What happens when four months of hype on a 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.”
You probably know the story of Ray and Mildred Lambrecht, Chevrolet dealers from 1946-96, who locked the doors to the dealership 17 years ago with about 20 new and very low mileage cars inside.
And, more than 400 used cars remained 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 from the dealership, as well as such cars as a 1928 Durant 2-door sedan owned by Lambrecht’s uncle and a Silver Anniversary 1978 Corvette Indianapolis 500 Pace Car with 4 miles on the odometer.
As VanDerBrink’s crew pulled “new” old cars – never titled or licensed – from the building, major 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 auction on Saturday, Sept. 28 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.
More than 3,600 bidders watched online and nearly 15,000 people milled on the rain-dampened grassy field where the cars were staged. Folks from Connecticut to California, Georgia to Washington state and places in-between watched.
A bidder from Germany parked his rental car at the high school parking lot where the student council and athletic teams charged $20 per stall. He and others walked 1.5 miles to the auction, following the bright yellow flags of the funnel cake concession and other vendors.
A Norwegian firefighter stayed at a Norfolk fire station because of a shortage of motel rooms (nearly everything within a two-hour driving radius of Pierce was sold out months ago).
One woman spoke of the great meal she had at the Methodist Church in Pierce. In the face of a massive crowd, the locals stepped up to sell food. The scent of barbecue extended from downtown into a neighborhood where a teen girl manned a corner water and pop station, 75 cents each, thank you. A family near the high school opened thir garage to sell breakfast food and provided a picnic table and canopy for diners. The owners of many “For Sale” cars in the area 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 visitors stopped and looked – maybe even bought. One resident wisely displayed a sign for his “Man Cave Yard Sale.”
On a non-Husker-football Saturday, it was the thing to do in eastern Nebraska. And the world caught a glimpse of Nebraska ingenuity and pride.
By J.L. Schmidt, Nebraska Press Association. First published in the Oct. 9 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.