Historic ranch auctioned for just over $2 million

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- In a rollicking, foot-stomping tent revival of an auction Saturday, Oregon County's Pigman Ranch fetched more than $2 million.

"We don't really know what we're going to do with it. We buy and sell land. We didn't have a purpose other than that," said Bernie Lowery, who, with his business partner Ethel Rabel, bought the lion's share of the ranch for $1,763,125.

"Sometimes, you're successful at an auction and sometimes you aren't. It's an investment," Lowery said. "We just think it's a nice pretty place, well-located and kind of unique. You don't find these places very often."

For their bid, Lowery and Rabel, both of Cheyenne, Wyo., nabbed about 4,458 acres of rolling hills, pasturelands and woods on the banks of the Eleven Point River, along with a native-stone, six-bedroom, five-bath main lodge, a large foreman's house, a huge barn and guest houses.

The National Auction Group, Inc., which conducted Saturday's sale, had touted the ranch's connection with the Beatles -- they spent a weekend here during their American tour in the fall of 1964 -- as a major selling point.

"It went real well," said William Bone, president of the National Auction Group, Inc. "And everybody's happy."

He characterized the absolute auction, which featured a barbecue, a band, and a multitude of spotters sporting star-spangled ties, ten-gallon hats and a lot of hustle, as "a big going-away party" for the sellers, partners who bought the ranch in 1996 to run cattle.

The big draw for Saturday's event: There was no minimum bid. The ranch was parceled into 12 tracts and the opening bid was a per-acre price for first choice of the plots.

A big white tent set up on the lawn of the main lodge held a crowd of 23 registered participants, along with a multitude of curious onlookers. Like combination cheerleaders and traveling show pitchmen, spotters sold the event, working the aisles, clapping their hands to the music, and whooping and hollering when a bid went up.

When all the parcels had been snatched up, the game changed. Bidders could put the parcels together in any manner they wished -- provided they could come up with a starting bid that was 5 percent more than the parcels brought individually.

"We're going to have some fun now," auctioneer Eddie Haynes told the crowd. Well-timed breaks, accompanied by rousing music from the band, gave bidders an opportunity to regroup and plot their strategies.

Eventually, it all came down to two combinations - the piece purchased by Lowery and Rabel, and 1,162 acres that Mark Garnett of West Plains picked up with a $412,300 bid.

They, too, could have been trumped when the entire ranch was ultimately offered as a whole. But there were no takers.

"That's the way it goes. They worked hard, they did a good job, but it didn't bring as much as I thought it would," said L.E. Gillespie of Dumas, Ark., one of the former owners, after the event.

Gillespie said he would miss the place, which, he claims, "has the best deer and turkey hunting in Missouri."

He and his wife, Julia, took a final tour of the property the day before the auction.

"I had to have a last lap. I've got mixed emotions," Julia Gillespie said Saturday. "We've really used it a lot. We come up and bring hunters, and even brought my bridge club up once. We love it up here, but weíre getting a little older and itís so far away. It's been fun."

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