Thirty years’ worth of collecting will get dispersed at auction later this month
Rob van Vleet has so many old cars and trucks—mostly trucks—scattered across the grasslands of western Nebraska that he has entirely forgotten about some in particular and has lost track of precisely how many he currently owns. Somewhere between 1,500 and 1,800, he figures.
On the other hand, he can still rattle off the names of the previous owners of some of those vehicles as if he talked to them yesterday, recalling exactly where they lived, the conversations they had, and how that previous owner employed that truck to make a living, whether it be hauling watermelons from Florida to Toronto, shipping produce from western Colorado over the mountains to Denver, or shooting blue flames out their exhaust stacks running propane through Hall-Scott engines.
“Whenever I see an old truck, I like to know what the old guy did with it,” he says.
And, as the size of his collection attests, he usually succeeds in purchasing the old truck and bringing it home with him. But now, he’s realized it’s time to disperse most of those trucks and their stories via what Kraupie’s Auctioneers has called the Nebraska Truck Hoard Auction, an online sale of more than 950 vehicles.
How the Hoard came to be
It’s not the first time he’s amassed a sizable collection of old cars and trucks. By trade, van Vleet hauls heavy and oversize scrap around the Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions, so he’s often coming across older cars and trucks out sitting in fields or parked in back forties. “Out here in Nebraska, there’s no trees, so you can see those trucks way off in the distance, and a few hours later, you’ll finally reach them,” he says. “Out here, we have nice old stuff—not fancy, but good.”
He started knocking on doors to see if he could buy the older vehicles, partly because they interested him, and partly because he could always fire up his scrap-processing machinery to liquidate the old vehicles if necessary. “My formula when I was going around is that I’d buy them for $75, knowing they were worth $650 for scrap,” he says. “It was really a rationalization to buy more old trucks.”
More often than not, he’d simply hang on to the vehicles. He had the wide open spaces, and the climate in his corner of Nebraska does a good job of preserving anything left outside. By the late 1990s, his collection topped 600 old trucks, but then he had to sell them all at auction to satisfy a bank loan. “A lot of good stuff went to new homes,” he says. “And a lot of good stuff got away.” Rather than sulk about it and regret selling that collection, however, van Vleet did what he does best: He started scouring the countryside every weekend to once again build up a fleet of derelicts.
He insists that he doesn’t run a junkyard, just a stash, so pretty much everything he buys remains in the same state as when he hauled it to where it now sits. By his estimation, most of what he has could be made to run after a day or two of wrenching. He, however, has never made the time to do so, and he’s coming to realize that he probably never will with such a sizable collection, so he’s made the decision to sell it all off again. “I like them, but I go out and look around and wonder what the hell I’m doing,” he says. “There just comes a time when you’ve got to move on.”