HAMILTON TOWNSHIP - The white truck pulled up to the 15 wirebound pallet-loads of slate. Any of these would sell for hundreds of dollars in a home and garden store.
But here, on the dusty lot of the Atlantic City Race Course, they're about to go for a whole lot less.
"Do I hear a thousand? Thousand-thousand-thousand-thousand?" chanted Jack Lyon, on the back of the white box on the truck, painted "Jack-in-the-box." The crowd of 100 or so bidders milled around, murmuring, uninterested.
After Lyon's prices fell as low as $150 per pallet-load, bidding began, and the price slowly reached $225, or $3,375 for all. The winning bidder approached the truck, which already had begun slowly rolling, as the audience followed it.
Millions of dollars of used construction equipment and supplies are auctioned off every few months in the parking lot of the all-but-abandoned racetrack, attracting dozens of people from around the world who seek out this out-of-the-way site.
The company, Alex Lyon & Son Auctioneers, was founded as a livestock auction in 1950 near Syracuse, N.Y. Over the years, its business expanded, and company President Jack Lyon said in an earlier interview it started its Atlantic City Race Course auctions in 1989.
It now holds local auctions four times a year, focusing primarily on recent construction equipment. They use more than a dozen other venues around the country.
The Atlantic City auction is especially important.
It is within 100 miles of both the Port of Philadelphia and the Port of New York and New Jersey, making international shipment easy, Lyon said.
And people take advantage of that. At the three-day March auction at the Atlantic City Race Course, the company's largest, he said buyers represented 20 to 25 countries.
The auctions have picked up in recent years, as construction crew companies, idled by the recession, looked to off-load some of their gear. Lyon said, "You can't change the old adage - cash is king."
The auctions are open to all and draw a wide array of people.
In August, the day before the auction, Gloria and James Schiavo stood at one side as their 13-year-old son, Nick, tested out a front-end loader, moving the bucket up and down.
"I like it," Nick said from the cabin. "It's fun."
The Brigantine residents visit the grounds the day before many auctions, looking at what's going up for bid. James, a union plumber, has bid on gear before.
Gesturing to his son, James said that when he worked on the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, he would take his son to the job site to see the big trucks.
Then and now, James said, "He's always loved it."
Nearby, Mila and Brando Lara looked at some of the smaller tractors, evaluating which to take back to partners in Venezuela and Peru.
Auctions like this one are crucial for the construction industry there, they explained. In their country, those trucks are generally older and in much worse shape.
Gesturing to the backhoes, Mila Lara said any of those would cost between $10,000 and $20,000 more.
On Saturday, a mixed crowd of local contractors and international buyers waited anxiously for the auction to begin. They were free to test the equipment, and the air was filled with plumes of exhaust mixed with dirt kicked up by the engines.
Qamil Kerkuit, 62, watched with folded arms as his cousin climbed in and out of front-end loaders.
The two had come from Albania, where Kerkuit owns a trucking and construction company, said Ben Rexha, 31, his nephew, who translated. Kekuit was visiting, but he wanted to see if what he had heard about the Atlantic City auctions were really true.
If they find anything worth bidding on, they would ship it back home through North Jersey ports, Rexha said.
The two older men drifted off toward other gear. One man started an orange commercial lawnmower, kicking up plumes of tan dirt.
Rexha thanked the reporter, ending the interview. There was a lot to see before the auction started.
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