Varied Treasure : The Bruckers were big-time pack rats. Now 40 years of collectibles have to go.


Jim and Ida Brucker always braked for garage sales, and usually bought the whole thing. Lock, clock and whatsits.

It was a family career for decades. Ventura County rancher Brucker wrote the checks and Ida appraised. Sons Jim Jr. and Danny hauled and humped merchandise, sorted treasures from trash, antiques from kitsch, and stored loads wherever there was room in the Bruckers' barns and warehouses.

They bought lots by the hundreds from studio property sales. Fox. MGM. Desilu. They haunted estate and bankruptcy auctions, government sales, bank foreclosures, tax-collector repossessions and police confiscations.

"Every day was a treasure hunt," Jim Jr. remembers.

By 1960 the Bruckers were renting cars, costumes and props back to the movies. Ten years later, they were displaying the best at Movieworld-Cars of the Stars from a warehouse on 10 acres of Buena Park, just up from Knott's Berry Farm.

But Movieworld didn't work. Brucker Sr. became ill with bone cancer. His little exhibition closed in 1979, and the pick of its cars and antique motorcycles, the dinosaur egg from "Planet of the Apes," and Mr. Spock's pointy ears were sold to other collections.

Brucker Sr., 67, died in 1986. Ida, 72, died last year. Their legacy to their sons were ranches, art, vegetable and fruit fields, an antique business, an historic building or two--and a two-story, 80,000-square-foot warehouse stuffed with a big-time pack rat's hoardings.

This month, Sept. 24-26, the Bruckers' 40-year collection returns to the spotlight, recycled at one of Hollywood's biggest estate sales.

To impersonal auctioneers of Kruse International and appraiser Tim Healy, it is 2,500 lots worth an estimated $1 million. Healy hopes.

To nostalgia collectors, it will be another chance to buy two urns that flanked the gates of the Emerald City in "The Wizard of Oz," and the evil black Hannibal Eight or bridal-white Leslie Special cars from "The Great Race." Provided, of course, there's still some marketable glamour in flaking plaster pots and cars that are broken, jerry-built props.

To Jim Jr., 50, with his specialty in automobiles, and Danny Brucker, 47, who inherited his mother's touch for fine antiques, it's the end of an epoch.

"This is a dead asset," says Jim Brucker, as he tours the dusty warehouse while Healy and assistants tie tags on Brucker family history. Books that came from Hal Roach Studios. Three hundred movie posters. License plates from the 50 states. "What we have here really is a $1-million inventory supported by a $10,000 annual revenue.

"There's the cost of maintaining all this, when space could be used for other things. Every time I hear a firetruck in town, I wonder if it is our warehouse. Realistically, this collection is low on our priority list, but very high on the list of responsibilities.

"We have decided we're getting up there (in years) and just don't have the energy for this anymore."

There is a marked sadness here for Brucker Jr.

Within the main inventory are little collections of his own childhood. Rocks and fossils. His precious cache of more than 500 air guns, likely the world's largest trove. Also racks of antique radios, most still working.

Throughout the old warehouse, stapled on every wooden wall, dripping from beams and trusses, are memories of the Bruckers' statewide buying trips, special finds and huge bargains. Those Hal Roach books were a 10,000-volume library Brucker Sr. stole for $50 after an earlier buyer failed to show with a $17,000 check.

"We once went to Warner Bros.' property department and there was this huge area filled with model planes, boats, trains and tanks used as special effects in the movies," Jim Brucker recalls. "They wanted them out of there, we had the truck, so Dad asked them if they'd take $1,500 for the lot. They did."

Such bargains also have faded with the past.

Brucker remembers the early '60s and a 1930 V-16 Cadillac with a gold-plated dashboard he bought for $1,200, and former Gov. Edmund G. Brown's Chrysler Imperial picked up from a state sale for $1,600.

"In those days you could own anything you wanted by just looking hard enough," he says. "You could get a Duesenberg for $1,000 or a World War II P-51 fighter for $5,000. Today either will cost you $1 million and that's put the true collectors, the genuine pack rats, out of business."

Much of the glory of old Movieworld has gone now.

Fatty Arbuckle's Pierce Arrow was sold to a Northern California collector. A Ford Model A used in "Bonnie and Clyde" is touring state fairs with a promoter. Roosevelt's wheelchairs, Jolson's Mercury, the Love Bug and the Batcycle and Steve McQueen's motorcycles. All gone.

What is left for this month's sale are bits and traces.

A 1917 Packard Twin Six fire truck is the largest gem in a collection of unrestored and not particularly desirable vehicles. Unless your tastes run to the Flying Nun's motor scooter.

There's a spare engine from Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose flying boat and a bird's-eye maple bed where Richard Burton and Lana Turner sprawled in "The Rains of Ranchipur." Also wooden signs--"Posto di Polizia . . . Fish and Chips . . . Achtung! Minen!"--made by studios to create foreign cultures and other times in Hollywood. And stamped, addressed envelopes that once held '40s fan mail for Robert Stack, Deanna Durbin, and Abbott and Costello.

Ancient and middling-old car parts, from bulbous fenders to bowl headlights, form rusted mounds throughout the former lemon packing plant.

One decaying piece is the back door of a 1937 Packard van. Or hearse. Rationalizes Brucker: "All we got to do is find a guy with a '37 Packard van who doesn't have one of these. Or a hearse."

And there are shelves upon racks standing on display cases stuffed with Ausable Chasm ash trays, waffle irons, plastic coasters, Civitan plaques, aluminum egg cups, lava lamps, 1988 diaries with no entries, racks for souvenir spoons but no spoons--the standard harvest from all those garage sales.

Jim and Danny Brucker will be at the sale all days.

It will be closure on a fun and intriguing phase of their lives. Also their fond, very personal tribute and farewell to Mom and Dad.

Their past, however, isn't disappearing completely.

The Bruckers have held back some really tender items.

There's Dad's cane collection. Much Western art. A 1930 Cadillac that was Jim's first car at the age of 13. Also the custom roadster made for the Topper movies.

"Got to keep something because collecting is in the blood," says Jim Brucker with a smile. "We're just not going to get into big-time hoarding again."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World