After the History Channel pulled out of Pierce, and his 500 cars had scattered to bidders in September’s $2.8 million auction, Ray Lambrecht had little to remind him of the business he ran for 50 years.
Just the empty brick building across the street from his house and a sign in the corner of the window: Lambrecht Auto Co.
The 96-year-old liked to look out his window at that sign, said auctioneer Yvette VanDerBrink.
But sometime around Thanksgiving, even that was going, going, gone.
“We found where two of the windows were unlatched and could be opened from the outside,” she said. “We found boot prints on the toilet and it looks like someone went in through the window.”
And then that someone, and the sign, went out the front door.
For three traffic-jammed days, the auction put Pierce on the map and overwhelmed the town of about 1,700 near Norfolk. More than 30,000 people poured into Ray Lambrecht’s soybean field on the edge of town to see — and try to buy — the cars and pickups he’d collected for decades.
Buyers came from all over the U.S. and the world. The History Channel gave the auction three hours of prime-time coverage. Bids ranged from $140,000 for a one-mile 1958 pickup to $600 for a ’73 Malibu. Even promotional Lambrecht yardsticks were selling for $50 apiece.
Months later, Pierce County Sheriff Rick Eberhardt is still approached by strangers who, when they learn where he serves, want to talk about the auction.
But there was a downside to all that attention.
“Everybody wanted a piece of it,” Eberhardt said, “and that was the only bad thing.”
The sheriff investigated the theft of the sign but still hasn’t determined who took it, or where it is.
VanDerBrink didn’t like to think of Ray Lambrecht looking across the street at his unmarked history. So she hired a sign painter near her home in Minnesota to replicate the same white letters on the same red background.
She returned to Pierce last month. She visited the barren field that had hosted so many people. She stopped by the brick building with the new sign.
“You really can’t tell the difference. The sheriff and I put it in the window.”