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The Last Roundup at Former Museum

May 04, 2003|Cara Mia Dimassa | Times Staff Writer

It might have been anything but happy trails for the 300 fans and collectors gathered Saturday in Victorville at the former site of the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum.

After all, the museum itself had already decamped for Branson, Mo., where it will reopen later this month.

Much of its famous memorabilia -- including Trigger, Rogers' famous horse, mounted and preserved -- would never again reside in California.

But the people gathered Saturday were joyous. For the museum had decided to host one last moving sale, a final sell-off of memorabilia from Rogers' and Evans' lives that was left behind in the move.

The couple collected an estimated 100,000 items in their lifetime and -- as it seemed from the items for sale -- never got rid of anything.

Fifty coffee mugs were laid out on a table, ready for auction. A box of Hanukkah candles was up for sale. So were impressive collections of guns, Christmas creches and mounted game heads.

Rogers "came from the old school; he didn't have anything as a kid, so when he got something, he kept it," said his son, Roy Rogers Jr., 57.

"But what," Rogers Jr., known as Dusty, mused aloud, "do you do with 10,000 cigarette lighters or ballpoint pens? You don't give away things that were gifts. But after a period of time.... "

Since Roy Rogers' death in 1998 at the age of 86 and Dale Evans' passing in 2001 at 88, their museum had struggled financially, failing to become a major stop for people traveling along Interstate 15 between the Los Angeles area and Las Vegas.

The decision to move to Branson came last year, and the new museum is a glossy version of the Victorville building, a wood-planked structure designed to look like an old-fashioned fort.

Admission has jumped from $8 in Victorville to $14.40 in Branson. For $17.50 more, visitors will have a chance to hear Dusty Rogers sing in the Happy Trails Theater.

It took 10 truck trailers to move the collection east, said Rogers. The 1,400 items to be sold off this weekend were the leftovers, the things that didn't make the cut.

"It was pretty obvious" which items to leave behind, said Rogers, who wore a hat that said, "My hero has always been Roy Rogers," and a button-down shirt from the Professional Bull Riders. "I had in my mind what the new museum was going to look like. These items are not as personal as the outfits, jewelry there."

Still, for the people who gathered at the auction, each set of playing cards, each Christmas ornament or bottle of cheap wine was a chance to own a piece of Roy and Dale.

They were treasured bits of history, lost scraps of childhoods that were influenced by the King of the Cowboys and the Queen of the West.

"As a kid, I was Roy Rogers, and my neighbor was Hopalong Cassidy," said Steve Schoenbaum, now 62. "We fought the wars of Altadena."

Like any massive moving sale, there were treasures and trash to be sold, bargains to be had and some items that might be prized only by their owners.

The first item on the block, a well-used Dutch oven, sold for $30. In a fierce bidding competition, a set of swizzle sticks and a wine carafe bearing Rogers' initials fetched $80.

The crowd, its average age considerably more than 50, closely followed the fast pace of auctioneer Don Gullery's banter. They added commentary on some items -- "the last car he owned," someone shouted as a Toyota minivan with 200,000 miles on it went on the block. Oohs and aahs greeted a canvas director's chair that fetched $900.

"It was either from 'The Fall Guy' or 'Wonder Woman,' " Dusty Rogers reminisced.

People reached out to touch a hand-stitched, cowboy-themed quilt that won second prize at the Maryland State Fair in 1950.

Charlotte Roach, 59, a retired waitress, and her husband, Roby, 65, a truck driver, had carefully assembled a list of items that interested them.

As Roby bid on -- and won -- items, Charlotte, wearing a tan silk jacket that had once belonged to Evans, quietly added up the totals in the far right column of a stenographer's pad. Among other things, the couple spent $60 for a Mr. Coffee machine that once sat in Rogers' office. Along with it came a creamer, a sugar jar and a glass jar containing what was said to be ground coffee left by Rogers.

The Roaches also bought one of Rogers' richly embroidered cowboy shirts from the 1960s for $1,150 and the 1991 Toyota minivan for $6,000. A .22-caliber gun, one of only 75 manufactured with Rogers' signature engraved on the barrel, set them back $5,000. "We'll never shoot it," said Roby Roach. "We'll just keep it."

Jack Weiss, 57, had driven from Santa Barbara for the auction and successfully bid on the first thing that caught his eye.

"I'm in a little bit of a hurry," he said. "I liked the skull thing."

The "skull thing" was the skeletal head and horns from a water buck, one of almost 50 trophies on display from Rogers' many hunting trips and African safaris. It cost $130.

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