NORWALK (AP) — With his best years behind him, Ron Hackenberger has decided to let go of his dream for a museum to house his collection of rare and unusual old cars and trucks.
Granted, a museum would have been an ambitious project for the retired businessman, cattle rancher, and entrepreneur.
Over the last 40 years, Hackenberger has amassed more than 700 cars and trucks as well as motorcycles, scooters, and numerous other wheeled and non-wheeled oddities.
In two weeks, it will all be gone, except for some keepsake vehicles he intends to divide among his family of six daughters and 20 grandchildren.
The collection of vehicles is believed to be one of the largest held in private hands. They will hit the auction block on the weekend of July 15-16 and will be sold with no reserve at a two-day sale open to anyone.
“I’m over 80 years old. It’s time to move on and let somebody else enjoy them. I have owned them long enough,” he said.
The cache of classic and obscure cars and trucks has been stored away for decades in a discount department store in Norwalk, at an old lumberyard near the Ohio Turnpike, and two other sites.
A bulk of the collection are the so-called “orphans” of post-World War II auto manufacturing — Nash, Crosley, Studebaker, Kaiser, Packard, Rambler, DeSoto, and Hudson. The independents — the makes mopped up by the Big Three in the 1950s and ’60s — were Hackenberger’s specialty.
He particularly had a penchant for anything made by Studebakers, the South Bend, Indiana,-based auto manufacturer that closed its doors in 1966.
He has more than 250 cars, pickups, and delivery vans manufactured by the company, including an Avanti and a handful of Hawks, Champions, and Commanders, as well as horse-drawn Conestoga wagons and a carriage made in the 1800s.
Hackenberger, 81, said he is a big fan of the model because the first three cars he owned were Studebakers — 1948 and 1952 Champions and a 1956 Golden Hawk.
“Studebakers were my first cars,” he said. “I guess you could say I have a soft spot for them.”
JF Marketing/Auction & Real Estate Service is the primary contractor handling the auction and partnering with VanDerBrink Auctions, which specializes in the sale of antique and classic vehicles and farm equipment.
The first day’s inventory — cars, pickup trucks, motorcycles, scooters, and about a dozen bumper cars — will be placed at Norwalk’s Summit Motorsports Park.
Hackenberger said other locations were considered for the auction, but the speed track offers ample space to accommodate the vehicles up for sale, bidders, and parking.
Day 2, which will be held at the former Wolohan Lumber, north of Milan — will include horse-drawn wagons and buggies, antique tractors, trucks, and project vehicles.
The inventory includes some Big Three automaker vehicles. These include Ford (a pair of ‘65 Mustangs), Chevrolet (‘57 Bel Air and Covairs), Cadillac (‘47 and ‘62 ambulances), Dodge (‘66 Charger), and Plymouth (‘67 Barracuda).
A selection of micro cars — Crosley and King Midget, and European and Japanese imports — Jaguar, Honda, Subaru, Fiat, BMW Isetta, and French-made Citroen, are on the auction block.
Hackenberger said he bought cars and trucks from owners in nearly every state and Canada, with about 85 percent sent to Norwalk from western states. Many of the vehicles still carry the licenses of their former homes. He always intended to refurbish the collection to display in his own private world-class museum.
“I never sold one car, ever. Anytime someone would ask to buy one, I told them I bought it for reason: to put it in a museum,” he said.
Auctioneer Yvette VanDerBrink said she has made five trips to Norwalk to help Hackenberger catalog vehicles and get them ready for the sale. She described it as one of the most eclectic and challenging sales she has encountered in her career because of the obscurity and limited production of the vehicles.
“Nothing in this entire collection is common. There are many cars in this collection I have never seen before. This has been an education for me,” said VanDerBrink, whose firm is based in Hardwick, Minn. “A ‘57 Chevrolet four-door is probably the most common car in the sale. There is just a lot of weird stuff.”
A native of eastern Pennsylvania, Hackenberger settled in Ohio in 1966 to start a trucking business. After a stay in Cleveland, he and his wife landed in Norwalk, where he began hauling crushed stone for paving and construction contractors.
“I bought one truck and started building the company. I bought a second truck and a then a third truck,” he said.
By the 1980s, Ron’s Trucking Service had grown to employ 100 drivers and 20 mechanics and operated terminals in Perrysburg, Massillon, and Columbus for service and maintenance of the 100-truck fleet.
Under doctors’ orders to slow down, Hackenberger began dabbling in cattle ranching in Texas during the mid-1980s. He bought a 150-acre farm about 100 miles east of Dallas, eventually expanding to raising nearly 600 head of cattle on 8,000 acres. He sold the farmland in 2000 to live full-time again in Norwalk.
Hackenberg’s business holdings include a banquet hall and RV campground and former ownership of an outlet mall near the Ohio Turnpike.
“I am not smart. I never went to college, but I know how to work. That is how I did it,” he said.
The auction has been more than a year in the planning, and a complicated process because titles on many vehicles were missing, incomplete, or had out-of-state titles under different rules or laws.
Jim Pickering, editor of American Car Collector, a publication covering car auctions around the world, said private auctions similar to the Hackenbergers’ size and unusual and rare models can generate great enthusiasm among classic-car collectors.
“He really has a unique collection of off-the-wall and interesting stuff,” he said. “It will be interesting to see what happens and how much money the collection will bring. It will depend on who is the room and how badly they want it.”
Hackenberger said he abandoned his dream for a museum to show his rare cars and trucks about a year ago. He said he needed to invest about $1.5 million in a building he owns to make it into a world-class museum.
“We just decided it wasn’t worth investing the money at my age and another couple years to get it open. When you get my age you don’t make plans too far ahead,” he said.
Hackenberger is not parting with his entire collection. He said at first he planned to keep 10 vehicles. That figure stretched to 20 cars and trucks and now is at 30. Among the vehicles that will stay in the family fleet is a restored 1951 Studebaker Commander.