KILLEEN, Texas - The staff of the Sprocket Auto Craft Center organized and conducted a unique auction in the LZ Phantom storage lot Saturday morning. More than 100 vehicles and pieces of equipment, most that had simply been abandoned on Fort Hood, were auctioned off to benefit the Family Morale Welfare and Recreation Program.
John Justis, a recreation assistant at the SACC who served as the auctioneer, explained how so many neglected machines wound up in long dusty rows waiting for new owners.
“There are hundreds of abandoned vehicles on this base,” he said. “If you drive [across the base on the main road] you’ll see about 30 vehicles that are just parked there on flat tires. It’s a process of several months before they wind up here. We fill out all the paperwork and attempt verification, but the bottom line is what do you do with the hundreds of abandoned vehicles? At some point you either have to crush them or do something, so somebody made the legal decision that we can sell them.”
The resulting collection of vehicles, all in various states of repair, drew hopeful bidders from all over Central Texas.
Patrick Valero, 22, who works at a motor home manufacturer in Belton, came in hopes of purchasing a small sedan.
“I’m just looking for a first car,” he said. “I can spend maybe $1500, if I find the right one.”
Trevor Henning, a retired Staff Sgt. from 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, had his eye on something with a little legroom in it.
“I have a record label, Black Opz Records, and I’m looking at that bus. We’ve got a limo but a bus would be better because we could haul more equipment.”
The vehicles were all sold “as is”, most of them appearing to need a little or a lot of fixing up, but there was a lot to chose from: BMW’s, Mercedes, Porsches, beefy trucks on lift kits, and even the aforementioned bus were up for grabs.
One customized minivan drew a lot of attention. It had been completely overhauled to be a rolling sound machine, several trophies from car shows still sitting in the passenger’s seat. Everything behind the driver’s seat had been removed and replaced with subwoofers and speakers, and the exterior had custom bumpers, body kit, rims and burgundy paint job.
It sold for $1750.
More than a few people wondered out loud why someone would desert a show car they had obviously invested a substantial amount of time and money in. Why would anyone leave behind any of these vehicles, for that matter?
Dale Martinets, the manager of SACC, said that a vehicle is only sold once every attempt to contact the owner has been exhausted.
“We’ve had [the auction vehicles] for two to three years, so the owners have had plenty of time to claim them,” he said.
“My speculation is sometimes soldiers buy vehicles and can’t afford it, and the lien holders decide it would cost more the repossess the vehicle than it’s worth. That happens quite often. Sometimes the vehicle quits running, and the soldier just washes his hands of it and walks away. There are all kinds of scenarios.”
Sgt. Timothy Pankaskie, a mechanic noncommissioned officer at the III Corps motor pool, voiced the one sad theory that might have been on everyone’s mind.
“I think sometimes, some of the vehicles are from guys that didn’t want to put them in storage when they went down range, and they left them in the parking lot and didn’t tell anybody, and never made it back.”
It can’t be known how many of the forsaken machines sold Saturday morning represents a soldier who paid the ultimate sacrifice, if any, but that whisper of a thought is always in the air on the military base that has seen more Soldiers go to war in the last decade than any other installation in the U.S.
“It’s possible,” said Martinets. “But usually we find out if a soldier is deployed or not, and we get the vehicle back to the next of kin.”
Whoever left the cars behind might find it fitting that the money raised from selling them, which was more than $122,000, will help fund the Fort Hood MWR, where it will enhance the lives of service members and their families.
If you’re in the market for a car and wish you could have been at Saturday’s auction, you’ll soon have another chance. Just over a fence from the LZ Phantom lot, there is another lot filled with 100 abandoned cars that the SACC crew is preparing to sell.
“We’re trying to have another auction somewhere between August and October,” said Martinets.