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Iowa Town, Preserved Since 1930s, Heads to Auction Block

Picture of the Balster's Store at Scotch Grove, probably around 1914, judging from the Model T and the brass radiator. Eventually this would become the Balster Implement and Parts Store. After Arend Balster bought out many supplies of parts and close outs during the depression when many businesses folded. To this day, there are thousands of antique parts found in the numerous warehouses that bear the Balster name.
Steve Hanken
For almost fifty years, the century-old buildings in the farming community of Scotch Grove have guarded a time capsule. Recently, representatives from Grafe Auction Company and Schultz Auctioneers opened the doors of these sixteen buildings to find hundreds of thousands of retail, wholesale, and service items still on the shelves and floors—still in their original packaging and store displays.
“It’s surreal,” said managing auctioneer Judd Grafe, president of Grafe Auction. “It’s like taking a time machine to a perfectly preserved, mid-1900′s general store.” In fact, more than just the warehouses and store, the auction companies will be selling, literally, almost an entire town and all the contents of the sixteen buildings.
“We’re talking multiple semi trailer loads of antiques, collectibles, farm machinery parts, horse equipment, toys, hardware, and pottery,” said John Schultz, one of the multiple auction managers sifting through the rows of inventory. “We’re still exploring the warehouses and finding fascinating pieces from our country’s past.”
“It’s not just the sheer volume,” added Mike Schultz, president of Schultz Auctioneers. “We’re selling a renowned family brand. The Balster’s name was nationally known. For over a century, they proved the saying, ‘If you can’t find it anywhere else, go to Balster’s.’”
The Balster’s array of enterprises—from the gas station and lumber yard to the implement dealer and grocery store—were Scotch Grove. Starting with Arend Balster, a German immigrant from a ship-building family, Balster’s provided the commercial traffic and social functions that typified Midwest life through two World Wars and the Great Depression. It was Balster’s that brought the Model T to Scotch Grove and closed the street for dancing on weekend nights. At one point, they served as a distributor of farm machinery, parts, and implements—even moving into US steel, household appliances, and office equipment. “And now all that history is heading to the auction block,” said Mike Schultz.
Two semi trailer loads of items have been shipped to Minnesota auction houses for online auctions. On September 15, 16, and 17, the real estate and the balance of the inventory will be sold during four simultaneous live auctions each day. Iowa historians and Scotch Grove natives will be on site displaying images and stories from Balster’s—and Scotch Grove’s—glory years. The little town will be bustling again, as treasure seekers and reminiscing locals descend on 116th Avenue. For now, though, the town sits quietly as one of the best preserved 1930s small towns in Iowa.
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Last updated on Friday, 16-Apr-2021 16:54:40 MST