Mid Kansas Auto Auction in Hays, Kan., is celebrating the new year with brand new auction facilities after a devastating fire last summer destroyed the former four-lane sale.
At the end of December manager Trevor Ottley said workers were putting the finishing touches on the rebuild in the aftermath of the disastrous July 24 fire.
On that day, the staff was getting ready to give out a loaner car for someone who had repair work, Ottley said. The loaner was a 2005 Buick LaSabre, which has the battery under the back seat. The battery was set on a trickle charge and employees left for about an hour, Ottley said.
“One of our employees came back and the car was engulfed in flames and the building followed,” he said.
Ottley was mowing his lawn and got a call that the auction was on fire. He and his father, Mark Ottley, both live about a quarter of a mile from the sale.
“I thought they were joking, but I ran out and looked across and could see a couple hundred feet of flames in the air,” he said. “My dad and I both beat the fire department here.”
There were more than a dozen cars in the building and even after the firefighters got it under control, it sparked up again, Ottley said.
Ottley said it was windy day and the fire got so hot it shorted out garage door openers and caused them to open up, allowing the wind to feed the fire.
“The fire was so hot, the concrete was exploding,” Ottley said.
“It got hot enough to melt the steel beams.”
Fire inspectors came out and said everything was hooked up correctly so it was a malfunction in the extension cord, the machine or the car.
No one was hurt, but the devastation was total.
“We had one facility which encompassed everything and everything burnt down,” he said. “We lost all of our servers, all of our data.
“So within four hours, everything we’ve done over the past 11 years was gone.”
After replacing a server a few years ago, the service provider did not make the proper connection between the server and online backup, so all of the data was lost, Ottley said.
“That was much worse than the building,” he said. “We had to start over.”
Ottley said the auction couldn’t even register a car after that.
It was just as much work to try and build up a temporary sale so they just stayed closed and worked on rebuilding instead.
“We’re separating our office facility from the auction facility and then we have a separate recon facility,” he said.
Ottley said the one positive is that it forced them to stop and make all the changes at once, without having to juggle the weekly sales and daily operations at the same time.
“We also have the cutting edge technology now, setting up with AutoIMS,” he said. “It will be much better.”
The new two-lane sale will have the ability to run up to 300 cars.
The auction used to run 125 units on an average sale day. At press time, Ottley was expecting to run more than 200 for the first sale at the new facility, which was scheduled before the new year.
As a family-owned independent auction, the Ottleys have focused on their customers and still did some transportation during the four-month rebuild.
Owner Mark Ottley opened the original sale new in 2005 and during the rebuild did not lay anyone off, keeping all of the staff on.
Trevor Ottley said he looks forward to running sales for dealers again.
“We’re excited to get back open for them.”