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Weekly 150: James ‘Bird Dog’ Reed

The Fast Talking Salesman

Posted 6/16/20

The vocal grace and ease of an auctioneer have always been a fascination of mine. Reed’s Auction Company is a logo ingrained in my memory. At a young age, I remember standing with the granddad …

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Weekly 150: James ‘Bird Dog’ Reed

The Fast Talking Salesman

Posted

The vocal grace and ease of an auctioneer have always been a fascination of mine. Reed’s Auction Company is a logo ingrained in my memory. At a young age, I remember standing with the granddad listening to “Bird Dog” fast-talk his way through a bid working every dollar he could from a crowd. This week’s article is on “Bird Dog” Reed.

James Thomas “Bird Dog” Reed entered the world on Valentine’s day, February 14, 1935, just outside McKenzie in the Greenhill Community near Blaylock Store Road. His family later moved to Greenfield where he was raised until he was eleven years old. His parents then purchased a 50-acre farm where he was born.

It was on the family farm a young James Thomas learned to milk cows, till the soil and other elements of the farm life. It was also on the farm where “Bird Dog” became the moniker for the future auctioneer. James’ father raised bird dogs and sold them. The young boy became an enthusiast of bird hunting along with the raising and training of the dogs.

He attended school in the old Greenhill School House. During the summers he worked the “peddle wagon” or “doodle wagon” for Blaylock and McDearmon, owners of a nearby country store. Reed’s job was to take the wagon from the store and sell goods along his assigned routes.

He had a different route each day, children waited along the sides of the road in hopes of trading fresh eggs for a cold drink.

“I had to candle everyone of the eggs,” said Reed who learned the children sometimes tried to pass off old eggs as new ones.

While attending high school in Gleason, he worked for Regel Baker’s grocery store in downtown McKenzie. After graduating in 1953, he took employment as a bundle boy at Wilker Brothers. Over his 14-year tenure, he worked his way up to a machine mechanic.

Auctioneer Murray Moore from Tupelo, Mississippi captivated Reed. Moore worked the Tri-County Stockyard sales. “He wore a suit and tie; he was a little dressed up fella,” Reed recalled. “It fascinated me.”

In December 1962, Reed attended Feller’s Auction College in Kankakee, Illinois. During the two-week course, he learned the dos and don’ts of auctioneering and the basics of getting started in the business. The two-week period gave him what he needed to get through his first sale scheduled for the very day he returned home from the college on December 12.

Reed built up his skills and concentrated on gaining confidence and the trust of the people. At the time, many auctioneers in the area worked the livestock trade. He looked to apply his trade to the real estate business taking on work from attorneys in settling estates for bereaved heirs.

After leaving Wilker Brothers in 1967, he worked in Bradford for 14 years and later accepted a position with the Wormser Company. He spent 32 years with the company and before retiring as plant manager in 1999.

In 1975, a $200 miscalculation led Reed to make a change to his business setup.

“He insisted that I come help,” Suzanne Reed said. After four or five months of dating, James and Suzanne were married on October 17, 1975.

The business grew from two or three sales a month to two or three sales per week. He gives credit for much of the business success to his wife. James considered her the mainstay of the business where she did all the advertising and handled much of the business’s public relations.

Outside of auctioneering, Reed led an interesting life through his hobbies and passions. At an early age, he made friends with Jerry Hearn. The pair spent many years bird hunting together. They traveled as far as Texas and Oklahoma on quail hunts. Reed made a trip to pheasant hunt in Nebraska.

“We all got dogs,” Reed said, who owned numerous dogs through the years.

“Bird Dog” also enjoyed basketball, which he was active until the age of 40, and basketball, which he officiated for 25 years, as well as golf. It was on the golf course where Reed began to grow curious about learning to fly. Along with his late son, Ricky, he took up flying at the Carroll County Airport.

Over the years, the Reeds have accumulated an array of antiques, some passed down from family members but most obtained from auctions they have conducted. Reed explained during a sale he had a number card to bid.

On December 2, 2017, in the Pilgrim’s Rest Church area of Christmasville, the Reeds conducted their last auction. At the time of his retirement, he said, “I’ve had a good career. At 83, it’s time to quit. I appreciate all the good people who have helped me and who hired me through the years.”

He added, “I have worked in every town in West Tennessee, having 40 to 50 sales per year, sometimes three a day.” He went as far as to help another auctioneer in Memphis and sold over 100 HUD houses during a single auction.

Now in retirement, the Reeds can enjoy life at a slower pace. Though not McKenzie natives, James Thomas and Suzanne are as much a part of McKenzie as someone born and raised in this community.

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