When I first met Yvette VanDerBrink, she shooed me out of the former Lambrecht Chevrolet dealership building in Pierce, Nebraska. I knew she meant business because she had a rag in her hand, dirt on her shirt, dusty boots and a wide smudge across her cheek. I did a quick spin and headed back out the door. Story opportunity or not, I could tell she wasn’t kidding and I wasn’t going to question her command.
This was 2013, about six weeks before the famed Lambrecht Chevrolet auction that turned the sleepy little town of Pierce (population 1,700) into a metropolis of more than 20,000 car nuts and gawkers for three days. I’d gotten wind the company handling the auction was planning a brief press announcement that morning and I was only five hours away. Hey, what’s five hours? I wanted to see what everybody had been talking about for the past few months.
Fortunately, Yvette is forgiving. I sat outside the dealership building waiting until she was done doing whatever she had to do inside what turned out to be a building filled with original vehicles, loads of NOS parts, and plenty of grease, dirt and grime. Just where you’d expect to find a diminutive blonde lady, right?
She immediately took charge of the press that had gathered with video and still cameras, recording microphones thrust forward to capture what the heck this sale was all about. Was it true this Lambrecht guy had kept over 500 cars over the 50-year history of his tiny dealership? Yup… and Yvette VanDerBrink was there to help the family clear a legacy of collecting no one could quite explain. It made no difference. Yvette knew her job and was going to make sure the family was served in the best way possible.
The Lambrecht auction caught the attention of car buffs and non-buffs all over the world, landing on the nightly news and in major newspapers, drawing buyers from across both oceans to tiny Pierce. But what might have been even more intriguing than the 500-car inventory, was the auction lady who was pulling it all together. No cigar chomping, wide-brimmed cowboy-hatted, big-boots guy was in charge. It was all Yvette and there was no question she had things under control. If there were questions, she had the answers.
Yvette Nordstrom grew up in Garretson, South Dakota, on a dairy farm where arduous work was expected. Her dad, Art Nordstrom, also ran a salvage business. Oh, and Art is a gear head. A big-time car guy who over the years owned hundreds of cars he managed to stash away in groves around his farm and instilled in his kids, along with his wife, that life meant work, but play was also allowed, and Yvette and her siblings had the run of all kinds of machinery and open spaces.
She graduated from high school in 1983 and is a self-admitted “tom boy” who raced Enduro motorcycles for three years and loved the family outings to area dirt track racing where he dad was an official.
When Yvette married Steve VanDerBrink in 1991, the couple expected to work hard. They raised cattle and cut hay on their farm in nearby Hardwick, Minnesota, both having other jobs to keep a growing family fed and clothed. With two young ones, the couple experienced the same trials most families endure, but a prophecy was coming, however, that would change their lives forever.
Yvette was working long hours at a desk in a hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and wondering if this was going to be the story of her life. Though she knew challenging work, she secretly hoped she could move a different direction and began exploring things that might better suit her work ethic.
One of those options was attending an auctioneering school in Billings, Montana, and she sent away for the necessary paperwork to apply, but decided to stick it away in a drawer rather than pursue it further. As Yvette explains it, the paperwork, though secretly tucked away, was soon to be uncovered and brought back to life in a most unusual way.
“My mom called me one day and told me my dad and I should plan to attend this preacher’s event that was in the area,” Yvette explains. “You have to know my mom, but she thought it would be a good idea for Dad and me to go because we hadn’t been too good about going to church.”
Yvette said she rolled her eyes at the idea but agreed to go just to appease her mom.
“We get there, and the preacher is picking people from the audience to come up front where he’s telling them things about their lives that need attention.” Yvette and her dad got picked and the preacher is going down the line of people, speaking to each one, asking questions and providing some advice according to what he could see were problems.
“He got to me and right away said, ‘what about that paperwork you’ve got stuck away in that drawer?’ I about fell over.”
Yvette had told no one she had even considered getting any type of training. At that moment, Yvette decided this was a sign. “I knew I wanted to do something that could help people,” she said. “This was what I needed to do.”
She and husband Steve, along with her dad (as banker) had been buying old tractors and doing some “gentle” refurbishing before selling them, and that day the couple had sold nine, giving the group $5,000 they were going to use for additional income.
“I had that cash in my pocket and knew it was going to be expensive for us to have me going off for schooling,” she said, “but I was convinced this was where I needed to head.”
With a combination of loving vintage vehicles because of her family background and a firm belief she could make a difference, her auction career was born.
“It wasn’t easy those first few years,” she explains. “I quit my regular job and went to work finding any and all types of auctions.”
Yvette describes her very first auction as an antique shop that was closing. “I went in and set things up, so they were displayed rather than just sticking everything in boxes. I think the other auction companies were laughing at how I wanted to approach these sales.”
But emotion tends to be a major part of most any auction, even if it’s a land auction or farm auction, two types she continues to handle, where a family’s longtime memories are ingrained into every aspect of the sale.
Yvette handled her first “big” auction in 2003 when she sold her dad’s car collection, some 218 vehicles he had accumulated over the years, including 60 1957 Chevys sold on her dad’s 60th birthday that year.
“He had lots of ’57 Chevys and Impalas, some that I remembered well from my growing up around them.”
That emotion helped to form the compassion she would need to work with collectors and families that were faced with liquidating memories held inside collections.
“I was clearing some old salvage yards, but treated everything in them as inventory,” she explained.
Because her dad was in the salvage business, she knew the companies that were working around the country crushing up these yards and got them to work to save what was good and she was able to create some auction events from that effort.
“In 2005 South Dakota crushed over 7,000 old vehicles as part of a cleanup campaign,” Yvette said. “So, there was opportunity to go in too many of these yards and find cars and trucks that could be saved, either whole or as parts.”
Word began to spread that Yvette was handling these sales a bit differently and leads for future auctions started coming in.
“Working to help a collector or family to solve this problem (selling a collection) is my greatest joy in doing this type of work. I understand the pain and emotion and let the sellers know I’m there to get them through the process in the best way possible.”
So, what is the biggest challenge Yvette faces as a female auction company owner? “Other than working in what has traditionally been a man’s domain, I would say the titles issue is my biggest challenge,” she said.
During the prep for the 485-vehicle Lambrecht Chevrolet auction, Yvette ran up against state regulations about selling cars without titles. About 50 of the Lambrecht vehicles were “new” vehicles that had never been titled and only had an MSO (manufacturer’s statement of origin).
“That was a problem for Nebraska as they require a title for sale of any vehicle.” Yvette spent several weeks researching and learning about the issue before coming up with an acceptable solution from Nebraska authorities. She worked with South Dakota used car dealers and as a group they successfully rewrote some old car legislation in 2016.
“Titles can be a real headache because either they have been lost or are simply disorganized,” she said. “I’ve had people hand me a box with everything carefully documented and I’ve had paperwork handed to me in rubber bands, which sometimes takes weeks to re-assemble.”
Yvette feels many state laws pretty much are not old car friendly. “States are nervous about old cars because there have been too many instances where people, like drug dealers, use old cars to launder money, which makes it especially hard for authorities to track funds. So, we fight that issue as well.”
At this point in her career she points to the Ron Hackenberger auction in Norwalk, Ohio as her biggest project. The auction included over 700 vehicles, accumulated over 55 years and with a virtual menagerie of makes and models, it can be assumed that Yvette not only coordinated how that event could be staged (it was held at separate locations for day one and day two), but probably looked at, touched and climbed inside nearly every vehicle that was to be sold.
“I still enjoy getting dirty,” she explains. “Growing up in a family that attended dirt track races every week and played around machinery daily, I’ve not lost that need to see things for myself.”
It’s not unusual to see her out in a field, wrangling vehicles into position and then climbing inside to determine how best to describe their condition.
“Oh, I’ve had my share of ‘war wounds’ including some meetings with badgers and raccoons that have taken up residence. It’s getting a little harder to crawl through windows and force open stuck doors, but I still do it and believe that’s an important part of my job.”
She emphasizes that she got into this business to help people. “I want to be a real person for my customer. They want to be encouraged that what has been a lifelong passion and love is going to be handled with the same passion and love. And I think I do that.”
Typically, Yvette says she does around 17 to 25 auctions each year, including some farm and land sales. Her first large vehicle auctions in 2018 will be a 295-vehicle auction in Longview, Texas, in April and a big Mopar collection in Mansfield, South Dakota, in June. Her company has staged auctions in 17 states, including salvage yards, private collections and museums.
Something you can fully expect is reflected in a scripture Yvette adheres to from Galatians 6:9, ”Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap the harvest if we do not give up.” And this is a lady that does not give up.