July 22, 2014

Buyers look for keepsakes, as well as deals, at Boeing auction

Some came to take home a piece of history.

Some came to take home a piece of history.

Some came looking for a good buy.

And some came to say a final goodbye to the place they had worked for so many years.

On Tuesday, Boeing Wichita auctioned off thousands of items through a surplus assets auction as it prepares to close its doors.

The auction was held by McCurdy Auction of Wichita.

Former Boeing employees and retirees, and representatives from machine shops, aerospace manufacturers, resalers and other businesses were part of the crowd.

In January 2012, Boeing announced it was closing its Wichita facilities and moving engineering work and program management to Oklahoma City, maintenance work to San Antonio, and tanker work to the Puget Sound area in Washington.

The sprawling plant is up for sale.

The auction is one of the final steps to closing the site.

“We’re still on track to close by the end of July,” said Boeing spokeswoman Jennifer Hogan.

About 95 percent of the work has moved out, Hogan said.

Boeing will keep a handful of employees on site to take care of the facilities until they sell.

McCurdy brought 15 staff members to assist with the all-day auction; Boeing had 20 employees there to help.

Boeing barred the public and the media from taking photographs or video at the auction.

Interest in what the company was selling was strong in the weeks leading up to the auction. Four days ago, Boeing-related information on McCurdy’s website had received more than 16,000 hits.

The sale began at 10 a.m., and by 10:30, more than 420 people had stood in line to register for a bidding number.

The auction progressed quickly and lasted throughout the hot day, with McCurdy auctioneers taking turns auctioning the shop and general consumable items that filled three hangar bays at the South Oliver site.

They sold shop equipment, portable storage buildings, plumbing and air conditioning tools, wire carts, work benches, big fans, office chairs, storage cabinets, janitorial equipment, shop supplies and a host of other items.

One woman who worked at Boeing for 34 years and was laid off in March said it was difficult to see her desk included in the items for sale.

Others agreed it was difficult to watch the equipment sell.

“This is my last shot at seeing all this stuff,” said Carl Gaul, a Boeing engineer who was laid off in January.

Gaul worked on Air Force One, the E4B executive transport airplane and other aircraft.

Looking over the items packed together in the hangars waiting for the sale, Gaul said it was interesting to see how much infrastructure it took to support the work that Boeing’s workers did there.

Seeing the infrastructure and the high-paying jobs disappear is sad, he said.

“You have mixed emotions,” Gaul said. But “there are business decisions that were made. I’ll never know all the reasons for it.”

Most of his fellow employees have found other opportunities, some better than they had, some not, he said.

Dan Krenke started at Boeing Wichita in 1980 and retired from Spirit AeroSystems last year.

He came to see if he would run into former colleagues.

Plus, “I like stuff,” Krenke said. “I like machinery – things that make noise.”

His friend Dean Godsey agreed.

Godsey worked for Boeing for 40 years and managed the tooling department. He retired 15 years ago.

“You never know what you’re going to find,” Godsey said about the auction. “You don’t know who you’re going to run into, and if you find a good deal, it’s a good day.”

Some of the items held lingering reminders of the workers who used them last.

One large red metal Snap-on-Tool cabinet sported a Machinists union sticker and various bumper stickers, including one touting U.S. jobs.

An empty file cabinet had a sticker that said “This file does not contain military classified information.”

Dave Zavala and two colleagues from Hyspeco, which sells hydraulic and pneumatic products, were among those with a more practical interest in some of the items being sold.

“They’re fair prices,” Zavala said after the auction began. “They’re not cheap prices, but they’re fair prices.”

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