Video: Hilmar car collector giving up his love

HILMAR — Car by car, piece by piece, Jerry and Vicky Morrison spent more than two decades building their collection, their shared passion.

"When I found one I liked, I bought it," Jerry Morrison said. "No special theme. I never bought one of these cars to sell."

They joined Model A and Thunderbird clubs, and their assemblage grew to more than 60 cars and pickups and more than 250 pieces of auto and other memorabilia.

Then Vicky died at age 65 in September 2008 after a 13-year battle with cancer. As if Jerry needed more grief, the economic downturn piled on. Some of his investments, including a subdivision deal, didn't pan out when home building stopped.

The cost of keeping his cars road ready — batteries, tires, insurance, licenses and registrations — became too expensive as the recession dragged on.

He sold some of them at auction a couple of years ago.

Come Saturday, car by car, piece by piece, the remainder of the collection he never wanted to sell is for sale, with no reserve price on any item. The highest bidder wins, whether it's the 1933 Buick coupe, the 1948 Chevrolet 1-ton cab over engine with its Corvette engine and pickup bed that is 1½ times longer than a regular long bed, the 2006 Dodge Viper or one of the restored antique gas pumps.

The fleet that took the Morrisons decades to build likely will be gone in about four hours, with each sound of the auctioneer's gavel and the utterance "sold" driving home the permanence of it all.

Morrison, who grew up in Modesto, bought more than 200 acres of farmland near Hilmar in 1980. He began the collection by buying a 1957 Ford Thunderbird for Vicky during a Hawaiian vacation in 1988.

Over the years, they added more cars and pickups, plus several World War II-era vehicles. He bought most of them after they had been restored, including two — the '33 Buick coupe and a customized 2004 Chevy Silverado Regency pickup — from friend Larry Munson of Turlock.

The Morrisons built a 10,000-square-foot warehouse to showcase their collection. Jerry's office in one corner resembles a 1940s-era gas station. Vicky looks out over the floor from her photograph mounted on the office's outside wall.

The kitchen on the opposite side became "Vicky's Diner," complete with a neon sign, tables and a juke box.

Morrison, 71, sold 35 cars a couple of years ago, among them a pale green 1950 Chevy coupe with 439 original miles. I wrote about that car last year, and it became a big hit on the Internet.

The coupe originally belonged to a Modesto woman who stored it and then sold it in 1962 to a used car dealer. That dealer, in turn, sold it to Morrison. An Oregon classic car dealer bought it through Morrison's first big sale.

In January, the Chevy coupe sold for $30,800, more than twice what the Oregon dealer paid Morrison for it, at an auction in Arizona.

Morrison hoped that first distress sale would be his last. But it hasn't worked out that way. Not only does he need the cash, but also car collecting no longer is fun without Vicky.

"I lost my wife. It's not like it used to be," he said. "I don't want to do this anymore."

Among the cars he'll sell Saturday is a 1947 Chevy sedan — light cinnamon with a milkshake-white top — he and Vicky bought from a couple who could no longer keep it.

"The man was on dialysis," Morrison said. "When his wife handed me the keys, he was crying. It was something they'd bought together."

Just as he and his wife bought theirs.

Now he's parting with his remaining collector cars and pickups, each one his favorite in some way. It's going to seem strange, empty, when the last one rolls out of the warehouse Saturday afternoon.

"I don't know where my life's going from here," he said. "I've never been like this and I never wanted to be."

The hobby he and Vicky shared — their love for cars — is something he knows he must relinquish. That doesn't make it easy to let go, car by car, piece by piece.

"Every time I walk into that building," Morrison said, "she's in there as much as I am."

Prospective bidders can preview the cars from 2 to 7 p.m. Friday at 19705 August Ave., Hilmar. Bidder registration begins at 8 a.m. Saturday followed by the auction at 11. Visit www.SilverAuctions.com for more information.