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J.L. Schmidt

Capitol View

Nebraska Press Association

Thousands pack Nebraska town for world-class auction

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What happens when four months of hype on the world stage meets a northeast Nebraska community of 1,700 people?

Well, in the case of Pierce and the much ballyhooed Lambrecht Chevrolet automobile auction, folks from the area step up to the plate and the History Channel turns it into a three-hour documentary, "History Made Now: Wheels of Fortune."

Unless you have been under a rock or on another planet for the past few months, you know the story of Ray and Mildred Lambrecht, Chevrolet dealers from 1946 to 1996, who locked the doors to the dealership 17 years ago and left about 20 new and very low mileage cars inside. More than 400 used cars were left in a field near the Pierce Golf Course. Weeds and trees grew up on the Lambrecht-owned land and thieves started helping themselves to parts. Finally, the couple -- now in their 90s -- decided it was time to sell.

Enter well-known Minnesota auctioneer Yvette VanDerBrink. Her company agreed to do the sale which included many original parts and fixtures and signage -- you name it -- from the dealership, as well as the cars which ranged from a 1928 Durant 2-door sedan owned by Lambrecht's uncle to a Silver Anniversary 1978 Corvette Indianapolis 500 Pace Car with 4 miles on the odometer.

As VanDerBrink's crew pulled the "new" old cars -- never titled or licensed -- from the building, the hype began. Major national newspapers, on-line and print car publications such as "Old Cars Weekly" and "Barn Finds" and "Hemming's Motor News," all did stories and showed pictures of the collection. The poster child became a 1958 Chevrolet Cameo pickup with a dented roof (something from the ceiling fell on it over time) and 1.3 miles on the odometer. That vehicle also was the first to sell at Saturday's (Sept. 28) auction and it went to a man from New Hampshire who paid $140,000. He said he was going to display it "as is." The Corvette sold for $80,000 to an on-line bidder from Nebraska. A red and white 1963 Impala 2-door hardtop with 11 miles went for $97,500 to a bidder from Ohio. The Durant sold for $8,000.

There were more than 3,600 bidders on-line and many, many more in person as nearly 15,000 people milled about on the rain-dampened grassy field where the cars had been staged. Folks from Connecticut to California, Georgia to Washington state and many places in-between watched the sale which started with a set of four Chevy hubcaps that went for $400. A bidder from Germany parked his rental car at the High School parking lot where members of the student council and several athletic teams were charging $20 per car. He joined others who walked the 1.5 miles to the auction site, which was marked by the bright yellow flags of the funnel cake concession and other vendors.

A Norwegian firefighter who stayed at one of the Norfolk fire stations because of a shortage of motel rooms (nearly everything within a two-hour driving radius of Pierce was sold out months ago) was among the observers. A woman from Texas parked herself in her portable camping chair and worked on her needlepoint as her husband looked at cars and visited with other attendees.

One woman spoke of the great meal she had at the Methodist Church in Pierce Friday night. In a town with limited dining opportunities in the face of a massive crowd, the locals stepped up. There was a strong odor of barbecue smoke drifting from downtown out into the neighborhood where a teen girl manned a corner water and pop station, 75 cents each, thank you. A family near the High School opened their garage to sell breakfast goodies and even provided a picnic table and canopy for diners to use.

The owners of many "For Sale" cars in the area from Pierce to Norfolk had them on display. Some that didn't run were on the backs of flatbed trailers. Some were classics, some strictly hot rods, some maybe just parts cars. But the visitors were stopping and looking -- maybe even buying. That's opportunity. One local resident displayed excellent marketing skills in signing his event the "Man Cave Yard Sale."

On a non-Husker-Football Saturday, it was THE thing to do. And the world caught a glimpse of Nebraska ingenuity and pride.

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