On Wednesday, pickups line the Alaska Highway outside the Ritchie Brothers’ auction site, where the fleet of vehicles once owned by Golden Hill Ventures is up for sale.
At the entrance, a sign reads, “Enter at your own risk.”
Though the dozens of dump trucks and excavators are parked orderly in rows, their engines are all running.
The gigantic boom of one excavator suddenly lifts from the snow-covered mud while its passengers test out its handles.
The foursome inspecting the vehicle then crawl underneath its cab, fiddling with the mechanical innards from below.
“We’re just looking for any oil leaks,” says a woman in the crew.
Along the rows of trucks, men pop in and out of cabs, getting a quick feel for their condition.
Men in old plaid shirts and denim jackets hustle between the giant wheels, where the rumble of the engines doesn’t seem to perturb them.
The air is thick with diesel exhaust. One truck inexplicably belches a dark cloud into the crisp morning sky.
“I’m just a small-town contractor,” says one man wearing dark glasses and a cap. “Some of the guys looking to buy the big trucks like a D11, I mean, they could probably ship it around the world.”
This arsenal of trucks isn’t cheap.
Jon Rudolph was once the big dog of highway construction in the Yukon. His Golden Hill Group of Companies made millions in the last three decades building the territory’s highways.
“That was probably his downfall,” says the man in dark glasses.
“It takes money to make money and once those contracts were gone, well, now you’ve got all this overhead.”
The overhead in question looks and sounds like a military procession about to go to battle.
There are 16 giant rock trucks, 12 excavators, 11 crawler tractors, a couple of steamrollers and plenty of mid-sized trucks.
“These trucks built the Yukon’s highways,” says the man, pointing his arm out toward the rows of idling machines.
There are over 170 pieces of equipment for sale. It’s part of a restructuring Rudolph managed with creditors after his businesses hit several road bumps in the last couple of years.
The last time Ritchie’s held an auction in the Yukon was 1992.
But this one is big.
Bidders from 17 countries have registered.
Past the rows of trucks, women are registering bidders from the windows of a parked trailer.
There are even a couple generators and water pumps up for auction here.
Dean Lowry, the man in charge of the auction, is too busy to chat.
“Get one of my business cards,” he says, before rushing out the door of the trailer.
Just then, a strange rhythmic mumbling begins to float through the air.
The distinct twang of an auctioneer is blasting over the intercom.
Behind the registration trailer, the auction is underway in a big blue garage.
A couple women are selling hot dogs just outside a door where men are filing in and out.
Inside, rows of men are sitting patiently with small orange and white sheets of paper, ready to put up their bids.
There are two men standing on elevated platforms in the front of the room near a projection screen, waving their arms in the direction of the bidders.
And at the far side of the room, the auctioneer is calling out the bids from the back of a white pickup, speaking at an almost indecipherable speed.
Though the room is composed, the mood is tense and exciting.
The post-apocalyptic industrial nightmare outside is now a distant memory.
Here, the ancient ritual of auctioneering is very much alive.
Close your eyes, and instead of pictures of machines hitting the screen, you can see horses, pigs or cows being paraded by for purchase.
“Let’s get into the pickups boys,” says the auctioneer. “This is a 1985 Ford.”
The truck flashes up on the screen and once the auctioneer’s rambling starts, the bids begin flying.
“Nine hundred and fifty dollars, going for $950, $950, $950, sold! For $900,” says the auctioneer.
After the pickups come the mid-sized trucks.
Another vintage from the 1980s sells for $5,950.
“That one’s going to the internet,” says the auctioneer.
Underneath the projected picture of the screen, a stream of online bids float by.
Around 28 per cent of the bids will be won over the internet today.
One man sitting in the crowd is looking at truck models on his Blackberry.
He’s sitting beside a man in a rodeo championship bomber jacket.
The man behind him, clearly experienced at the auction gig, has cotton balls in his ears to mute the auctioneer’s high-pitched yelling.
Ritchie’s auctions are unreserved, so everything is being sold today.
Later, the company wouldn’t say the total amount sold, but it was a multimillion dollar auction, said Kim Schulz, a company spokesperson.
And there were over 400 bidders registered, she said.
The highest bid went to a 2002 Caterpillar D11 Crawler tractor that sold for $475,000.
At a local bar later that night, a man who drove all the way from Oregon for the auction complains that the deals weren’t anything special.
Around 35 per cent of the machines were sold to businesses outside the Yukon.
“I got a few things,” says the man at the bar.
“But it’s getting it out of here that costs money.”
Contact James Munson at