Shopping for vintage wheels
By Jim Urquhart
I think I just witnessed the biggest news event to take place in the small hamlet of Pierce, Nebraska.
Hundreds of miles away from my Salt Lake City home in the heart of fly-over country I was assigned to cover the auctioning off of 500 vintage automobiles in a field outside of town. Ray Lambrecht had run the local Chevrolet dealership for decades before retiring in 1996. Over the years he developed a habit of not selling trade-in cars and held onto many unsold cars. What was left was a scattered collection of hundreds of cars in warehouses and fields around the town of about 2,000 people.
When I heard the cars were going to be put up for auction after they had been “found” I knew this was a story my Dad would love. My father showed me how to turn wrenches when I was young and always taught me that it saves money to be able to work on your own car, if you have the skill, than to pay someone else to do it. It also teaches you how to be able to rely on yourself a bit more. We have long talked about restoring a late 50s model Nash automobile. We have yet to sit down and begin working on one let alone find one that we could afford to get our hands on. I thought that just maybe Nebraska might be the place for us.
Unfortunately, due to health issues, he was unable to join me but I promised myself that although a Nash was not on the auction list, I would pawn my truck and possibly a camera on the spot to get the funds to take one home. So many car enthusiasts and buyers descended on this small town that the closest hotel I could find was an hour drive away. I heard that as many as 20,000 people were expected to attend through the weekend. I considered myself lucky after meeting a couple that had to stay in the hotel three hours away because it was the closest they could find.
Judging by the line of cars arriving at 6am, three hours before any auctioning was scheduled to take place, and the 20 minute wait to use a port-a-potty I could easily believe that. As the sun poked through the morning clouds I was able to get a real understanding of what was sitting in the rain soaked field.
As the crowds began to arrive I heard expressions from them like “mother lode” and “holy grail” to describe what was now visible. Hundreds of cars spanned the acreage. So much automotive history was on display in one place. I got lost in exploring the craftsmanship of the cars: real steel, no plastic bumpers, real chrome in places where we so often see chrome tape and steering wheels that we were designed to be driven before safety was a concern.
Restored classic cars may be a rich man’s game but there was just car after car that would make a good project for any father and son duo to tackle. As I shot and met collectors from all over the world I was amazed at their passion for the cars. They were having discussions with their friends and spouses about what looked good on a car or what parts were rusted or just missing. Making inventories along the way of what work needed to be done or if the car meant starting a project they could never finish.
I also saw many father and son teams who were just there to look over the collection. It reminded me of my Dad and the time he took, and still takes, to try to explain the workings of an automobile. He has never tried to dissuade me from tearing into my cars or trucks with little more than a basic set of tools and a very general understanding of what the project or repair may actually entail. But, he seems to always have his phone by his side to take my call when I inevitably get in over my head and need some advice.
As the day went on I learned more and more about these cars just by listening to the excited conversations taking place around me. Yes, it was an older crowd for the most part. Maybe they were the ones that could afford to make these purchases. However, there were still enough people younger than me that I could see the passion for the old and rare cars may continue to live on.
I just hope many of the sons and daughters I saw also get the chance to twist a few wrenches in their time. Unfortunately, as the day went on I was unable to find any sign that a Nash had been snuck into the collection but I will keep looking elsewhere.