Snohomish man ran long-time livestock auction business

Dan Britton was a quiet man, but he made his living with the fast-talking cadence of an expert auctioneer.

With his twin brother Don Britton, a former Snohomish County Council member, Dan Britton owned the Britton Brothers Auction in Snohomish. They operated their business, which held weekly sales of livestock, plants and household goods, from 1955 until 1990. Dan Britton kept his livestock-hauling business running until retirement in 2008.

The old auction barn on the family property across a road from the Snohomish River has been torn down. For decades, it was a bustling center of rural commerce. It was also a social hub, where neighbors, buyers and sellers met each week to catch up on their lives.

Britton Brothers Auction was no small-town farmers market. Before the federal government bought out many dairy farmers in the 1980s, “we had the largest dairy cow sales in the state of Washington,” Don Britton said.

At an average weekly auction, they would sell 400 head of cattle.

Daniel L. Britton died May 20 in Everett. He was 78.

He survived by his wife, MaryAnn Britton; by four children, Jeff and Curt Britton, Sheila Becker and Nancy Brown; his brothers Don Britton, of Addy, Wash., and Vern Britton, of California; sister Judy Gussman, of Snohomish; and by six grandchildren.

“He used to auctioneer, but otherwise Dan was a quiet person,” said MaryAnn Britton, who marked the couple’s 48th wedding anniversary the day before her husband died. “Put a microphone in his hand, he’d chant like an auctioneer. He worked really hard,” she said.

Auctions of furniture and other household items were held Tuesdays, and livestock was sold on Thursdays.

“He’d start out on Thursday mornings around 7 o’clock. They’d call in the night before, and he’d be up early going to different farmers to pick up cattle. The sale started at noon,” MaryAnn Britton said. After her husband finished hauling cattle, he’d work the auction. “After the sales, he’d work hauling cattle to whomever bought them. He’d work late into the night,” she said.

Auctions were family affairs. MaryAnn and Don Britton’s wife, Roberta, who died five years ago, worked together, along with their children as they grew into their teens. MaryAnn Britton said a lunch spot at the auction barn became a place to chat.

At household sales, Don auctioneered in one ring while Dan sold chickens, rabbits, ducks and other small animals in another ring.

The twin boys were born in Duluth, Minn., on Nov. 7, 1930, in the early days of the Depression. Their parents, Roy and Mabel Britton, moved to Snohomish when the twins were 8. The family had relatives in the Snohomish area. The children were raised where they later had their auction business.

MaryAnn Britton said her husband learned the trade in high school by working at the old Swenson farm auction on Avenue D in Snohomish, now the site of a McDonald’s restaurant.

Dan Britton worked hard, but when Saturday nights rolled around he liked to go out dancing, his wife said. He loved old-time Western music, the songs of Eddie Arnold and Conway Twitty. Although MaryAnn grew up in Snohomish, she didn’t know her future husband as a girl. They met on a blind date. She had worked for the Boeing Co. in Seattle.

“I never went to an auction until I married into the family,” she said. “We sold everything from baby calves to slaughter cows, horses, pigs and goats. Farmers came from as far as Chehalis, Centralia and Yakima.”

“He loved the farm, he wouldn’t live in town,” said Don Britton, who in 1990 moved to a farm near the Eastern Washington town of Addy.

Don Britton said that when his brother was a boy, he suffered from polio. “He had to have the heel of one foot built up on his shoes. He worked through that very well,” he said. Even after a horseback-riding accident, his brother continued to ride.

Unlike his twin, Dan Britton wasn’t interested in local politics. “He hated politics,” said Don Britton, who served 11 years on the Snohomish County Council and left the council in 1989. “He said, ‘You can have it. I don’t care,’ ” Britton said. “He was easy to get along with, although when something disagreed with him, he’d let you know.”

Running auctions all those years, MaryAnn said the family couldn’t get away. “We’d try to take the kids camping once a summer for three or four days,” she said.

After retirement, Dan Britton was happiest on his land, where he’d lived since boyhood.

“He was a homebody,” MaryAnn Britton said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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