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The Simmons Collection

"There are probably more injustices and unfairness in the wrong ones getting a share of all a dead man's property then anything else in the world today."  -Ernie Simmons


    Somehow, no one was surprised to find that Ernie Simmons had not left a will when he died. Meaning, of course, that the enormous task of cataloging and disposing of the huge collection fell to Ernie's old nemesis....the government. The Public Trustee of Ontario, in turn, handed the job over to a well known  auctioneer from Ingersoll, Dan Murray.

    Workers spent months clearing brush away to expose long forgotten artifacts. In many cases, they had to cut away trees that had grown up through some of the vehicles in to make it possible to move them. Most had sunk far into the ground over the years. Vandalism and theft had begun as soon as Ernie was gone....even sooner, perhaps. As many as 40 motorcycles, the cream of the crop, are alleged to have disappeared, possibly while Ernie was still alive and in the hospital. As soon as the extent of this was realized, security guards were posted, and regular police patrols of the remote property were implemented. This seems to have brought the theft to a halt, but no one will ever know how much looting actually occurred.

  Dan Murray, with all his experience, had no idea how the auction would go.

    As the seventies began, warplanes, old cars and such were still pretty much considered to be just junk.....but, there were the first glimmers of what would become the warbird movement of later decades. And, people were finally showing signs of wanting to preserve the past, instead of sweeping it aside, as had been the spirit of  the sixties. Old cars, motorcycles and tractors were slowly starting to be appreciated.......but prices were still barely above rock bottom. It would take a few more decades, during which the baby boomer generation grew to middle age, for values to really soar. 

    The date for the auction was set for Labour Day weekend, 1970.

    Here, taken from the auctioneer's pamphlet, is a summary of the items to be sold....

  • Thursday, September 3...HOUSEHOLD EFFECTS: 5 brass beds, sideboards, cupboards, chairs, jars, tables, deep freeze, crocks, 57 guns - 15 handguns and 42 rifles and shotguns. 128 cars from the late forties to 60, 15 army trucks and many other items of great interest on the first day.

  • Friday, September 4...107 motorcycles to choose from, 1917 and up. Harleys, Indians, Hendersons, Royal Enfields and many others and parts. 2 steam engines and parts. 40 tractors and parts. 26 gas engines. 15 Bren gun carriers.

  • Saturday, September 5...41 antique cars, trucks and parts. 43 aircraft and 30 engines. Also miscellaneous aircraft tires (new and used) and parts.

    When pressed for predictions by reporters, the veteran auctioneer admitted that he'd never done a sale remotely like this one, but he guessed that the aircraft, in particular the Fairey Swordfish, would be the stars. Because of their extreme rarity and their colourful combat history, they were expected to bring in thousands of dollars. "Never sold airplanes before", said Murray. (Cars were his usual fare) "Had a call from a fellow in England who says he's flying in to bid on them. Another fellow says he'll give me $3000. for one of them."

    The first day's offering was dismissed as "just the rubbish" by Murray.

    For the media, this all made for a fascinating story. It seemed that every newspaper and TV station in Southern Ontario (and some farther away than that) was giving blow by blow coverage of the collection and the impending sale. Representatives of the Canadian Aeronautical Museum and the Smithsonian were reportedly going to be attending.  People from the film industry were also interested. (The films "The Battle of Britain", "Tora, Tora, Tora" and "Catch 22" had all just been made, and all of them were instrumental in the restoration and preservation of many warbirds that remain flying today.)

    Naturally, public interest was at a fever pitch. All the years of wild stories  about "Crazy Ernie" and his collection were recalled. The large amounts of cash that must be hidden somewhere about, the fabled treasures guarded so zealously by the Simmons family, the eccentricities.......for the first time, these things could all be explored, first hand by people who previously had only rumour and speculation to go on.

Next: The Sale












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