PIERCE — Richard Schulz gets a little teary-eyed when he talks about the vehicles that have driven his life for more than 70 years. But he soon recovers and delves into another tale of where and how he found one of the cars, trucks, pickups and tractors that populate the acreage near Pierce he shares with his wife, Joan.
There’s the ’28 Dodge that had been stored in a barn near Carroll for 10 years before Schulz talked the owner into selling it to him. And the ’53 Lincoln Cosmopolitan he spotted in an alley in Schuyler that he bought for $50 back in the 1980s, and the Graham Ice Cream truck owned by the company located in “Norfolk Junction” back in the 1920s.
While the vehicles are important, the stories surrounding them are just as valuable.
For instance, one day while “prospecting” west of Albion, Schulz discovered a junk car upside down in a silage pit.
“I told the farmer we were going to investigate,” Schulz said, which was fine with the farmer. The farmer’s wife, however, insisted they have blueberry pie and ice cream first.
Pie wasn’t Schulz’s only prize that day. The car hidden in the pit was a Model A roadster.
“Underneath it was another one,” Schulz said.
Both went home with him.
Today, those Model A’s, the Lincoln and the ice cream truck, as well as several ’41 Fords, are among the nearly 200 vehicles, hoods, hub caps and other miscellaneous parts lined up in a pasture north of Norfolk waiting to be chosen by someone who sees potential in what others may consider piles of rusted metal.
That’s because, on Saturday, Schulz will sell what remains of his beloved car collection. After all, age is taking its toll on the machines as well as the man who confesses to “just loving cars.”
The 88-year-old bought his first “collectible” car in 1957, shortly after returning from military service in Korea.
The ’41 Ford was like the one he drove back and forth from the farm where he lived with his parents to the high school in Tilden.
“I overhauled it ... and drove it until I went into the service. Then Mom gave it away,” he said.
In time, Schulz would have around 350 vehicles — including 10 ’41 Fords — to replace the one his mom gave away.
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“I’d see them along the road ... in the fields ... back in the trees,” said Schulz, the ultimate scavenger who worked for the Nebraska Department of Transportation for 37 years. “I’d ask to buy them, but better than half were given to me.”
Among his finds is a 1924 Ford Truck that had three pedals — one to go forward, one to go backward and one to stop.
“I couldn’t drive it ... but my mom could,” he said.
A man in Carroll sold him 26 Kaiser-Frazer models from 1947, ’48 and ’49 because he “wanted a home for his cars,” Schulz said. The man was going blind and needed to sell his collection.
While his wife has always supported his hobby, Schulz has been known to haul the vehicles home and “sneak them in the back way,” she said.
She admits she’s sometimes wondered if he loved cars more than he loved her.
“Forty-nine years ago, I thought I was the love of his life,” she said with a laugh.
The collection of 30 vehicles he had when they were married quickly grew. Most have spent their lives tucked among the trees and brush on the couple’s acreage. In time, tree branches and trunks grew through the floorboards and engines and out the windows of some of them.
Joe Aschoff of Osmond, who is handling the auction, and his crew spent weeks freeing the vehicles from tangled vegetation and moving them to the pasture.
He expects the auction to attract a variety of people, including those who need parts, those looking for a restoration project and those who are just curious.
“It’s one of the more unusual sales I’ll do in my lifetime,” he said.
Like his father, Brian Schulz gets a little nostalgic when talking about the sale. After all, he spent much of his youth rescuing abandoned cars.
Along the way, they’ve had a few close encounters.
“We were trying to get it (a ’41 Ford) on the trailer (near Valentine) and a rattlesnake slithered under the car,” Brian said.
Another time they uncovered six baby raccoons in a hole under a car, he said.
Like his dad, Brian enjoyed “the hunt,” as much as anything, he said, and will be sad to see the end of an era.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “You can’t keep everything, but I was part of so much of it.”
Even Brian’s son, 12-year-old Tyler, is grieving.
“I used to ride the four-wheeler among the cars,” he said. “It will be hard to see them go” — especially the red and green “Christmas truck” that was used to haul many of the vehicles.
Richard Schulz understands.
“You just want to keep them, but you can’t,” he said.
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