Monday, August 27, 2007

Auction uncovers unknown collection

Auction uncovers unknown collection
Published: August 27, 2007

CORSICA - When hundreds of auction-goers drove up the quarter-mile dirt road just off 382nd Avenue to Jerald Wolbrink's farm northwest of Corsica late last month, they entered uncharted territory.

Thick groves of trees shield the house where Wolbrink, 84, lived until recently with his sister Trena.

It was July 28, and they had come to bid on the property of two "very private people." The sale came just one month after Jerald's death and his sister's move to Corsica.

Some people knew what was in store. Others soon learned what secrets the house held. More than 430 bid numbers were issued, says a member of the auctioneers' staff.

Jim Dunn of Harrison was one of those driving up the long driveway, past the trees and on to the property where a partially painted 115-year-old house stood out among other farm buildings.

"It was like Ichabod Crane in 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' " Dunn said.

Dunn, a disabled Vietnam veteran, has a passion for going to auctions in search of antique tractors, particularly International Harvesters. Even though he has slimmed down his collection a bit, he came to the Wolbrink auction in hopes of finding a few things.

But this was a different kind of auction.

"I have been to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of auctions before," Dunn said. "This has to rate in the top three."

There were guns and more guns. Rifles, deer rifles, pistols, shotguns, guns still in original boxes. Ammunition was plentiful, enough to fill a hay rack. Pocket knives were just as plentiful, found everywhere in the house. Things kept showing up, making it a challenge for auctioneers. Antique tractors, about 30 of them, were parked around the farm property. Coin collections surfaced.

"To look at the house, you would wonder if it was an abandoned house," said auctioneer Alvin Timmerman of New Holland.

"It was unreal, old shells, stuff related to guns. I think there were about 120 guns, various kinds, including pistols, a lot of deer rifles, all kinds. Some of them were in new boxes. It was the most items we sold at auction in a day, 1,300 items."

Auctioneer Ray Porter of Geddes will mark his 50th year in the profession next year. He said this auction was like no other he has ever seen.

"It was a lot different from the others because the stuff was so different, stuff from 100 years back, and there was a lot of interest, a lot of people, but there were also a lot of exaggerations," Porter said.

Because of what they found, some people might have wondered if Wolbrink was arming himself, protecting his property - a case right out of a detective magazine.

"If you didn't know them, one would wonder if somebody was living here who was going to shoot you," Dunn said. "But this guy was harmless, a man of few words."

Allen Vanden Hoek of Corsica, a nephew of the Wolbrinks, shed some light on what was going on.

"He was a collector. Didn't have any causes or anything like that, but he was an NRA member. He believed in his right to bear arms, liked to hunt deer and elk in the Black Hills," Vanden Hoek said.

The guns were so important to Jerald Wolbrink that it required a family policy.

"They didn't go out much. Because they had all the guns, if one of them went to town, the other had to stay home and guard the guns. If there was a funeral in the family they would go to it, and one would have to hurry home to guard the guns," he said.

Even Vanden Hoek was surprised by the quantity of things tucked away in various places on the farm.

"We didn't realize half the stuff he had stashed away. The guns. A Tiffany-style lamp that is unusual. The buildings were all filled to rafters," he said.

Vanden Hoek thinks now about what will come next.

The possibility of burning the house was talked about, but there was a caution.

This sale was a subject of rumors. What was there. What wasn't. Why the guns?

Most prominent in the unsubstantiated rumors is that guns, knives and coins were being pulled out of the walls while the sale went on.

Not to the knowledge of Vanden Hoek, Timmerman or Porter.

But no one knows for sure. That's why Vanden Hoek says they are reluctant to light a match to the house.

"Nobody opened up the walls before. The walls would have to be checked," he said. "We don't know what else we might find."

David Kranz's column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call him at 331-2302 or write to him at the Argus Leader, Box 5034, Sioux Falls, SD 57117-5034.