model train set on track

My First Encounter with Clem Clement!

e*Train Issue: Sep 2023   |   Posted in: ,

Clem and I on one of our excursions to Maine

My First Encounter with Clem Clement

By James V. Stiles, TCA# 80-14993                                    Fall e*Train 2023

Clem was my Air Force boss in 1976 when we were both stationed at Hanscom AFB, MA.  He knew that I had some interest in trains (I was a “model railroader”) and he had seen an advertisement in the Boston newspaper about an estate auction in Newburyport on Friday evening that included some antique toy trains.  He asked me if I would be interested in going to the auction with him.  Well, what was I to do?  Clem was the boss, so of course I was interested!  I didn’t know squat about rusty tin and couldn’t have cared less about it, but I certainly wasn’t going to let Clem know that. 

Clem said to bring a change of clothes and to wear something nondescriptive, not too trashy and not flashy. Blue jeans, colored tee shirt and a jacket would be perfect.  So, Friday arrived, and around Noon Clem came by my office and said, “Well, are you ready to go?”  I said, “Now? I thought the viewing was at 6 and the auction started at 7 PM. Newburyport’s not that far away, is it?”  He said, “Come on. We got things to do before we get there.”  Well, he was the boss, so who was I to argue with him. We both took a half day of leave and lit out for Newburyport in Clem’s pickup truck. We only got a few miles down the road when Clem suddenly hit the brakes and we jolted to a stop.

I said, “What happened?”  Clem said, “I think I saw the nose of a Model A Ford sticking out of a garage back over there behind that house.”  So, he backed up, parked the truck, got out and went back over to the garage to inspect the Model A that he had seen, He didn’t trespass because the owner was there working on the car when we walked up and he and Clem had an extended conversation about the car and Modal As in general.

That was when I discovered that Clem was also an antique car enthusiast, too. We killed a good half hour or more at the Model A before moving on.  But we didn’t get too much further before coming to another full stop for an antique store that we saw.  Another half hour to 45 minutes down looking at all the treasures they had to show us.  I was beginning to understand why we left the office at Noon for a 90-minute trip.  We stopped several more times for more vehicles and antique stores and a bite to eat. 

As it turned out we were late to the viewing. Clem had a strategy for the viewing and for the auction. When we were to arrive, we would each get a bidding number, just in case the trains were split into more than one lot.  Clem didn’t want to be in the position of winning the bid on the first lot and then being forced to bid unreasonably high to gain the necessary second lot. If there were multiple lots, I was to bid and win the early lot(s) and he would bid and try to win the last lot. During the viewing we would only look at items located close to the items we were really interested in. 

Well, As I said, we were late to the viewing.  There were only about 15 minutes remaining before the auction started when we arrived and we still had to find the trains.  We split up at the back of the hall and met up again at the front where the trains were located in several boxes comprised of two lots, as Clem feared. Clem obviously threw his viewing strategy out the window and was head and shoulders down into the boxes containing the trains.  He would hand me a car, and say, “Here, hold this, hold this, wait a minute.” Then he stopped cold still. He put one hand up to his chin and began to rub it, and said, “Oh, Jimmy, Oh Jimmy, We’re in trouble!”

Now, I thought in his haste to go through the box he had accidentally broken something. So, I said, “Hey, Clem it will be okay. We’ll just put everything back and no one will know the difference.  After all, it’s just a bunch of rusty tin anyway.” And I stood up straight, looked around and sort of covered anything Clem might be doing in the box.  But Clem said, “You don’t understand. I don’t know what it is.”

Well, I knew what it was. It was a bunch of rusty tin, (By now you can tell that’s my favorite phrase for what is now a fascinating hobby to me.)  I turned around and crouched down beside Clem and he started my education in antique toy trains.  The trains we were looking at were Ives, standard gauge, a steam engine, with three cars.  I can’t be more specific about what the consist was because this all occurred 47 years ago and my 78-year-old memory just isn’t what it used to be.  Clem believed it to be a named train like, “The Westerner” or something like that. His problem was that since he didn’t know what it was, he didn’t know what it was worth. I was beginning to understand his problem. Additionally, the engine and the cars were not in the same box and were listed as separate lots. 

Lionel 385E engine and tender found on a different outing!

So, the strategy was we would sit near the back, so we could see the whole crowd and any other bidders and that I would bid on the first lot.  I was very nervous because I didn’t want to let my boss down, but he didn’t know that I had never been to an auction before and had no clue what the process was or what the protocol was.  When the train lots came up for bid, the auctioneer decided to lump the two lots together and sell them as one lot.  Hallelujah! was I ever relieved!  Clem won the bid for $375.  $375?!!! For that box of junk?  No way! I was stunned! Clem was ecstatic. We collected the two boxes and took them to the foyer of the hall where Clem put them down and said we need to find some newspaper. I asked him why we needed newspaper and he said he wanted to wrap the train to protect them for the trip home. WHAT??? It’s rusty tin! You’ve got to be kidding me! Off he goes looking for newspaper. I thought, “I’ll just stay right here and guard the boxes.  I mean he did just spend $375 for them.”  I couldn’t believe he expected us to leave them sitting there and go looking for newspaper. Clem came back with some newspaper and we wrapped the trains accordingly. 

As we took them outside to put them in the truck in the dark parking lot there was a very large biker, dressed in black leather, tattoos, long hair, a scarry looking dude, who was trying to attach a wooden rocking chair to a sissy bar on the back of his Harley. This was the type of guy I would avoid at all costs in the daylight, let alone the dark.  But Clem who never met a stranger immediately strikes up a conversation with him about his chair and this guy just comes alive.  He couldn’t say enough about the great deal he got on this Chippendale Rocker.  He was so pleased and couldn’t believe he found it.

It just shows you that you shouldn’t judge people by the way they dress or look.  I certainly learned my lesson that day.  And Clem?  He came home with a treasure that he kept in his personal collection.  You’ll have to ask Clem what the name of the train set was though, because I don’t remember!