re gonna take you downtown.’ He took me downtown, made me buy a pair of tan dress pants, and they cost $9 – and I only had $12 to my name.”
Success In Iowa
The strict culture at Reisch’s school was worth it to Brannian, who proudly graduated from auctioneering college in August 1970. He and his young wife, Eva, began their own auction company and found their niche in unique auctions, with a theatrical flair.
The uniqueness came out of necessity, Brannian said.
“One day my pickup blew up and woke my wife up about 3 in the morning,” he said. “So, I said, ‘I’ve got an idea how we can buy a new pickup.’ And she said, ’We don’t have the money to buy a pickup, let alone get that one fixed.’
“And I said, ‘We’re going to have an exotic animal auction.’”
There was only one problem, in Eva’s mind – she told Brannian there were no exotic animals in Iowa. But Brannian proved her wrong.
“I started to call on zoos and people that had game farms, and we had a barnburner,” he said. “I sold African lions, water buffalo, pythons, monkeys – I mean, we sold bears. We sold everything.”
Brannian said he advertised “to the hilt, and you couldn’t move for people. And I’ll tell you on Monday, we bought a brand new pickup.”
Brannian’s flair for theatrics began gathering attention in the northwest corner of Iowa with people wondering what he would sell next.
Shortly after he graduated from auction school, Brannian started telling folks that he was going to hold what he called a “hillbilly auction.”
“I said we’re going to sell coon dogs, barn cats, goats, pigs – everything that’s got a marketable value,” he said. “And man, we had a crowd.”
Because he called it a “hillbilly auction,” he and Eva dressed the part.
“I carried a single-shot shotgun, they had a coon dog tied to my hip with a piece of binder twine,” he said. “My wife had little short shorts with a tank top, she was Daisy Mae. I had a straw hat with no top in it and bib overalls cut off at the knees.”
That day, Brannian sold machinery, trucks, trailers and even old, dirty couches.
“I had somebody deliver an old couch that the cats had slept on and tore up, and I knew I wouldn’t get a bid on it,” he said.
So, he turned the auction around, starting the bidding high and going lower.
“They had never heard an auctioneer sell bass-ackwards in their life,” he said. “I started high and run backwards as quick as I could. And finally, three hands flew in the air and I sold the couch for $10 – and I didn’t have to haul it to the dump.”
Brannian said while in Iowa, he and Eva (who had her own clerking business that worked hand-in-hand with Brannian’s auctioneering) sold everything from farm equipment to estates and were quite successful.
Then they decided to move West.
Go West, Young Man
As successful as he had become in Iowa, Brannian’s future had more Manifest Destiny to it.
As a rodeo cowboy, he had visited Wyoming several times in the 1970s, and he and his wife made the decision in the late 1970s to move to the base of the Bighorn Mountains in Buffalo.
Although he had secured work as a ranch hand, his horse trailer proudly displayed his title as an auctioneer. That got the attention of an “old auctioneer,” who gruffly approached him one day shortly after they arrived in Buffalo.
“He said, ‘I see on your horse trailer it says you’re an auctioneer,’” Brannian recalled. “‘Are you a fly-by-night or are you planning on staying?’ I said, ‘I moved here to make a living and live the rest of my life in Buffalo.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve got a sale Saturday. Why don’t you come and help me.’”
That “old auctioneer,” O.J. Mader, took Brannian under his wing and helped him launch his business, Brannian Auction, LLC.
Brannian introduced his daughter, Debbie, to the auctioneering business when she was just a little girl.
“We drew people from miles around because there were no lady auctioneers,” he said. “She was 10 years old and had blonde hair and pigtails. And by the time she was 12, she was selling cattle in the sale barn with me – up there selling to professional buyers.”
Brannian’s successful business has since expanded to include his two sons-in-law, Dave Cates and Dan Gay (who was named state champion auctioneer in 2009), as well as his grandson, Jacob Gay (who earned the state title in 2013).
But even before bringing in more generations, Brannian said his wife was his equal partner throughout their careers.
“My wife and I both are Hall of Fame members in the Wyoming Auctioneers Association,” he said. “It takes two. I couldn’t have done a thing without her. She did the advertising, made sure the deadlines were met. She would email the ads and proof them and make sure that I was on schedule. She was a big asset for me.”
A few years ago, Eva sold her business to Jacob’s wife, Cristen, and Larry handed off the auctioneering to Jacob.
“My grandson Jacob, I started him when he was 10 years old,” Brannian said. “I took him to the sale barn with me and taught him how to sell cattle.”
Brannian proudly reports that Jacob graduated from the same auction school that Larry did all those years ago.
“He is one of the best bid callers I’ve ever listened to,” said Brannian.
Since he started auctioneering in the 1970s, Brannian said the internet has changed the way people buy and sell.
“I didn’t believe in them (at first),” Brannian said of online auctions. “But I’ll tell you, we believe in them now, because you can reach out so much further, and the prices are good. And it’s easy to ship.”
Brannian attributes the success of his business to honesty.
“Our biggest asset is being 110% honest,” he said. “That’s just the way we run our business, and it’ll pay for itself in the long run.”
And although Brannian has “slowed down,” he’s still active in the business he began 52 years ago.
“When the boys have big auctions, big farm sales and big antique auctions that run all day, trust me, I am there,” he said. “They’re polite, they ask me to come. They may not need me, but they ask me to come.”