There was the old airplane engine and the 1938 Model A pickup truck. But the best find Sedalia resident Kevin Ulmer has made was a 1951 Chevy 10 “Woodie” Station Wagon, which he bought for $800 in Smithton.
“It was originally used as the Smithton ambulance and then was turned into the town’s hearse,” he said. “I sold it on eBay for $8,600 and the buyer, who was up in Washington, put about $60,000 worth of restoration into it. He eventually sold it at a Barrett-Jackson auction for more than $100,000.”
Ulmer has a lot of stories about finding old and unusual items and then selling them for profit. He’s turned the hobby into a full-time job and, starting next week, a fledgling TV career. But, Ulmer likes to point out, it runs in the family. Ulmer’s dad, Stanley Ulmer, is a longtime Sedalia auctioneer.
“Three times a week my dad would take me to the auction he was working,” Ulmer said. “I started watching what was selling and what brought in money. I also started reading antique books, which is pretty unusual for a kid, I’ll admit. But it gave me a good sense of what an item was worth.”
Soon Ulmer worked his way up to being one of the “ringmen” whose job it is to watch as bidders go to work. Whether it be with a wink, nod or nose scratch, each bidder’s sign is unique and it became Ulmer’s job to catch them all. He went into the business full-time five years ago and since then has switched between working auctions and bringing things in to sell.
“I’m always looking for something,” he said. “I’ve got a list of about 150 people who want this or that special piece so a lot of the time when I go to an estate sale or auction, I’m looking for them. Of course, I usually find something for myself too.”
It was at an auction in Boonville that Ulmer first met a producer with HGTV. He was trying to buy a 1945 Harley-Davidson motorcycle and while he didn’t walk away with the winning bid, he did end up buying quite a few other things.
“They were filming a pilot at the auction and the producer noticed me buying all this stuff and we got to talking about the TV show,” he said. “That show didn’t get picked up to turn into a full series, but about a year later I was at another auction in Nevada, Mo., when I ran into Christie Hatman.”
Hatman was filming “Auction Agent,” a show which takes her into people’s homes to look for hidden treasures to sell at auctions. She visited 20 to 30 homes, collecting things, and needed an auction house. Ulmer offered Dirk Soullis Auctions, where he works.
“At first it was a simple,‘I can help you at the auction’ arrangement,” Ulmer said. “But if she had questions about the value of a piece or maybe it was an unmarked piece she hadn’t seen before, she would give me a call.”
The show — which premiers March 1 — will have a six-episode run on HGTV and Ulmer said he’s hoping it will be picked up for a full season.
“It’s kind of a unique concept,” he said. “That first auction she had all these pieces and was worried no one would show up. But I had called all my contacts and friends to come out and bid. It was a full house.”
Ulmer is quick to point out he has no desire to be a TV star, he just enjoys the thrill of the hunt for items.
“ ‘Auction Agent’ is a job for me, like any other,” he said. “I hope it continues and I can keep doing it, mostly because it’s fun. I love searching for old items and finding things and this just seemed an extension of that. I really can’t wait to see how it turns out.”
ON THE AIR
“Auction Agent” will premiere with back-to-back episodes starting at 7 p.m. March 1 on HGTV.
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED
Kevin Ulmer shares tips for those interested in the auction life:
• Find something to start with. When starting a collection to keep or sell, it’s important to collect things that are of interest to you, Ulmer said. “That way, if you can’t sell the collection, you’re happy to keep it,” he said.
• Look everywhere. Ulmer has been known to go “Dumpster diving” to find old and unusual items. Unmarked items may bring in more money than marked items that have saturated the market.
• When hosting an auction or estate sale, don’t throw anything away. “A lot of times people will get rid of what they consider junk,” Ulmer said. “But I would rather people wait until an auctioneer has gone through it all. Even if it only brings in $1, that’s a dollar more than you had before.”