Discovering Steamboat: A legendary lady
September 14, 2013
Steamboat Springs — There's no forgetting Cookie Lockhart. Her larger-than-life personality, deep voice and quick wit make a strong first impression, offering a glimpse into why this Steamboat Springs businesswoman is legendary in the predominantly male world of auctioneering.
When Cookie dropped by the Steamboat Pilot & Today for a visit last week, she was like a force of nature blowing through the office. Dressed in a denim skirt and Western-style shirt, her waist cinched by a rhinestone-covered belt, Cookie looked the part of a legend. Her boots, signature cowboy hat and glasses embellished with Swarovski crystals completed her outfit, and I have no doubt she wowed the producers of the television series “American Pickers” who she'd met with just a half-hour before her visit to the newspaper.
"My daddy said, 'To be successful, you have to look successful,'" Cookie said when I asked her about her flair for fashion.
References to her auctioneering family, including father, Simon (Si) Lockhart, and beloved brother, Darwin Lockhart, came up often in my conversations with Cookie. Her gift for gab and ability to command a room full of eager bidders are inherited traits that she's honed over the past five decades.
Cookie was honored Friday in Denver by the World Wide College of Auctioneering for 50 years as an auctioneer. She also holds the honor of being the first female auctioneer inducted into the National Auctioneers Association Hall of Fame.
"I broke the glass ceiling in the auction business," Cookie said.
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In 1963, Si Lockhart had to change his letterhead from "Si Lockhart & Son" to make room for the addition of his daughter to the auctioneering team. That year, Cookie, age 25, graduated from the Reisch American School of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa. She was the only female student in a class of 125 men.
While Cookie was at auctioneering school, Si sent her a letter wishing her luck. His words of advice: "Listen real good, learn lots, be good, eat hardy, come home quick and leave a beautiful memory." And handwritten at the bottom of the letter was a postscript: "Have three auction sales lined up in the spring! So practice; need help. SOS."
Cookie took her father's instructions to heart and was a quick learner. Upon her return to Steamboat, Cookie jumped into the business with both cowboy-boot-clad feet and ran the gavel side by side with her father and brother.
"It was in my blood," said Cookie, who still owns and operates Lockhart Auction & Realty at the corner of Yampa and 11th streets, which was founded by her family in 1932.
Cookie's notoriety grew beyond Steamboat, and soon she was getting state and national press for her prowess as an auctioneer combined with the fact she was one of the only women in the industry during that era. On June 13, 1966, Cookie appeared as a contestant on "What's My Line," and she also was the subject of articles in The New York Times, The Denver Post and the Ft. Worth Star-Telegraph.
The public sees the fast-talking Cookie on auction day — the razor-sharp bid caller who rattles off item descriptions and fields bids at lightning speed. But Cookie explains that auctioneering is a lot more than fast talking and driving up bids. "There is so much more that goes on behind the scenes," Cookie said.
During the past 50 years, Cookie has conducted thousands of auctions in 22 states, including Pennsylvania, Florida, New York, Ohio and Missouri. The largest auction she ever conducted was a multimillion-dollar liquidation of an oil company headquartered in Topeka, Kan. — a project that ended up taking five years to complete.
Cookie also enjoys donating her auctioneering services for benefits — another family tradition. For decades, she and her dad and her brother served as auctioneers for the Routt County Fair, selling hundreds of animals raised by local 4-H'ers. The sale barn at the fairgrounds was dedicated in 1974 as the Lockhart Sale Barn. And a year later, the Routt County Fair and rodeo was held in memory of Cookie's brother, Dar, who died at 41.
Cookie frequently is asked how she learned to talk so fast.
"I just laugh and tell them my dad was an auctioneer, and my mother was a woman. What do you expect?"
As Cookie reflects back on 50 years in the auction business, she said she's honored by all the attention and awards she's received, and in typical Cookie fashion, she finds humor in it all.
"This all means a lot to me," Cookie said. "I won't have any other golden anniversaries. I couldn't stay married long enough. And I've always said you ought to do what you're good at, and for me, that's being an auctioneer."
And at age 75, Cookie has no plans to retire. "I'll keep going until I fall over or until I'm in the cemetery permanently prone. Oh, I like that — permanently prone. You can use that if you want to. It's a good one."
I invite readers to help me discover more about Steamboat and Routt County by suggesting places you'd like me to visit, people you want me to meet or activities you'd like me to try. You can reach me at lschlichtman@SteamboatToday.com or 970-871-4221.