When Elmer Hemphill of Tulsa died in 2016, he left his son John a thriving construction company.
He also left him a three-million-pound scrap heap that reveals another side of his personality: hoarder; on the industrial scale.
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âHis perfect storm was buying and storing, but never getting rid of anything,â says Louis Dakil, a Tulsa auctioneer brought in to get rid of Elmerâs sprawling collection of junk.
The family is featured on the newest edition of FOX Business Networkâs Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby. It premieres on Monday, March 20 at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Elmer Hemphill was born in 1935 on a farm near Tryon, Oklahoma. He started his first business â buying and selling sheep â when he was just 13 years old.
âHe had a mind like a steel trap,â recalls his lifelong friend Earl Hart. âElmer laid awake nights trying to think of ways to make a dollar. He was just determined to succeed.â
His son John says he had a simple business philosophy:
âYou never know how far a toad will jump until you punch it.â
In other words, you canât just sit back and hope things happen, you have to go out and make them happen.
âHe was definitely one to punch the toad,â John says.
Elmer started an oil drilling company in the 1950s, and later added an aerospace manufacturing operation. In the â80s he got in on the ground floor of a new industry â cellular towers.
Despite his success, he never lost his stubborn Dust Bowl waste-not-want-not mentality.
He refused to throw away anything â from tiny sections of pipe, to thousands of feet of fencing, to huge pieces of retired equipment. Anything left over from a job â bolts, bricks, chains, springs, trucks, trailers â it all piled up.
âWe asked no questions,â says John, who began working with his father in the 1970s. âIt was pretty much known that we just needed to put it where he wanted and live with it.â
Eventually, Elmer wasnât just hoarding his own junk â he was buying other companiesâ cast-off equipment, machine parts and scrap metal.
âIf it was cheap enough, heâd buy it and say, âSomeday itâll be worth something,ââ says Hart.
âHe used to say that if a trainload of pencils was cheap enough, heâd buy it,â recalls John.
The trainload of pencils never came in, but he did buy boxcars full of tractor seats, file cabinets and office chairs.
By the time he died, Elmerâs stuff filled multiple warehouses and littered 40 acres of land surrounding the Hemphill Corporation headquarters.
John assigned his daughter Kristin to get rid of it all. She came up with an idea for an online auction, run by Dakil.
âIâve appraised everything in America thatâs ethical, moral or legal and when I saw Hemphillâs collection I was overwhelmed,â says Dakil. âBut I told them if they can organize it, we can inventory it and sell it. Thereâs one saying we have in our industry: âYou canât outlive iron.ââ
The August 2016 auction lasted two days. Some items sold for as little as 50 cents. The biggest sale was an old drilling rig designed by Elmer, which fetched $4,000. All told, the auction brought in $175,000.