By Clem Clement
Upon my arrival at my new job in the Boston area, I quickly discovered that my new boss, Clem, was a “train nut” like me. What I didn’t understand, at first, was that he was a “train nut” but with a strong emphasis on the “nut” and he wasn’t like me at all. I was a model railroader; he was in to antique toy trains – you know, bent, rusty tin.
During the first week I was there, Clem told me that there was an estate auction on Friday in Newberryport (about 30-45 minutes drive) and invited me to come along. The viewing was to start at 6:00 PM with the auction at 7:00 PM. Now, I really don’t care anything about rusty tin, but the boss asked, so I said “Sure.”
He said, “Great, bring a change of clothes with you on Friday and we’ll leave from work. Be sure to wear something fairly plain, not colorful or flashy.” That was a strange request, but since I wasn’t in to flashy, it sounded good to me; so the plans were set.
On Friday about Noon Clem came by my desk and said, “You ready to go?”
“Yeah, you ready?”
“Ah, sure!” After all, he was the boss. So I put away the things I was working on, changed clothes, jumped in Clem’s pickup, and off we went.
Clem said, “We got work out a plan for the auction.”
“Plan? What kind of plan?”
“You know. We have to decide how we are going to look at this stuff and how we are going to bid.”
Now, I will admit that I didn’t have much experience at auctions, but I thought you went in, identified what you wanted, and bid on it, when it came up for auction. Simple, huh? Ha! With Clem, nothing is so simple. He went into this long discussion about where we would sit, who would bid for what, and even how we would act during the viewing. For instance, he said, “When we find the trains, we’ll look at the stuff beside them, so nobody will know we are really interested in the trains.”
So, there we were, driving down the road, when all of a sudden, Clem hits the brakes. Screech! “Did you see that?!” he said.
“In that garage back there, around the corner?”
“What?” I wasn’t in to long sentences at the time.
“Lemme show you.” So, he backed up and turned down the street we had just crossed, and he pulls up to an old, dilapidated wood garage. He jumped out and said, “Look at that!” Inside the garage was some kind of old Ford, pre-WWII, in excellent condition. That was when I found out that Clem was in to antique cars, as well as toy trains. So, Clem launches into a long history about that model and year Ford and how that car was such a fine example and how well it had been restored. He talked with such passion and apparent knowledge. I could only wonder just who this guy was who loved rusty toys and rusty cars.
We finally hopped back into the truck and set off once more for Newberryport, or so I thought. Next, we stopped at a small antique store to see if they had any old trains. Of course, we had to peruse the whole shop, just in case there was anything else of interest. Then on to an old country store, more antique stores, a couple of yard sales, a flea market, and a garage or two when Clem finally decided we ought to get something to eat.
We stopped at a small seafood restaurant. Well it wasn’t exactly what I would have called a restaurant, but it was bigger than a roadside stand. It had picnic tables with red and white checked sailcloth tablecloths and a long counter from which you could order your food. Up high along the ceiling, running the full length behind the counter was the menu. It reminded me of the “fish camps” I saw in the South, except we were in Massachusetts. The place was empty. Anyway, we walk up to the counter and a pretty young girl greeted us and asked us what we would like to drink. Clem and I took a minute to scan the menu behind her. I ordered an orange soda and Clem ordered a beer. Clem wandered off to find the rest room while I tried to figure out what I wanted to eat. I only had a couple of dollars in my pocket, so I figured I would probably just get a hamburger. The girl comes back to the counter with or drinks and says that will be $5.00 please. Now, like I said, I only had a few dollars in my pocket and could only cover my soda and the anticipated hamburger, so I told the girl that my friend would be right back to pay for the beer.
She said, “Well you can’t have your drinks unless you pay for them now.” So, while she and I were discussing the matter of whether or not I could have my orange soda, Clem wandered back to the counter. We paid for our drinks and started to order our food when she stopped us and said, “You’ll have to order your food down there,” and pointing down to the other end of the counter.
We responded, “Oh! Okay.” And went down to the other end of the counter where we expected to find another counter-person who obviously handled food orders. When we got to the other end of the counter, who walked up, but the same young lady we had just gotten our drinks from.
“Hello, may I help you?” she said. Clem and I looked back to the end of the counter we just left and back at this young girl and then at each other and back at the end of the counter again and then at each other again and Clem said, “Ah, we couldn’t order our food down there?” [Ed. Note: The counter spot we ordered the drinks from was not the spot where we paid for them, but it was the same girl.]
“No,” she said, “You have to order your food here.” I had the strange feeling I was in the middle of an old Marx brothers movie. Anyway, we got our food, paid for it, and found a table where we could eat. While sitting there eating we realized it was already after 6:00 PM and we needed to get to the auction. We were going to be late for the viewing! Didn’t we leave work at Noon?! We gobbled down our food and roared off to find the Sons of Italy Hall in Newberryport where the auction was to take place, reviewing our plan of action along the way.
When we arrived at the auction, we split up and quickly scanned all the things in the room, looking for the trains. Clem found them up near the front in the center, beside a small set of stairs leading up onto the stage. By the time I joined him he was down into the two boxes that contained the trains. All I could see was his butt in the air and his elbows moving as he pawed through the boxes. Well, so much for the part of the plan where we subtly scan nearby objects while investigating our real objective. All of a sudden, Clem stops cold and said, “Oh Jimmy, we’re in trouble.”
Now, I figured that in his urgency to look at the trains and pawing things out of the way that Clem had broken something. So, I looked up and around to see if anyone was watching and said, “It’s okay. Nobody is watching, just put it back and we can get out of here.”
He said, “No. You don’t understand. I don’t know what it is.” And from one of the boxes he pulled out a huge, black, toy train steam engine and tender to show to me. I don’t remember the numbers on the engine. I was later to learn that the numbers on the engines are critically important to identifying the train. The other box held three very large dark red passenger cars with black roofs. “We are in trouble,” he said, “because I don’t know what it is or what it is worth. I’ve never seen this before.” [Ives Standard Gauge 1134 loco and tender and 184/185/186 passenger cars offered in 1929 and 1930. This is the Westerner Set.]
Now, I knew exactly what it was and what it was worth. It was an old piece of junk and worthless. You see, we model railroaders look down with great disdain on toy trains which are not exactly to scale and identical to prototype, real trains.
The auction was about to start, so Clem quickly came up with a plan that we would both register as bidders and that I would bid on the first box when it came up and he would bid on the second box when it came up. And we were to act like we weren’t together, even though we were sitting together. I didn’t have a clue as to how to bid on that first box of junk. As the auction started, I tried to remember all the other elements of the plan: let somebody else bid first; don’t be obvious with your bid, to make it difficult for anyone else to figure out that you are the one bidding; try to figure out who else is bidding, but don’t be obvious about it; don’t bid too quickly as the bids go up, try to break the rhythm of the auctioneer. There were other elements but I can’t remember them. I just remember being petrified. There I was with my new boss, responsible for buying something I knew nothing about, and I had never bought anything at auction in my life. I knew that if I screwed this up, my life in the office was going to be miserable.
After about an hour, the auctioneer finally announced that he was going to offer up the trains. I was sweating profusely by that time. He took one look at the two boxes and said, “I don’t know what we have here, let’s just throw them in together and make this one lot.” [Ed. note: The first box was small, but contained lots of parts for the loco as well as several broken post war items. I needed the parts for the Ives engine, but did not want to pay a lot and then not win the second box. Also I did not want to stir up interest or competition for the second box.]
Clem whispers to me, “Okay, I’ve got it. You won’t have to bid.”
Hallelujah! There is a God! Thank you, Jesus! I was off the hook.
The auction proceeded and I don’t remember exactly how the bidding went. It didn’t matter. I didn’t have to bid! I just remember that Clem ended up paying an exorbitant amount for those two boxes of junk.
Since we had obtained our objective, we took the two boxes back to the foyer of the hall. Clem started looking around for some paper to wrap up the trains to “keep them from getting scratched!” Can you imagine? SCRATCHED? There were small dents and dings and scratches all over these things? What in the world did we need to wrap them for? But Clem was determined, and he wandered off in search of some paper. Up until now, I had been glued to Clem’s side like an extra appendage. I was in a world I knew nothing about – way outside my comfort zone. I had no idea where I was and couldn’t have found my way home on a bet. I was with a crazy man who had just spent a small fortune on a box of junk and suddenly he just takes off, leaving his aforementioned treasure behind, looking for some paper to wrap up this pile of trash. I hesitated a second and then called after him, “I’ll stay here and guard the trains for you.” I was astounded that he would pay so much money for that stuff and then just walk off from it. “What am I doing here?” I thought.
A short time later, Clem came back with a stack of newspaper under his arm and we proceeded to carefully wrap the trains. [Ed. Note: it was then that we noticed that the trains were in the bottom of the standard gauge Ives set box. I suspect that the auction house had used the box top for some other stuff and I never noticed or looked for it.]
There is one last scene I have to paint before this saga is over. As we went outside to load the boxes in the truck we ran across this guy trying to mount this huge wooden rocker on the back of his Harley. This guy was the stereotypical biker with long hair, ragged jeans, tattoos, black leather jacket, a biker club logo on the back and metal studs attached everywhere. His motorcycle had these huge handlebars that curved up like a long-horned steer. It reminded me of the old movie “Easy Rider.” Anyway, this guy was trying to put this big rocking chair on the back end of this bike, using bunjee cords to attach it to the tall thin “sissy bar” located just behind the seat. Now, this guy looked like the kind of guy I had avoided all my life: rough looking, big, biker, probably a bully – all qualities I had long learned to stay away from. I just wanted to get in the truck and get out of there. But Clem, on the other hand is a very gregarious person. We walked by, as this guy struggled with the chair and bike and Clem says, “Get a good deal?”
“Oh yeah, man, this is great!” This “biker” turned out to be a very affable antique storeowner who proceeded to tell us all about the terrific deal he had gotten on this Chippendale rocker. You just never know.
The train that Clem bought turned out to have a name called the “Black Diamond” or the “Westerner” or something like that. Did you know that these trains have names? Unbelievable! [Ed. Note; real trains had names, mostly for their passenger runs. Toy train sets had names in addition to numbers so they could be ordered by teletype without the fear of numerical error in transmission.] Anyway, that train is still in Clem’s collection and I think back fondly now on my first experience with this strange hobby of antique toy train collecting.
[ Ed. Note: Some years later, the late Larry Batley had a set of boxes for sale and they were the complete set for the Newberryport Ives and she rests nicely in her correct boxes today.]