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SC Rewind: Harrisburg Over The Years

Published: October 31, 2015 1:24 pm ET

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In this week's edition of Rewind Robert Smith traces the lengthy history of the world renowned Harrisburg Sale which is held each year at about this time. Much of the presentation takes on a pictorial format and helps to portray the changes over the years.

For as long as most people can remember, a rather long line of Canadians have headed to the Harrisburg Sale in Pennsylvania right about this time of year; all of course seeking a future champion. The 2015 edition runs from November 2 to 6, and this is number 77!

The first ever Harrisburg Sale was held in 1939. It was created by Mr. Lawrence Sheppard, and the original function of the newly-formed Company was to provide a sales venue for the yearlings raised at The Hanover Shoe Farm. In 1938 The Old Glory Sale was shut down and that is where the yearlings had been previously sold.

The 1939 show, which was held at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Arena, grossed a total of $75,575. Topping the sale were 42 yearlings from the Hanover consignment which brought $55,750, thus over two-thirds of the total. Added to this was another $20,000 fetched by "mixed" horses so the grand total was just under the $100,000 mark. For a brief time during WWII, the sale was moved to the York Fairgrounds but otherwise it has been held annually at the Farm Show Complex every year since 1939.

In the ensuing years many other well known consignors joined the annual sale, most notable among them was Hempt Farms who joined in 1946. The names of Bonnie Brae Farm, Castleton Farm, Delvin Miller, Ben White, W.N. Reynolds and scores of other then household names became consignors. Also Mr. Sheppard retained the services of Mr. George Swinebroad (pictured at right), the outstanding auctioneer of that era. His sound was the voice behind the advertising of Lucky Strike cigarettes and his familiar "Sold To American" was heard on radios around the world. His unique style was said to be able to awaken a crowd and revitalize the sale of a horse. The names of "Laddie" Dance and later Tom Caldwell who replaced Geo. Swinebroad became an integral part of the sale. Mr. Caldwell's sons also followed.

In 1947 the first $1,000,000 sale was held. In 1958 when Dancer Hanover was sold to his namesake Stanley Dancer, another milestone was reached as the first ever yearling to reach the $100,000 figure and that included both breeds. To mark the occasion, auctioneer Tom Caldwell stopped the proceedings and a standing ovation was afforded the successful bidder.

By 1967 the total gross sale hit $5.3 million. In 1968 Mr. Sheppard died and his widow Charlotte Sheppard was elected Chairman of the Board. By 1998 the sale figure rose to $42,005,800. In 2007 Harrisburg hit over $70 Million!!

Today many people connected with the early years remain in key positions with the sale. Paul F. Spears is President & CEO. Russell C. Williams, a grandson of Lawrence and Charlotte Sheppard is Chairman and Vice President. Others in executive positions include James Simpson, Senior V.P. and Murray Brown, Sales Consultant.

Scenes from past sales appear below.

Left: ​Prospective buyers study the black book and look over a yearling at this circa 1970 sale​. Note that in the early years nearly everyone wore a shirt and tie. ​Right: Clint Hodgins centre chats with Geo. Sholty (left) and an unidentified gentleman in this 1970 shot


Left: The great Joe O'Brien carefully examines a yearling at the 1970 sale. Right: A young Glen Garnsey on the left chats with veteran Frank Ervin as they undoubtedly try to spot another Bret Hanover at the 1970 yearling sale.


Left: Dr. Glen Brown deep in thought at the 1970 sale. Love the checked sportcoat. Right: Dr. John Hayes black book in hand confers with his father John Hayes Sr. at the 1982 sale, undoubtedly looking for another Strike Out.


Left: John Burns holds two purchases at the 1994 edition. Right: Brothers McIntosh Bob and Doug at the 1996 sale.


Left: Marvin Chantler, squire of Mardon Stables of Loretto, Ont. chats with his banker on the phone ​prior to bidding at the 2003 event, undoubtedly asking "How high can I go?" Right: A slightly younger Bob Young at the 2001 Harrisburg sale​.


Left: "Magic Man" Wm. O'Donnell and Marcel Barrieau at the 1997 get together. Right: Trainer Jim Campbell at the 2014 sale shows the modern technology that has virtually done away with pens, pencils and pocket notebooks.


All of today's great photographs are reprinted with the permission of Mr. Paul F. Spears on behalf of The Standardbred Horse Sales Co. My thanks to him.

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