'Going, going, gone!'
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS Auctioneer Dean R. Arner draws bids for a 1947 Studebaker pickup during Saturday's sale of the largest private collection of cars in Schuylkill County.
One by one, memory-filled pieces of automotive history rolled out of a large Taggartsville garage and through the streets of Tamaqua.
For years, the former Tamaqua Auction building housed a large portion of the private car collection of Richard Konkus.
Konkus, co-owner of Konkus Produce, was well known. He was one of the original vendors at the Hometown Farmers Market, selling homegrown corn since 1950. The business continues there every Wednesday.
But if produce was his livelihood, cars were his passion.
Konkus, 75, passed away a year ago in January after declining health. As a result, the time had come for the objects of his devotion to find new homes.
It was a difficult decision to make, said family members.
"The cars weren't being shown anymore. At one time he did that," said daughter-in-law Cathy Konkus, Pottsville.
"He'd probably be heartbroken," said another, sister-in-law Kathy Konkus, married to Richard's brother John.
The Konkus brothers were close. In fact, the two actually co-owned a few of the cars. For John, the May 3 auction was a day packed with mixed emotions the excitement of the sale, tear-filled thoughts of his late brother, a final look at the vehicles, and the reality of ongoing duties of settling the estate.
"He liked cars," John said. "He started to redo the '49 Dodge."
But health issues forced things to come to a grinding halt. Time takes a toll on the human body. As we grow older, unexpected mishaps can set us back.
Konkus suffered two heart attacks. He also fell several times. Then, in a freak accident, he was struck by a heavy cigar store Indian while trying to load the wooden statue on the back of a truck.
Eventually, he ended up at Lehigh Valley Hospice Center where he passed away.
Auctioneer Dean Arner described the liquidation of 38 cars and trucks as "one of the largest private collections he's ever sold."
The car auction is believed to be the largest in the Schuylkill and Carbon county area in 11 years, the last being the April 12, 2003, sale of the world-class collection of 45 cars of the J.E. Morgan Classic Car Museum, Andreas. Like the Konkus sale, the Morgan liquidation, handled by JM Auctions, was prompted by death, the passing of Tamaqua industrialist John E. Morgan.
Field of dreams
The Konkus sale took place on a sloping farm field outside of Cressona and drew a crowd of 200, including more than 130 bidders from locations in Pa., Md., N.Y. and N.J.
The working farmland had deep ruts and mud holes from recent heavy rains. Still, it was a field of dreams for many.
"One man even drove here all the way from Missouri," said Robert Gilfert, auction specialist with Dean R. Arner Auctioneer. The vehicles had been stored and unattended for many years. For that reason, most were in need of TLC. Many were project cars requiring substantial overhaul.
The oldest motorcar for sale was a 1930 Model A. The newest, a 2003 Chevrolet Silverado 4X4 and a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
There were specialty vehicles galore, such as a few VW Karmann Ghias, including a 1969 convertible. It fetched $2,000.
There were two well-equipped fire engines that appeared to be ready to respond at a moment's notice.
"The 1949 Ford firetruck could be refreshened nicely," said Michael Kitsock, president, Schuylkill Historical Fire Society, a volunteer-based museum in Shenandoah. Kitsock also admired the 1958 Ford F750 firetruck and a 1963 Studebaker Lark. As it turned out, the '49 fire- truck sold for $3,600, the '58 model, $1,650, the Studebaker, $3,000. All went to private collectors.
Robust bidding began at 11 a.m. and it seemed buyers had a diversity of motivation.
Some bidders said they were looking for bargains. Restorationists said they were looking for project cars. Sentimental hippies were looking for Beetles, of which there were four, including a rare '77 Beetle bus that brought $7,600.
Another icon from the flower-power era, a '69 Corvair, chimed in at $1,200.
Some savvy bidders snatched bargains. A '74 Volvo with 97,000 miles went for $450. A '79 Ford Mustang with 67,000 miles brought $550. An '89 Lincoln four-door, in nice, drivable condition went for $600.
The '03 Silverado 1500HD in bright red was bought by a Tamaqua man for $7,700. He will detail it inside and out, saying he intends to resell it for about $9,500. The '03 Jeep Laredo, in need of work, sold for $1,250.
Which car fetched the top price of the day?
Actually, when the dust settled, the top price went to a motorcycle, not a car.
A rare, untitled 1970 Indian dealer bike fetched $9,000, the winning bid by a collector who drove in from New Rochelle, N.Y.
The Indian Velo 500 model was a conversation piece. American-made Indian bikes actually ceased production in 1953. But a successor imported bikes under the Indian name from 1963 to 1977. Turns out, the Konkus family held the local Indian dealership. Their leftover bike was a showroom model, one of only 150 made. In a sense, it was brand-new. However, years of storage had resulted in surface rust. Excited bidders didn't mind a bit. When it comes to rarity, what's a little surface rust?
"I'll probably let it sit for a while and then start working on it," said the unnamed purchaser as volunteers helped to load it onto his small, black pickup.
The old cars fetched a total of $74,025. And there were some nice bargains. Of course, bargains are welcome when gas is selling upward of $4 a gallon.
Most importantly, buyers were excited to haul away and cherish their new wheels.
It was time for the collection to change hands. Some young buyers were even starting collections of their own, cars that'd be loved and cared for like a newborn baby.
That, undoubtedly, would make Richard Konkus very happy.