Anytime you get a chance to poke around in an old parts store full of vintage stuff, it’s a good day. When you get a chance to bid on those parts and take some of them home with you, it’s a great day.
Jim Thorn’s decision to finally close the doors on Cowie Electric Co. in downtown Wichita is going to give a lot of car guys not one, but two of those days. The company, which has been in business since 1931, will sell off its huge inventory at auction on April 9 and April 23.
“It’s going to die on my watch,” said Jim Thorn, who grew up in the business working in his dad’s shadow and eventually took it over himself. “When I was about 6 years old, when my mom got tired of me, she would send me down here and my dad would put me to work dusting shelves. I’m the world’s greatest shelf-duster … I’ll be 82 in May, if I can pass the physical.”
There are a lot of good memories in the sprawling expanse of the building, and a few sad ones, too. At its peak, the company employed eight different skilled technicians, many of them who got their start as military mechanics. They rebuilt and serviced everything from old-time magnetos to lawn tractors and did tune-ups on just about anything that had an engine on it.
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Thorn will reluctantly be parting with a cool 1967 vintage military-issue Land Rover pickup and a ’67 Buick Sport Wagon/Vista Cruiser that he bought brand new. All kinds of old service manuals, leftover spare parts and collectible signs will be auctioned off.
“There’s a ’38 LaSalle transmission right down there, and there’s a bell housing off a ’54 Cadillac. I was going to pair them up and put them behind a Cadillac engine and put them in a ’34 Ford coupe I had. But I went in the Army instead and sold the car,” he said.
“I have thousands of mower blades … I don’t know where to start and where to stop,” Thorn said, gazing out over his vast inventory. His mother was a collector of books, magazines and other knick-knacks dating back to the early 20th century and her items will be sold, too.
Those of us who marvel at the history of things like a first-year 1954 Lawn Boy mower still wearing its original paint have something to look forward to next month. To get an early peek at all of the stuff, a preview showing will be held from 4-7 p.m. the night before each auction at 230 S. Topeka.