NORWALK, Ohio — When Ron and Eunice Hackenberger moved to their home north of Norwalk in 1970, cars and trucks were just vehicles. The idea of a collection wasn’t on their minds.
“When we moved here, we were broke,” said Ron Hackenberger, now 81. “We weren’t collecting anything then — we were just trying to feed our family.”
But the couple did have a few trucks — dump trucks that Ron used in his trucking business, known as Ron’s Trucking. Over the years, the business grew, with more trucks and more routes, to an area that spanned from Chicago to Pittsburgh, and south to Kentucky and West Virginia.
Hackenberger hauled a variety of materials, including stone for road construction, pipe, and also lime for the steel plants. By the late 1970s, with his business doing well, he started buying a few Studebakers, and in his own words, he’s “just been buying them ever since.”
His collection grew to include more than 200 Studebaker cars and trucks, and several Studebaker wagons. He also has Mercedes, Packards, Isettas and microcars, and other manufacturers.
“Anything you can name, I got,” he said half-jokingly.
Come July 14-16, he will part with about 700 cars, plus dozens of additional parts cars and antique tractors, during a live auction in Norwalk.
His goal was to build a museum, where he could store the cars and show them to the public. But the onset of the recession in 2008, and his own age have convinced him it might be better to just hold a sale.
“I wanted to preserve the cars,” he said. “But when you hit 80 years old, you come to reality — you either get smart or you stay stubborn.”
He was worried that if he “stayed stubborn” he’d end up leaving behind a big responsibility and burden to his wife and six daughters. So holding a sale while he’s still healthy made the most sense.
But how does one even get that many cars — let alone get them all home to Norwalk?
It takes time, and Ron and Eunice have both spent a lot of time adding to their collection since the 1970s. He estimates that about 85 percent of the collection came from western states, where there was less road salt and less rust.
Related: Get complete auction details.
Ron and Eunice would hear about a sale through an automotive trade publication, and also through Farm and Dairy, and they’d occasionally see something for sale along the road, and find themselves taking it back home.
Eunice said she helped drive a lot of them home herself, either following Ron, or helping haul them home on a truck bed. She said their daughters helped, too, especially when the family would go on family trips.
In the mid-1980s, the Hackenbergers expanded their footprint into Texas, when Ron and Eunice bought their first ranch.
They rode down in a 1956 Studebaker truck, hauling barbwire and steel posts to make fence, and hauling a Farmall 300 tractor. Both had grown up on farms in Pennsylvania, and farming was in their blood.
Not happy with just one ranch, they continued buying more ranches and land, and eventually found themselves caring for about 1,000 head of Brangus cattle, while maintaining the trucking business back in Ohio.
In time, they sold the ranches, but continued to travel and collect cars.
As his daughters — Ranae Alexander, Beth Ackerman, Eve Cross, Lisa Cowman, Carla Flowers and Jewel Young — began having children of their own, in 1996, Ron bought a tour bus to take all of the families on trips together.
He said his six daughters have been helping get the cars ready for sale, and were always a big part of his ventures, including a couple other businesses he operated.
And help is needed, as the family sorts through the collection, documenting the titles and preparing everything for auction day.
The titles have been the biggest challenge, because the cars were bought in so many different states, under different rules and laws. Ron said to hold the auction in Ohio, every car needs to have an Ohio title.
He’s currently working with state and county officials to get the documenting done.
The auction company is also helping get the cars ready: JF Marketing/Auction and Real Estate Service, as well as VanDerBrink Auctions.
“This auction is probably the most significant collector auction in the last decade, in Ohio,” said John Froelich, lead auctioneer. “Most of the cars have been stored inside for 20 to 40-plus years.”
The cars range in condition from restored, ready to restore, and parts cars.
“To some people this might look like a lot of junk, and it’s not, because it’s history,” said auctioneer Yvette VanDerBrink.
VanDerBrink said she grew up in a car family, and has been selling old cars for decades, but she said the Hackenberger collection is truly unique.
“There are vehicles in this collection that I have never seen,” she said.
Friday, July 14, is a preview day, followed by the cars and then the trucks on July 15-16. The Friday and Saturday events will be held at Summit Motorsports Park, and the Sunday sale is at the Wolohan Lumber Yard property.
Ron is keeping a few of his favorite cars, as well as some newer models, but the majority of his collection will sell.
Will he miss them when they’re gone?
“That’s what people said when I sold the trucks — ‘oh, you’re going to miss those trucks, but I don’t miss the trucks,’” Ron said. “I don’t miss the trucks — I miss the people.
“It isn’t really the cars in all those years; it’s the idea of meeting and making friends all over the United States.”
“There isn’t a state in the Union that I couldn’t go to and make a call and know somebody who would give me a hand. And as you get older, you realize that’s the most important thing.”