Butch and Neva Gruen have been in the auction business for 36 years, and they are as busy as ever.
The couple own AD Auctions located between Union and St. Clair, which they opened in 1977 after moving to the area from West Alton, Mo.
The Gruens operate the auction, but they also get some help.
“It’s a family thing,” Butch said. “My sons and grandkids help out”
Gruen added that some of the buyers at the auction have been coming since it first opened.
“We’re like a family out here,” he said.
AD Auction is open Wednesday and Friday nights beginning about 5:30 p.m. if there are large items for sale outside of the auction barn and then the inside sales begin at 6 p.m.
The Gruens close up shop in July and August because there already are a large number of auctions during those months, but also so the family can take a break.
Neva Gruen added that some people have said they have nothing else to do Wednesdays and Fridays in July and August.
“The wintertime is when we are really busy,” Butch said. “Sometimes we have sales three times a week because we have so much stuff.”
AD Auction first opened in a barn next to the Gruens’ home. As the business expanded, the couple needed more room to operate and store items.
In 1985 there was a large barn built and the auctions are held there today.
While AD Auction sells a lot of antiques, parts of the building are just as old.
Butch Gruen rebuilt a log cabin that had been inside of the “old train depot,” in St. Clair. He estimates that the cabin is nearly 100 years old.
He also has used wood from old barns to make one of the walls of the building.
In 1995 there was a fire in the auction building and the couple lost most of their inventory.
“The only thing that was left was the walls,” Neva said.
Butch added that the wall made from the barn walls was damaged in the blaze. He said his insurance company suggested he paint the walls, but instead his sons cleaned the aged wood by hand.
It’s easier to list what isn’t auction at the business than what is, the Gruens said.
They don’t sell pistols, or automatic weapons. And they don’t sell livestock or auction food.
But they have auctioned a 16-foot rubber alligator.
“That was one of a kind,” said Butch.
There also was a statue of Ronald McDonald that was auctioned.
“I thought that was weird,” he added.
The couple recalls a set of prisoner of war letters that were auctioned for $10, and then sold on eBay for more $1,200.
“Now that eBay has started, it has really helped us,” Butch said.
There also was a vase that was sold to a local antique shop for $1, but was later purchased by a collect for less than $20. The vase was worth more than $5,000.
“There are so many unusual things that come through here,” Neva said.
There was one man who saved the contents of his Overland neighbor’s home from ending up in a landfill.
Butch said family members of the man’s neighbor, were recently had died, was throwing out antiques from the home. The man struck a deal with the family that he would sell the antiques at an auction and split the profits.
The items sold for more than $180,000.
“We’ve had some good stuff go through here, but we’ve also had our share of junk,” said Butch.
Move to the Country
The Gruens moved to the Union area in 1972.
The family lived in an area of St. Charles County that was prone to flooding, and Butch had grown tired of having to access his home by boat several times a year.
“It was fun for a while, but when it happens in March when it is cold and raining, the fun part goes,” Butch said.
He met a mutual friend who was looking to buy a home in the area, and after showing him his home, Butch sold it.
“I said, ‘Hey, honey, I sold the house,” Butch remembers.
Neva added that she and the children were not happy about the abrupt change.
“The kids said they were going to run away from home,” she said. “Then we moved out here and the first winter the truck was stuck on ice. I had to walk home from work.”
Now the family has been in the Union area for more than 41 years.
And Butch and Neva have been married for 54 years.
Butch is retired from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) after 18 years. He worked in the St. Charles area and then in the St. Clair area before going into the auction business full time.
“We got so busy that I had to choose,” Butch said.