COLUMBUS — Brothers Mark and Ron Stock have always stuck together.

They were the only two kids in their class at a country school in District 40.

“I was No. 1 in my class all eight years,” said Mark.

Although all five of their sisters went off to college and several earned master's degrees, Ron and Mark didn’t care much for college.

At any other time that likely would have led them to work on the family farm, but this was the early 1980s, when times were tough for farmers, and Ron and Mark’s father didn’t think there would be enough income to support everyone.

In the winter of 1983, Ron went to auctioneering school with a few of his friends. By the following spring, he and Mark had their first client.

“We had a call from a gal that said, ‘Hey, I'm moving to Arizona. Will you guys do my household sale?’” Mark explained.

Before the sale, Mark checked Ron’s closet to see if they had any clothes that matched so people would know they were working together.

“We didn't have anything that matched except our yellow FFA shirts,” said Mark. “Someone says, ‘One thing's for sure, we can pick you guys out in the crowd,’ because nobody else was wearing yellow. And we figured, why don't we just stick with that?”

“Kind of goofy, isn't it?” he added.

Stock Auction Company did personal property sales, also called salt and pepper shaker sales, for years. They landed a few lucky breaks running auctions for the Noonan Equipment Company in Cornlea, Behlen Manufacturing, Nebraska Public Power District, Omaha Public Power District and Lincoln Electric System. The brothers added real estate to the mix and by the end of the '90s the team had to grow because business was picking up.

“We were having three auctions a week all across Nebraska and into Kansas,” said Mark. “We're putting a lot of miles in doing sales in Atlanta, Georgia, and sales in Texas.”

When the ethanol boom came in the mid-2000s, auctions slowed down significantly.

“We were lucky to have three auctions a month,” said Mark. “Because nobody quits when they're making money."

But they had an ace up their sleeve.

In 2000, they collaborated with some young people using a grant from the Kiewit Foundation to develop an online bidding site and were the first auction company in Nebraska to offer online bids.

“Nobody knew what it was,” said Mark. “People out in the crowd would be mad when we'd have a computer screen on and we would be saying, 'The internet — you've got to bid again.’ (They’d say), 'You ain’t got nobody online! There's nobody there.'"

“We were the very first auction company to bring live internet bidding directly out to the traditional farm auctions,” Ron said. “We used to drag 1,000 feet of telephone cable through the mud so we could have a dial-up internet hookup out in the auction ring. We recognized early on that the internet was going to be the future.”

After 10 years of experimenting with and perfecting internet auction software, the Stock brothers launched in 2009.

“We had plans on launching Big Iron in 2004, but the software build was slow to develop,” Ron said. “And it was a good thing, because in 2004 there were only 20 percent of farmers online and just five years later there were 80 percent of farmers with online capabilities.”

To come up with a name, they put a piece of paper on the wall and started jotting down ideas.

“We just started writing a whole bunch of different possible names that we thought would be unique and easy to spell, and then we'd start searching if those domains were available or for sale,” said Mark. “We searched through literally thousands of them. Finally, somebody wrote ‘Big Iron.'"

The first Big Iron auction was in February 2009. They had 21 items up for bid and more than 800 people registered.

One of the items was a grain cart with a shot auger flighting that sold for $2,100 to a buyer in Texas.

“When they came to pick it up they were so excited,” Mark said. “It was exactly what he was looking for because he was going to re-flight it and convert it into what we call today a seed tender to load his grain drill with.”

The Stocks decided to run another online auction the next month and see if they could keep it going monthly. Things sped up.

“Our one auction a month turned into two auctions a month, turned into an auction every week within one year’s period of time,” Mark said. “It morphed really, really fast.”

One thing Mark credits for Big Iron’s success is there are no buyer’s fees added onto the bid and the auctions are absolute, meaning there’s no minimum bid for an item.

“(Buyers) know they're not wasting their time,” said Mark.

Sellers save time and money because they don’t have to haul their equipment to an auction site, and they’ll have 20,000 to 100,000 people watching the bidding.

Big Iron spread like wildfire and they’ve had to hire independent contractors as sales representatives across the country.

“There's over 170 people on the sales force,” said Mark. “We're looking for more all the time. The demand is here to go service the needs of the customers that are constantly reaching out saying, ‘I've got items I want to sell.’”

In 2016, the Stocks separated Stock Realty and Auction Company and Big Iron Auctions because the two entities had become too big. Then customers were asking if Big Iron handled real estate sales, and those from outside the state may not know about Stock Realty.

“They haven't been able to connect the dots that Ron and Mark Stock also own the Big Iron brand,” Mark said.

That's why the team unveiled Big Iron Realty, an umbrella that covers everything Stock Realty and Auction has done since the mid-80s, during Husker Harvest Days in Grand Island.

They also ran their 12th annual Husker Harvest Days benefit auction for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The Stock brothers have come a long way from their small country school and still share their strong family values.

And they know they didn’t do it alone. They’ve had the support of their wives Kris (Mark’s wife) and Kristin (Ron’s wife). Both couples have been married for 25 years.

They’ve also had the support of the whole Stock Realty and Big Iron team.

“I learned a long time ago that if you want to be successful with anything you need to surround yourself with smart, talented people, and that's what we continue to do,” Mark said. “We’re still looking for more smart, talented people to be part of our organization because we're trying to respond to the needs of the customer base.”