It's said the average auctioneer can jam up to 400 words into a single minute. But that’s only when the mic is hot, adds Warren Thompson. He would never try fast-talking his wife, Sherry.
“She keeps me in line. If I get to rattling off too fast around her, she’ll sure straighten me out about it,” he said.
Thompson is a celebrated auctioneer who makes his home in the Riverton-Lander area where he has fast-talked his way through a Fremont County fair or two ... or 50, depending on who’s counting.
Thompson said he couldn’t verify that number, but it’s probably pretty close. He’s been rocking the mic since “Bonanza” was the top-rated TV show on Tuesday nights.
When the fair wrapped this season, Thompson was presented with a belt buckle commemorating 50 years of volunteering with the livestock auction at the Fremont County Fair. Junior Livestock Sale Board Chair Carmen Vasco said he’s been the “go to” guy since she can remember.
Auctioneering isn’t all just fast-talk. After all, how effective is the motor-mouth announcer who runs down a laundry list of a novice pill’s side-effects in the fine-print disclaimer?
Auctioneering is an art. It is a learned people skill that is fast going-going-gone into Americana obscurity.
“The main thing is knowing people,” Thompson said. “In any auction the buyers have different angles on how they think. In a 4-H livestock sale, it’s knowing the kids and their families. When you might interject something about the kid or use some humor, that’s all an important part of it.”
Vasco said Thompson’s connection to community is immeasurable.
“He’s a Fremont County native and prominent member of the community. He truly knows all the different family operations in the cattle and ag industry here,” Vasco said. “When a new family moves in that maybe doesn’t have that background, he still finds a way — whether it is through humor or the use of his words — to make the sale experience pleasant and profitable for all.”
Thanks to Thompson’s hammer-dropping skills, the fair has brought in more than $20 million in total sales during his run.
Thompson’s son, Ty, marvels at how well his dad works bidders.
“There is a lot more to it than the chant,” Ty said. “My dad is a master at relating to the buyer, being able to relate to him, jab at him with humor. Let’s just say, I don’t think there is any better auctioneer in the country for one-bidder sale.”
The American Medical Association hasn’t weighed in, but it’s believed auctioneering is hereditary — most catching the bug from their fathers.
In Thompson’s case, his son Ty and grandson Jace are also in the biz. But Thompson come by his cattle rattle the hard way.
“I grew up on a small farm in Hudson. My dad would always go to auction and from the first time, I loved the auctioneer,” Thompson said. “That’s all I wanted to do all my life. I would skip school on Wednesdays to go watch the sale barn.”
Thompson’s life story sounds lifted straight from the Leroy Van Dyke song “The Auctioneer,” released when the Fremont County native was in elementary school.
Thompson worked on his style, taking what he could from local bid callers and adding his own flair. As a senior in high school, Thompson would get a chance to call a sale or two for baby calves and machinery for Bob Woods in Lander.
Longtime horseman Lonnie Mantle convinced the Petsch brothers, Jack and Jim, to give a teenaged Thompson a try as well, and that was the big break the blossoming bid caller needed to get a foot in the business.
Thompson went to a school in Billings to polish the rough edges and was in high demand soon after.
He and his wife Sherry run WS Livestock Inc. full-time, buying, selling and shipping cattle throughout the state and beyond. Recognized immediately by his cowboy-hatted Harry Caray look, Thompson is the kind of Wyoming cowboy who always has some kind of stock trailer hitched to his pickup.
Living and breathing the industry, Thompson knows his lots better than a third-generation antique dealer calling a Connecticut estate sale for Christie’s.
“You need to know the market, and the quality of the cattle, and the reputation of the seller,” Thompson says.
Though times have changed since that first 4-H sale at the Fremont County Fair. Thompson has rolled with times and always gets top price.
“Our county has been really blessed. We’ve had record-breaking years after record-breaking years. Since Warren has been volunteering, he has brought in more than $20 million for us. That speaks volumes,” Vasco says.
Thompson remembers that first sale, and all the rest. The constant through the years, he said, is the community.
“It was a lot different back then. Not near as many attended, maybe 50 lots total, 30 or 40 kids. Money wasn’t as available. And it was a little harder to sell,” Thompson recalled. “Now they got maybe a hundred steers, hundred hogs and hundred sheep. What really makes it nice is the local businesses really support the kids. It shows how this community comes together.”
Many new to the “sport” of auctioneering can be intimidated by the biding process. A careless adjustment of a hat could have you taking home a $3,000 pig or a $30,000 Ming vase, right?
Not to worry, Thompson and his ringmen can usually spot a true bid from a stifled sneeze.
“Most buyers are pros. They will just flip their finger or wink at you,” Thompson says. “Sometimes I might like to have fun with someone who I know didn’t mean to bid by pointing at them and saying, ‘Money’s here,’ or something.”
The auctioneer’s chant is the calling of two numbers — the last bid and the current asking price — with plenty of fast-paced, slurred filler words in between. The rhythmic, almost hypnotic staccato delivery is the soundtrack to an arena dance between bovine and buyers, spat with machine-gun fire rapidity to give the illusion of urgency.
Warren’s son Ty is now into a three-decade-long career.
The Billings-based barker loved being around the stockyards and took to the cattle side of things as well as anyone, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to follow in dad’s footsteps, at least not right away.
“I wanted to try something different when I was younger, but six months out of high school there I was, auctioneering like my dad,” he said.
By 1992, he had quit college and went full bore into auctioneering six days a week. He won the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship in 2009 and continues the trade today.
Ty’s son Jace brought home Rookie of the Year honors at the 2023 Calgary Stampede International Livestock Auctioneer Championship while finishing third overall.
Ty said his 20-year-old son has a natural gift for developing a smooth cadence and is already showing the kind of chops that make a champion caller.
“It’s an impressive dynasty, that Thompson family,” Vasco said.
Patriarch Warren Thompson probably has another year or more in him if he should get the call again from the Fremont County junior livestock sale board.
“Yeah, I think so. As long as my health holds out,” he said about 2024 plans. Of course, it’s all up to Lynette [Jeffres] and Carmen.”
Vasco sees no end in sight for a man that risen to the status of legend in Fremont.
“I feel the vision of the board is to have him back,” Vasco said. “Like so many of us, I grew up with him at the county fair auction. There has never been anyone else with his connection to the community. He’ll probably do it until he can’t.”