An extraordinary auction took place last month in Cuba, Missouri. Five buildings full of old motorcycles, cars, outboard motors and antique advertising signage went under the hammer – all without reserve. There was so much stuff that much of it was gathered into job lots on pallets ... but there was gold to be found amongst this mass of metal and rust.
Jerry L. came back from the Vietnam War a changed man. Stress was common in his job as a demolition expert, and stress had taken its toll. One symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a desire to move away from people and that was Jerry's first move when he got home, purchasing a large secluded plot of land in rural Missouri.
Sick of Ads?
More than 700 New Atlas Plus subscribers read our newsletter and website without ads.
Join them for just US$19 a year.More Information
That's the entrance to the land above. Unless you were going there specifically, you'd never find it.
Jerry soon began living as cheaply as possible, preferring to spend his money on more and more vehicle purchases. One picker who was actually able to buy bikes from him years ago reported that "he had a drop cord with one bulb in it and a hotplate for cooking."
Ten years ago, he decided it was cheaper to live with no utilities at all: no electricity and no sewer. He began living on raw hot dogs and carbonated drinks. If he went out to eat with people, he would drink water and then eat the scraps off their plates at the end of the meal.
The vehicles were always cheap. He knew his bikes because he'd been a Triumph dealer before the war, and he could often be seen lowballing at the end of swap meets buying motorcycles, automobiles, bicycles, outboard motors, signs, license plates, and oil cans.
All the available space was utilized to house the growing collection, moreso when Jerry began disassembling the bikes. Curiosity? Anti-theft measures? Who knows? Maybe it was designed to enable him to get more into each space. When he ran out of space, another building was erected and filled, a pattern that went on for years.
Sadly, as his mental state deteriorated, authorities had to move in and Jerry was hospitalized.
Auction firm J. Wood and Company was called in to liquidate his assets.
"It looked better crammed in the buildings! It took about three weeks to move it to a warehouse and that left us a week to sort it out."
Here are some of the highlights:
When the dust (or rust) settled, the sale netted $850,000. Not a bad result, considering that the judge who had been presiding over the case had originally ordered the contents of the farm scrapped!
He just didn't see the gold in there.
There were no shortage of buyers who did, however. I feel certain that many of Jerry's dreams will be fully realized by those who attended the auction and trailered away projects, basket cases and just enough to be able to reconstruct the original.View gallery - 49 images