Photographers' Blog

Shopping for vintage wheels

Pierce, Nebraska

By Jim Urquhart

I think I just witnessed the biggest news event to take place in the small hamlet of Pierce, Nebraska.

GALLERY: VINTAGE CAR AUCTION

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.

Monowi, Nebraska. Population: 1

The population sign outside the town reads β€œ1.” The one refers to Elsie Eiler, 77.

That makes Monowi, Nebraska the smallest incorporated town in America.

I was assigned to go there recently and produce a photo story to go with text that had been written much earlier. With this place really in the middle of nowhere it was problematic to send a photographer just to shoot this one person.

But when my editor saw that it was β€œonly” a four hour drive from Omaha where I would be going to cover Warren Buffett and the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, the decision was made for me to make the trip to see Elsie.