None of the vehicles in Lee Roy Hartung’s garage had been dusted in years, including his Crosley up for auction. Some were in disrepair after decades packed into storage, but to the collectors looking to bid on these items, the display was a gold mine.
They made the trip to an industrial section of Glenview IL outside Chicago to preview the auction of Hartung’s antique car, motorcycle and license plate collection from Thursday through Saturday.
Hartung, who died in May at 86, amassed the collection of half a century and stored it on the property in Glenview IL off the beaten path, a museum where visitors maneuvered among the maze-like display.
“What he was creating was not just a museum, but what I would say was a living diorama,” said auction manager Ian Kelleher.
Hartung sold scrap vehicle parts and used cars for a living, and through his contacts would acquire vintage vehicles and license plates. His longtime partner Marjorie Cox met Hartung through a car club and accompanied him on trips to scrap yards and car lots. Most of the collection was acquired from within 15 miles of Chicago.
Friend/fellow collector Dale Walksler said Hartung was a collector, not a restorer. “He said, ‘I don’t restore anything, I just store it,” Walksler said.
Hartung amassed more than 5,000 license plates, some from as far as Canada and Africa.
Because of its out-of-the-way location on an industrial stretch of West Lake Avenue, some bidders said they weren’t even aware of Hartung’s museum until they recently heard about the auction.
Wayne Kuty said that after living in the northwest suburbs for 45 years, he didn’t learn about the museum until about 10 years ago. He said Hartung charged $5 admission and would sit and rap with the guests while they walked through the garage.
Hartung was extremely protective of his items. He started the museum in 1972 after a fire destroyed some of his pieces stored in a loft. The museum was partially a way to keep any eye on his collection. He even lived there for 50 years. Dogs could regularly be seen at the garage - partially for companionship, partially for security.
At the same time, he could be warm and funny. “He loved jokes,” Cox said. “He could tell a story.”
Auction manager Kelleher said he had time to talk with Hartung’s acquaintances and had a hard time separating fact from fiction in their stories about Hartung. “There’s all sorts of stories about Lee Roy,” Kelleher said. “You start to wonder what’s true and how many are embellished. But they’re all great.” One such story involved a piece of land near the Illinois-Wisconsin state line. Cox said Hartung would often tell people he kept more pieces stored at a shed farther north. People would often ask where they could find the second property, but in reality, it didn’t exist.
While some people browsing on Tuesday said they were interested in purchasing some items, others were more interested in taking one last look at Hartung’s labor of love. “There’s so many people here that aren’t here to buy,” Cox said. “They’re here to say goodbye to Lee.”
A second preview was scheduled for 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, open to the public, admission $20 to registered bidders.