At Jefferson Parish surplus auction, a portrait of the outdated – The Times-Picayune

October 24, 2014 Posted by admin

In Jefferson Parish government, the flotsam that washes up on the wrong side of time ends up at 920 David Drive: a warehouse the color of a tossed band-aid, where workers on golf carts catalog a virtual Costco of no-longer-useful, surplus property.

Here sit spirals of hose that swept fire away; a prison toilet, lovingly wrapped in plastic; film reels and football helmets; striped umbrellas and a BBQ; crates for dogs and a machine to anesthetize them; the tops of street lamps clipped from their poles — bulbous and bug-like. In the yard out back, trucks and tractors and short-buses wait dejected, as though their grills are frowning like characters in the film ‘Cars.’ Stacked camp beds on a pallet marked “DRAINAGE” tell their own strange elegy.

These are a few of the 512 lots the public can bid on at the Jefferson Parish surplus property auction on Saturday (Oct 25) at 9 a.m., a 30-year tradition that raises money for a Sisyphean cause: to maintain the parish’s surplus department. (Whatever money is left after paying for the storage and auction costs is divided between parish departments that had property for sale.) Last year’s sale generated $436,875, according to parish officials. For that auction, bidders flew in from as far as California, said contracted auctioneer Bradley Mutz, of Slidell-based ServCorp Auctions.

“People from California and Texas fly in to buy all of the computers,” Mutz said. “They have these recycling outfits, where they pick the gold out of them.”

Who knows how much gold is to be found in a 20-foot stack of thick laptops and desktop screens, hard-drives and snarled cords. But there is certainly gold to be found in the fire-hoses, said John Houston, who had come in from Abita Springs to scope out the items for auction. Houston said the discarded hoses are useful for padding docks so they don’t scuff boats; a few years back, he bought four at an auction for $40 and sold them to boaters for $800. “Everything is recycling now,” Houston said, “You try to flip it, and find another use for it.”

Four years ago, Houston was a rookie bidder, the kid among 50-or-so die-hards; now he’s lucky to be among 600 bidders – a change he attributes to the zooming popularity of television shows that glamorize the auction life, such as ‘Storage Wars’ and ‘American Pickers.’

“When it got on TV, everything changed,” Houston said.

For a rookie visiting the surplus warehouse for the first time, nothing is what it seems. A sculptural bouquet of metal flowers is really a barrel of old weed-whackers, a shelf that appears to be stacked with metal bowls holds instead the shells of lamps for a gymnasium.

Some other auctions run by ServeCorp draw only arty types or gear-heads, junkyard workers or — in one startling case, only pregnant mothers (the bankruptcy sale of a baby store). But Mutz said the parish surplus auctions tend to draw “a gumbo of people.”

While the auction has had some strange items in the past — an amphibious boat-truck that was once used by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, for example — this year’s starlet is a 20-foot Christmas tree that once adorned the lobby of the parish’s General Government Building in Gretna. The tree is stacked in wooden crates to be sold.

Cliff Davis, another prospective buyer scouting the wares recently, was unmoved by the Christmas Tree: he had his eye set on the lamps that once lit-up Jefferson’s gyms. He is renovating a warehouse in New Orleans to serve as a shop for cars, and thinks the lamps could light it up. Either that or a metal cabinet that can lock tools in, which was marked with a slip of paper: “Clerk of Court.”

“What did they have in there: mortgage records, dead bodies?” Davis wondered.

In the yard out back, Dan Rowell and his relative, Jeff, checked cars and trucks that once wheeled all over Jefferson for code inspections or deliveries or policing. The men hoped they could find vehicles to fill a used-car lot they are opening on the West Bank: Affordable Car Sales.

Maybe they would, but they were certainly not interested in Lot 508. A former motor-home with lettering that reads out, “Waukeegan Public Library,” the car looked hardly useful. Inside were library shelves and a buzzing wasp. Outside, registration stickers from Illinois, from 2005. Maybe someone had left it down in Jefferson, after Hurricane Katrina, the Rowells wondered.

Not quite, but close. The library system of Waukeegan County, Illinois, donated the car in 2006, to replace a library in Grand Isle that had washed away in Hurricane Katrina. Built in 1962, the car earned the distinction in 2006 as the “oldest continually running bookmobile in the United States” and was affectionately named “Gertie.” Now, water and electric meters clamped to its side show that it had settled down in Grand Isle — its last home.

On its window, a scrawl of writing: “To be sold as scrap.”

Interested parties can tour the Jefferson Parish surplus property auction Friday (Oct. 24) from 7:00 a.m. through 3:00 a.m. and on Saturday (Oct. 25) from 7:00 a.m. through 9:00 a.m., before the auction begins at 9:00 a.m.

Learn more about how to register as a bidder.

For further information contact auction house ServCorp International, Inc. at 1-800-340-2185, or Dale Esteves, Jefferson Parish Surplus Property Manager, at (504) 736-8485.

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