COBWEB CORNERS: Auctions at the train depot

By Mel McFarland

       When I watch auction programs on television, I think about this story I found in an Colorado City newspaper from about 100 years ago. One place to find bargains then was the railroad station. Occasionally the buyers got more than they bargained for, but usually it was much less. It was all due to unfortunate people who lost things, or merely forgot what they had.
       So what was the railroad selling? Mostly it was unclaimed baggage and freight. Sales happened about every six months, or whenever the pile of unclaimed items filled the space. Often the newspaper printed notices about such items, but if no one claimed them after a while they were put up for sale.
       Buyers sometimes lined up outside the baggage room to inspect the baggage or freight.
       At an appointed time an auctioneer would start the sale. It was rare to see bags go for much. Occasionally, as in many auctions, if there was something that looked attractive bidding might rise to the sky. If a buyer opened his purchase to find perfume, cosmetics, or clothing it might be more of a prize than maybe just dirty laundry. On the freight side, there might be a clue to the contents, but not always because shipping barrels were sometimes reused. A barrel that had once been used to ship crockery might be used to ship household items. A crate might contain a saddle, or just leather to make saddles!
       The railroad station on sale day was often as busy as any holiday, and it certainly had an excited crowd. The reporter also observed, in the Colorado City story I saw, that those who were disappointed in their purchases set up shop outside the Midland depot, trying to sell what they did not want.
       Railroads also had regular sales of items damaged in train wrecks. The items sometimes were covered by insurance, but that was less common than today!