Meet 'Trip' Barnes.
Clarence "Trip" Barnes has become a living institution on Martha's Vineyard, famous for his larger-than-life antics in the trucking business and on the auction podium. As the Island's premier auctioneer at charity fundraisers he's raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for various Island causes. With his razor wit and irascible charm he's become a master at coaxing dollars from donors with sly finesse.
Mr. Barnes exudes an effortless blend of warmth, wit, and strong opinion that would make him a natural candidate for small town mayor. From Steamship Authority policies to affordable housing, he's candid with his ideas for improvements. With his large frame, gregarious nature, and weathered good looks, he conducts himself with a blend of genteel manners and roguish charm.
Born in New York City, Mr. Barnes spent his childhood shuttling between Manhattan and Chappaquiddick. His namesake grandfather, Clarence Barnes, was the attorney general for Massachusetts and his father, Clarence Jr., was an advertising executive and illustrator in New York City. In his early teen years the youngest Clarence started scrapping for extra cash as a farm laborer. At 15 he was driving a milk truck for the MV Cooperative Dairy. "There was a lot of opportunity here," he reminisces. "I wasn't a carpenter, plumber, or electrician, but I knew my way around. I wanted any excuse to make a living here."
Business is born.
While working at the old Ford Garage he purchased his first truck for $250. He hustled hauling work around the Island and started making trucking runs to New York City. When times became lean in the winter he spent several years splitting his time between Martha's Vineyard and Manhattan, where he worked for Time Life as a mail sorter, truck dispatcher, and head reference filer. Whether running furniture to and from the Island or rushing to meet press deadlines, he was in perpetual motion. "I always made myself a job," he says.
The famous painted school buses with the Barnes logos on the side came about during a Labor Day mishap in the 1960s when one of his trucks broke down. He pressed school bus contractor Bob Bailey to sell him an unused bus, which Mr. Barnes stripped of its seats to make a flatbed hauler. This led to a fleet of painted buses that Mr. Barnes estimates has numbered between 50 and 75 over the decades.
Face of Island Philanthropy.
Over the years one of his sidelines, auctioneering, has turned into a high-profile activity that's made him a visible face of Island philanthropy. He was encouraged to take up the podium by the late Timothy Chilton, a stockbroker who pioneered the "unbuyable opportunity auction" with celebrities Vance Packard and Mike Wallace. Mr. Barnes developed his trademark auction patter, peppered with spontaneous off-the-cuff comments and good-natured ribbing of audience members.
"I really enjoy doing it," he says. "Most of the people I sell to, I sold them a car, delivered milk to them, moved their furniture. The key to a successful auction is knowing the people in the crowd, knowing who's donated the stuff, knowing the charity and what they're trying to do with the money."
He singles out Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, Sail Martha's Vineyard, and The Preservation Trust as favorite causes.
"The Preservation Trust has saved the face of the town of West Tisbury," he says. "They don't get enough credit for it." Mr. Barnes was a critical factor in establishing The Vineyard House, the safe haven for Islanders recovering from addiction.
In the early stages of The Vineyard House, Mr. Barnes helped donors find a suitable piece of property, talked the seller's price down, removed asbestos, renovated the building, soothed nervous neighbors, and goosed along the permit and inspection process. He was the first president of the organization and continues to support its mission.
With great thanks to The Vineyard Gazette (source & credits).