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Baldwin is states oldest livestock auctioneer
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Spotting and encouraging buyers, Lucky and his clerk handle a busy morning with bleachers filled with bidders for goats that have come mostly from goat dairies in the region. - photo by GLENN KAHL
Manteca’s Lucky Baldwin, at 84, is the oldest active livestock auctioneer in California as he is now working for his 57th year.

Every Monday morning at 10 o’clock Baldwin brings down his gavel at the Modesto Livestock Auction on South Seventh Street where he calls out offers to valley bidders with the help of a clerk and spotters down in the ring.

He’s actually worked at the Modesto auction house continuously for three generations of owners: Clint Thompson, Louis “Bud” Gremp and Larry and Luann Gremp.

And during those years he has become a role model for teens who have worked in the auction ring.  At a recent auction that was selling small goats, David Correia, 35, of Escalon freely talked about Baldwin and how he had helped shape his life and his character.

Correia first worked in the ring with Lucky 25 years ago when he was only 10 years old and in the sixth grade.  He said he worked with him all the way through high school in the sheep and goat barn.  Correia now lives in Waterford and raises quarter horses.  

“Lucky has been a good guy – always smiling.  But, when it was 10 o’clock it was time to get things done,” he said of his promptness in getting the auction up and running.

Celebrities were among Baldwin’s clients over the years.  He recalls selling cattle for Bing Crosby, Gregory Peck, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Arthur Godfrey.  In 1948 he auctioned off a baseball autographed by the legendary Babe Ruth at Oak Park in Stockton.  The last ball to be signed by the Babe on his death bed went for $200 to the San Francisco Examiner which was turned over to a Kiwanis Club to aid their youth projects, Baldwin said.

In 2001 Lucky auctioned some 75 head of cattle that generated $50,000 to help orphaned Romanian youngsters,  part of an effort headed by George and Sue Foster of Foster Farms for their Romanian Dairy Project.

The focus was to build a 3,000-plus square foot creamery and a 600 head dairy herd that promised to generate nearly 3,000 gallons of milk for the orphanages and that they could also sell in neighboring communities.

Baldwin first came to Manteca at the age of 16 in 1942 when his family moved west from Kansas.  A year later, he went to work for an uncle, Jack Terry, on his dairy on Louise Avenue milking cows.  He said he was just across the fence from Tony Ramos who was running the Ramos dairy at the time – talking over that fence daily.

Auction career started after Army service
Baldwin was drafted into the Army in 1946.  After finishing his tour he was offered an auctioneering challenge – and he jumped at the chance – at Ray Fishback’s auction every Thursday in French Camp.  It was the beginning of a successful life’s work.

Owner of the B&M Auction yard in Stockton, Jim Burgess – later to become the Mariposa Sales Yard – was instrumental in giving Baldwin his nickname of Lucky that has stayed with him for life.  

Baldwin quoted him as saying, “Your name and black hat have to go.”

Lucky remembers being taken to Satuies Saddle Shop in Stockton where Burgess bought him a white hat and said, “your name is Lucky from now on.”  The name came from a Lucky Baldwin in the Los Angeles area who owned a race track and the Baldwin Hills in Southern California.

The young Mantecan later worked for several sales yards from Roseville to Atwater until he was re-drafted into the Marine Corps during the Korean Conflict.

He said when the war was over Stockton was left with many bars and night clubs that could not survive without the military crowd coming through their doors.  The Navy base had closed west of Stockton as did the Army base on what is now Airport Way.

“I sold at auction 10 bars and night clubs in 1947 and 1948.  To mention a few were Marty’s, Mattionies, Sondells, Seven Seas and Rockies.  I also auctioned off all the Army barracks for the government one at a time,” he said.

The barracks were all demolished except for one that was purchased by Garrett Teunissen of Manteca and moved to the north by Charter Way where it doubled as an apartment house where it stands today.

Baldwin said he also bred and raised registered Suffolk sheep for over 40 years.  He pointed out that people in the community today in their 50s and 60s will remark that they got their 4H lambs from him when they were in school.

When he got out of the military a second time in 1953 he purchased the guard house from the north end of the Lathrop depot.  He had it moved to property on North Main Street that he bought from Clarence Erly.

Operated a lumber auction on North Main Street
Baldwin had the building moved to the North Main Street location and used it for bachelors quarters and for an office that he used to operate a lumber auction for a couple years.  Later it was converted into “Harold’s Club” bar that was then rented by Lido Piccinnini who created Lido’s Cedar Room.

In following years Lee Rigg bought in as a partner and it became known as The Farmers’ Table restaurant.   Lucky years later sold the bar to Rigg and it is now the site of the Moose Lodge.

In 1954 Baldwin purchased the “old Kahl home” about four miles north of Manteca from the state as they were making way for the Highway 99 construction – auctioning off houses and building that were in its path.  It, too, was moved to his North Main Street property where it became his residence for a period of time.  It is still there today behind the Moose Lodge.

Among the developments he brought about in Manteca was the purchase of an old bar and City Market in the 100 block of East Yosemite Avenue next to the former Hardware Mart location.  He tore them both down and used the material to build three houses farther north on North Main Street.

He now lives on a five acre ranch on Brunswick Road that he continues to develop with historic creations of the Old West that decorate the landscaping including a fenced-in duck pond covered by a massive yellow Banksia climbing rose with its petite blossoms.

His property is taken care of by his youngest son, also named Lucky.