How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck...

Synopsis: Herzog examines the world championships for cattle auctioneers, his fascination with a language created by an economic system, and compares it to the lifestyle of the Amish, who live nearby.
44 min

How did you learn to speak so fast?

"I used to go to a lot of auctions

with my dad.

In our area,

there was this brilliant auctioneer.

I was fascinated

by his ability to hold the attention

of 400 or 500 people.

I wanted to do that someday too.

So I would listen to him.

I began by practicing with numbers."

"Then you move on to tongue twisters,

for example,

in German:

A big black bug bit a big brown bear."

How much wood

would a woodchuck chuck.

Then you start with numbers.

You start building up speed

and establishing a rhythm."

"It takes a lot of practice

and you really have to love to talk."

Have you got another example?

Can you try saying it in slow motion?





Can you decode

what you just said for us?

"Well, I'm selling.

In slow motion, I'm saying,

'I bid $30.

Would you give me $30.50?

Would you give me $30.75?'

And so on."

"More so than that,

it's the personal feeling I get."

"I've managed to reach a goal

I've had since I was six years old.

That one day I'd become

World Champion Livestock Auctioneer."

"I can hardly believe

that I've done it."

"Well, I started practicing

when I was a student

at the National Auction Institute.

I also took lessons

with an opera teacher

to learn breathing techniques.

He taught me to breathe properly,

to develop my volume and stamina.

I used to drive down the motorway

and try to sell

to every telegraph pole that went by.

I'd pretend

they were bidders at an auction."

"Then at every junction

it would start again."

"This broke the monotony of traveling

and gave me the chance to practice."

"I have a few friends in this trade.

They are real, true friends.

They tell me when I make mistakes."

How did you turn professional?

"It always takes practice

to make perfect."

"When I started out

as an auctioneer in 1965,

I was just a kid from the country.

Uncle Sam got me.

After that I started auctioneering."

"And just like Ralph here,

I used to hold auctions with myself."

"You can never get too much practice."

"But where I really started from...

You probably won't believe this.

I was the only one in our family

who would milk the cows."

"I'd sit down on a bucket

and every time I pulled on the udder,

I'd take a bid."

"And then I'd be through milking."

The world championships take place

in the village

of New Holland, Pennsylvania,

one of the centers

for cattle farming in the US.

We thought it important

to show some of the surrounding area

because it is home

to a community of Amish people.

Here they till the soil

and raise the cattle the biblical way.

The Amish are a sect

who originally come from Switzerland.

However, they mainly consist

of a group of German immigrants

who arrived from the Palatinate

around 200 years ago.

These days, they still speak

an old Palatinate dialect.

Their most remarkable trait

is their puritanical attitude

towards developments in our society.

The Amish reject the ideas

of capitalism and competition.

So they are the very antithesis

of the world championships

that are being held

in their region this year.

The Amish also reject progress.

They dress the same

as they did 200 years ago

and still follow

many of the same customs.

The orthodox Amish

even reject electricity and cars.

Today, they still drive

horse-drawn carriages.

It may appear strange at first,

but there's a lot to be said

for their way of life.

They have refused

to participate in war.

They don't suffer

from the pollution problems

that afflict the rest of the US.

The Amish

don't normally like being filmed.

They turned away

as soon as they saw us.

They viewed the championships

with an air of mistrust.

Even so, they still pitched a tent

outside the auction room

and handed out

free snacks from their farms.

The venue for the championships

is an arena in this building.

Inside, we eavesdropped

on an auctioneer

while he warmed up.

"We only have about an hour left now

until the contest starts

and there are 53 competitors here

from all over the US and Canada.

In fact, we don't have enough cattle

for all the auctioneers

and each has just three to six

minutes to show what they can do.

That's not enough time.

Normally, we need

ten to fifteen minutes

so that we can really warm up

and satisfy the buyers

and the judges."

And which of you gentlemen

is going to win?

"The best. That guy over there."

How do you find out

who is going to bid?

"No idea, you can just tell.

They wink, signal with a piece of card

or do this with their fingers."

How do you pick them out

from the crowd?

"I just find them. It's a gift."

We were curious to see

if the Amish could understand us

when we spoke German.

"I couldn't understand it."

What kind of work do you do here

during the auction?

"I open the door

and let the stock off the scales."

What is telling

is that their dialect has no way

of saying "world championship".

Before the auction, which sold

cattle worth two million marks,

you could inspect the produce

in stalls behind the auction room.

This contest is sponsored

by the "Livestock Market Digest",

a trade magazine,

published in the US each week.

This is the 13th annual World

Livestock Auctioneering Championship.

I must point out

one thing about the jury.

Their decisions

are based on professional criteria.

They are organizers and buyers.

They select the contestant

they would most like to work for them.

We'll start

by showing a scene from above

to make it clear

how proceedings work.

The stalls are behind the auctioneers,

who take it in turns to lead.

The cattle enter the arena

from the right, over the scales

and leave to the left.

The buyers are dotted about

in the crowd.

The most interested buyers

sit in the front row.

The auctioneer is handed a note

stating the weight.

Buyers bid

per 100 pounds of live weight

and for all cattle in the arena

at that particular point in time.

When a bid is accepted,

it is written on the note

and then sent via a conveyor belt

to the main office.

The competition is underway.

Needless to say, we were unable

to film all 53 competitors,

but we were lucky enough

to catch the overall winner.

Look out for slight hand movements.

This is how you spot buyers.

They too are competing

against each other,

just not as openly as the others.

This is the first time

that a woman has ever competed.

The cattle have ground to a halt

on the scales.

The auctioneer says

that all this waiting

has made him nervous.

This is Ralph Wade

from Miami in Oklahoma.

He came in second.

The next auctioneer

adds a little variety.

He's been working for 50 years.

He starts by miscounting

the number of cattle.

He announces Canadian Steve Liptay,

who later goes on

to win this world championship.

This type of language

is somehow frightening,

but fascinating at the same time.

What frightens me personally

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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    "How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck..." STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 21 Jul 2024. <>.

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