Ohio online auction for 55 military vehicles

STEVE WARTENBERG The Columbus Dispatch Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- There was no way to know whether any of the 55 battered military surplus trucks parked five deep on a vast and muddy field at the Defense Supply Center Columbus would actually start.

"Some of them start right up. Some have dead batteries -- especially in this cold weather," said Jean Pryor, the Government Liquidation site manager at the military center on E. Broad Street.

Pryor was sitting in the cab of a 1970 Kaiser Jeep XM813, a 5-ton cargo truck. She was surrounded by seven similar cargo trucks and 47 AM General M915A1 truck tractors. All 55 will go on sale Thursday in one of the hundreds of online auctions that Government Liquidation holds every year.

Bidding starts at $150 on each truck -- and ends Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Pryor hit the starter switch, and the Cummins six-cylinder engine -- with 31,258 tough military miles under its belts -- whined loudly for several seconds. Then, as clouds of black smoke billowed from the exhaust pipe, the engine sputtered and sprang to life, purring like the world's loudest -- and angriest -- tiger.

"They're all loud," Pryor shouted over the din.

Government Liquidation has the Department of Defense contract to auction off a wide variety of surplus items that have been vetted to ensure they are not weapons or contain sensitive technology.

The company also turns thousands more items into millions of pounds of scrap metal every year.

"We get 10,000 items a week (for auction)," said Tom Burton, president of the company.

Items regularly sold by the company through its online auctions include planes, trucks and boats.

Government Liquidation recently sold 30,000?pounds of used cooking oil from a military base in Alaska, 1.4?million pounds of topsoil from a base in Washington and a tugboat.

Burton estimated the 55?trucks being stored at the Defense Supply Center will sell for between $2,000 and $10,000. There is no way of knowing, he added, if they come from bases in the United States or abroad in Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan, although any of these locations is possible.

"About 95 percent of our customers are small businesses," Burton said. "They're people who don't want to pay full price and know that the Department of Defense buys with certain standards."

Andy Catsakis is a regular bidder -- and winner -- in these online auctions.

The Virginia farmer and military-truck collector has purchased about 20 trucks from Government Liquidation. Some he uses on his farm or in local parades as rides for groups such as the Cub Scouts; others he sells or uses for the parts.

The most Catsakis has paid is $3,000.

"I have friends all over who collect and sell military trucks," he said, adding these collectors have their own international organizations: the Military Vehicles Preservation Association and Steel Soldiers.

Other than being larger than most vehicles, military trucks are actually easy to work on, said Catsakis, a certified mechanic.

"There's not that many electronics and no computers talking to each other," he said. "You do need some bigger tools, and you have to take caution in lifting the big parts ... so they don't fall on you."

And best of all, he added, these trucks are built to last and to haul large loads.

Government Liquidation provides detailed descriptions of every truck it sells, including the mileage, and includes videos for many. The company also offers would-be bidders the opportunity for on-site inspections.

But, it is buyer beware. There are no guarantees a particular truck will start or be in drivable condition. It is up to the winning bidder to haul the truck off the military base where it is being stored.

"Some they can drive out, others they'll need a tow truck," Pryor said.

Government Liquidation provides a list of nearby towing services on its website.

"We don't get paid by these companies, and if we get complaints, they're off the list," Burton said.

Catsakis recommends an on-site visit whenever possible, although he has bought a few trucks sight unseen.

"You want to make sure it's not rusted out too bad," he said.

Catsakis was never in the military but has loved trucks since he was a little boy.

"The bigger the better," he said.


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com