Searching for “Lost” G.I. Joes, Mission #1: “Rescue the Talking Commander!”

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A website confirmed that a “Talking GIjOE Commander” was to be auctioned off Sunday in Gifford, IL. This sounded like a job for yours truly, “GIjOE Rescue-Man!”   (Photo: Mark Otnes)

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The ad with its two, powerful words. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

Two Little Words

Every year about this time, auction listings begin to appear in our local newspaper; sometimes so many that they seem to be proliferating like little rabbits. A couple of days ago, I came across a new listing for a general property auction (see photo at right). In the advert were two little words that caught my eye: “including GIjOEs.” Whoa! Hold the phone, Horatio! What did they mean by that? Are they old Joes? Big Joes? Little Joes? My mind began racing with all of the exciting possibilities. But I knew from previous experience that such sketchy descriptions were often misleading and could end up being ANYTHING; even a box of little green army men. I drummed my fingers in frustration and anticipation. I had to learn more.

This enlargement of the auction website photo appears to show a "healthy" Talking Commander. Only time and a closeup inspection would reveal the reality. (Photo: Gordyville Auctions)

This enlargement of the auction website photo appears to show a “healthy” Talking Commander. Only time and a closeup inspection would reveal the reality. (Photo: Gordyville Auctions)

Gathering Auction “Intel”

Preparing to attend an auction is like going into battle. First, you need to gather information or “intel” online about the items that will be up for bid. Second, you need to “marshal your forces” by going to an ATM to “load up” with the requisite moolah. And finally, you need to compute your “plan of attack” into a GPS, ensuring that you won’t end up lost out in the middle of some cornfield. You’ll want to make sure you arrive early enough for a “sneak preview” of the items being offered for sale. After scanning the auction photos online, I found only one photo of a GIjOE, but it was a Talking Commander in its original box, complete with paperwork and inserts. YES! My mission now had a clearly defined goal. I must:“Rescue the Talking Commander!”

Dedicated Joeheads will drive for hours if it means a "lost" GIjOE can be rescued. Fortunately, this trip would only take me 30 minutes through the Illinois farm country. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

Dedicated Joeheads will drive for hours if it means a “lost” GIjOE can be rescued. Fortunately, this trip would only take me 30 minutes through the Illinois farm country. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

Prairieland “Ponn Farr”

Outsiders see it as an obsession. But Joeheads refer to it as the “Thrill of the Hunt.” Whatever it is, I had it bad. Most GIjOE collectors seem to “catch it” about this time every year, when the snow begins to melt and “auction season” begins to heat up again across the U.S. I’m not talking about online auctions, where collectors can sit around for weeks waiting, just to have the object of their desire “sniped” away in the last seconds. I’m talking about real LIVE auctions, where buyers of every stripe, color, and description, gather together armed with wads of money in their pockets and wearing their best “poker faces.”

You Never Know What You’ll Find

At the auction site, door after door led into a variety of featureless metal buildings. There were no signs. No arrows. Nothing. Whatever treasures lay beyond remained hidden from view. The hunt continued! (Photo: Mark Otnes)

This was the auction site. Door after unmarked door led into a variety of featureless metal buildings. There were no signs. No arrows. No directions. Whatever treasures lay ahead remained hidden from view. The hunt continued! (Photo: Mark Otnes)

Auctions, Flea Markets and Garage Sales are all unpredictable “treasure hunts.” For example, about 15 years ago, I attended an auction with a similarly vague newspaper ad, and it turned out to be the lifetime accumulation of an old farmer who was liquidating his ENTIRE vintage 1960s GIjOE, Barbie and Soakie (’60s cartoon character bubble-bath bottles) collections. Would today’s auction contain the same sort of collectible “bonanza?” Maybe. (Maybe not.) I’ve learned that no newspaper ad (or website photos) EVER show everything sold at an auction. They can’t. There are always boxes of stuff that contain untold treasures inside, delightful surprises that you can only discover by being at the auction IN PERSON. As they say in the auction world, “You’ll never know, if you don’t go.”

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The Commander looked sad, almost pitiful, as he lay locked inside a glass and metal case. With no one to care for him, he seemed to stare forlornly up at the ceiling, as if wondering how he had ever gotten to such a lonely place. Surely the little boy who used to love and play with him all those years and adventures ago, would come back to “rescue” him from this awful fate. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

Playing the Waiting Game

Auctions require a great deal of patience, and today’s event would be no exception. I pulled into a gravel lot surrounding an assortment of long, unmarked metal buildings. Typically, these buildings were used for horse shows, sales, and rodeos. Today, there would be no horses (unless they were of the miniature Breyer variety), but SALES were clearly on everyone’s mind. I could smell hamburgers cooking, and walked towards the aroma. Once inside, I saw the auctioneer’s PA-equipped truck parked among rows of tables piled high with goods (didn’t I tell you about the piles?). After a short search, I located the “missing” Commander. He was indeed a talker, complete with everything except the bottom of his box and some hair at the front of his forehead. I quickly calculated a bidding budget of $50 for the figure, not based so much on his actual value, but more so upon an assumption I’d be bidding against a bunch of non-Joehead farmer-types. I’ve seen them go ga-ga over die-cast John Deere tractors, but surely they wouldn’t bid more than $50 for a child’s “doll.” Right? I paced anxiously about the room while I waited for the auction to begin…

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Much to my chagrin, as soon as the auctioneer fired up his microphone, bidders started to cluster around the tables loaded with rare coins, toys and the display box containing “my” future Talking Commander. This didn’t look good. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

My Big Auction “Secret”

Auctions can drag on for a long time, depending on the crowd size, number of items involved and the speed of the auctioneer. But while daunting, such large public sales can also be quite rewarding. Here’s where the psychology and “secret” advantage of attending an auction in person begins to kick in: If you can afford the time, are patient, and there are no other bidders in attendance who are interested in the object(s) you’re interested in, you can end owning some extremely valuable items—for a song. Seriously, I’ve seen MANY lucky bidders pay just a few dollars for rare vintage furniture, toys, comics and other cool collectibles that were worth THOUSANDS, simply because no one else at the auction bid against them. Unfortunately for me, on this particular day, a great deal of fellow bidders had decided to “hang around.” Curse them all!

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Winning bidder, Brent McNamara (48), of Cerro Gordo, IL, shows off his new GIjOE Talking Commander outside the Gordyville auction building in Gifford, IL, Sunday, April 14, 2013. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

Acting Like Kids Again

After 45 minutes of boring bidding on lots of old coins, pocket knives and watch fobs, my pulse began to race as the auctioneer FINALLY reached the GIjOE. You should have seen all the grown men in that building suddenly perk up. The feeling was palpable. They were acting like kids again. A chorus of “Pull his string! Let’s hear if he still talks!” arose from numerous faces in the crowd. Silence descended upon the giant room as the auctioneer’s helper slowly pulled out the Commander’s string. The tension was thick, when suddenly, the veteran adventurer LOUDLY declared, “I’ve got a tough assignment for you!” and the crowd erupted again with cheers. “Yayyyy, JOE!!! At that moment, I was sunk. Despite the figure’s age and imperfect condition, I knew this was one Joe who wasn’t going to sell cheaply.

Bottom Line: Bidding for the Commander started at $40, jumped quickly to $50, then $60, and climbed steadily until finally peaking at $130. I never even raised my hand! Ultimately, the Commander was snagged by Brent McNamara, a dedicated GIjOE collector from Cerro Gordo, IL. Brent spoke with me outside after his win, and revealed the following:

“I’m not a dealer or anything. I had all these Joes when I was a kid. Now I’m trying to get ’em all back. I only wished it hadn’t cost me $130 bucks! Oh well. The only reason I came today was for this little guy. And I don’t mind driving a long way. You know what I mean?”

I sure do. And I’m also happy (really!) that the Commander “went home” to such a nice guy and not to some ebay scalper. Congratulations, Brent. Keep “rescuing” GIjOES. And happy collecting!

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6 thoughts on “Searching for “Lost” G.I. Joes, Mission #1: “Rescue the Talking Commander!”

  1. Joseph Benedetto says:

    *sigh* At least Joe went to a good home. It’s a way-cool story! (…and Better Luck next time!)

  2. Yup. Brent was one happy camper. I was happy for him (and the Commander too).

  3. kneonknight says:

    I have to agree, I sympathize with your disappointment, but am glad it was tempered with the knowledge that the commander is going to expand someone’s collection rather than their bank account.

  4. Bryan Tatum (toysgot2go) says:

    Great story Mark… thanks for sharing it with us… could almost feel the thrill of the hunt sitting here in my office.

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