County Line Sale Barn continues long tradition of rural America

Curtis Varnell
Special to the Times Record
Cattle ranchers from the area continue to gather at the County Line Sale Barn each Wednesday for a live cattle auction. Auctioneer Brandon Sing and clerk Kallie Bonds are seen working the auction on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. The County Line Sale Barn, 11165 West State Highway 22 in Ratcliff, will be closed today, Nov. 25, 2020, for the Thanksgiving holiday, but will resume business on Dec. 2.

RATCLIFF — Cows were bellowing, chickens clucking, and coon hounds baying mixed with the sounds of salesmen hawking their wares up and down the many rows of vendors. The sweet smell of onions and frying hamburgers wafted across the grounds. Hundreds of people milled around, looking at the mixed wares brought to the flea market for sale. You could buy anything from a ballerina suit to a sawed-off shotgun from the many individuals lined up along avenues marked off in the sandy barn lot.

Old men sat out in front of the restaurant, exchanging tall tales while spitting chewing tobacco and whittling. Farm trailers carrying cattle, horses, goats, and poultry weaved through the crowds of people as they made their way to the animal holding yards where they would be auctioned off later in the day. Under the few sparse trees, men stood talking while a farrier shod their horses or tried to sell them harnesses.

Todd Patterson meandered through the crowd, carrying his portable speaker, keeping up a constant banter while auctioning and selling goods at the many mini-markets.

Just a typical Wednesday at the County Line sale barn. As far back as I many can remember, the Patterson brother’s sale barn was the mid-week meeting place for people throughout the Arkansas River Valley and beyond. A typical week would find cars parked for miles along Highway 22 and its side roads. Those who arrived late, which might mean any time after 6 a.m., could either walk a long distance or pay a dollar for a parking place. A cultural event, mornings were taken up by a huge flea market, an exotic animal sale, a gossip center and, best of all, a center for country music.

Those who got there early to the sale area could listen to music. People came down out of the mountains and valleys carrying mandolins, banjo, guitars, and fiddles and joined in impromptu groups to sing songs handed down for generations.

On a typical day, a visitor could hear everything from “I’ll Fly Away” to “Watermelon Wine” from voices ranging from professional to bathtub-only quality. People would clap their hands, pat their feet, and sing along. If you had the money, you could wonder into the restaurant and try out some of the delicious hamburgers and food prepared by Mrs. Patterson. In the afternoons, the same sale floor would feature Todd Patterson and others auctioning off every type of livestock known to man.

You never knew what to expect next at the sale barn. Once a goat got loose and circled through the crowd, upsetting tables, chasing kids, and frantically looking for greener pastures. On another occasion, someone forgot their medication and performed a rendition of The Streak, pulling clothes off as they ran up and down and through the flea market.

In recent years, a school bus pulled into the parking lot and unloaded dozens of kids. A teacher was asked about their visit. She said she wanted her kids “to see rural America, to hear and see common hard-working people talking and living; to allow them to see culture and a way of life that is disappearing way too rapidly.”

The Patterson brothers are gone, the singing is now more professional and done at night, but the flea market and the sale barn restaurant and livestock sale still continue the traditions every Wednesday at the County Line Sale barn.

The sale barn was built in the early 1950s, according to current co-owner Devin Robberson. Ronnie Koch became owner in the early 1990s and took on Robberson and Cody Sosebee as partners three years ago this January.