Ernie Simmons Story

A Day At The Auction – Sept. 5, 1970

On March 12, 2011,  I obtained a Morse key, called “Bathtub” at the Rosmalen Radio Flea market, in the south of The Netherlands. I had been looking for such a key for along time. Why? I had one before, that I lost in a unpleasant way and I wanted to replace it to keep the memory to a wonderful time I spent in Canada, alive.

Back in 1970, at the age of 19, I was invited to spent 3 months at my aunt and uncle’s in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. A charter took the Super-DC-8 from Amsterdam to Montreal, were a part of the passengers got off. Than the flight continued to Toronto, were my family was waiting. Finally a road trip of more than one hour took us to Brantford.

To put things in perspective: at that time one Canadian Dollar had to be bought for 4,75 Dutch Guilders. That was in the time we Dutch still had real money. I could drive around in my uncle’s VW Beetle. Gasoline costed 50 dollar cent for a gallon (4,5 litre). A BIG, two-hands hamburger with everything on 90 cents and a tin of Coca Cola 10 cents. A meal for a buck! McDonald did not exist in Canada, yet, as far as I know and real meat hamburgers were sold in little booths, exploited by Italians. No one ate pizza’s, yet. I did see Colonel Sanders on tv, promoting his buckets.

One of the greatest things that happened, that Indian Summer, was a visit to an auction on the farm of Ernie Simmons, nearby. My uncle saw an add about the auction in the local newspaper and we went to Ernie Simmons farm. If you Google on his name, you will find lots of stories about this man and the auction of his goods, but I WAS THERE when it happened! So I wrote down what I remember of the event and scanned the photo’s I took.

First, Ernie’s story, for as far I remember what I read in that newspaper. Ernie lived on a farm, alone. He believed that there was a good chance of a third world war because of the communist threat, at that time. So, right after the war he bought military surplus at scrap metal prices, think of aeroplanes, aeroplane engines, cars, motor cycles, agricultural equipment, machines and also started collecting everything that might come a shortage of. In the meantime, he had a field filled with planes, cars and other motorized stuff. Everything had to be maintained. So Ernie started up the engines of his planes regularly, to keep them in running order. And sitting in the cockpit, he started taxiing around on his grounds. And the taxiing became faster and soon he hopped in the air. Ernie learned himself how to fly, by trial and error. Ernie had not have a proper school education, but he was quit handy on machines, he even built his own acetylene generator to be able to do welding on his machines. He proved to be a mechanical genius! So Ernie was flying sorties over his property and every once and a while over the neighboring town. And you know, these Yales had no mufflers and the tips of their rotating props exceed the speed of sound, so these yellow crates made a hell of a noise. The city council ordered Ernie to stop making noise. Ernie constructed a stainless steel muffler system and applied these to all his planes. Ernie could fly again with his silenced Yales. Next thing that happened was one or more crash landings due to his lack of flying experience. The city council, again, thought it to risky for him and for the community to fly and ordered him to take off the wings of all his planes. He did and could only taxi around any more. This cutting his freedom and the sheer opposition made Ernie a bitter man and he grew more and more into a recluse.

Every once and a while Ernie sold an old car or a motorcycle, but most stuff he wanted to save until the days that people were willing to pay top-dollar! Ernie lived a modest life in rather poverty. People thought that Ernie had to be rich because of all the stuff he bought.  Scumbags tried to rob Ernie and steal from him so he started to secure his grounds by placing booby traps: hundreds of fire arms were installed in the trees on his grounds and trip wires put in place. Signs told trespassers that they were likely to be shot. Anyway, some robbers took down some of his own guns and threatened him with these. But there was hardly any money on the farm. So they shot Ernie for persuading reasons, and left with only few dollars. Ernie was shot up and bleeding and left for dead. He succeeded in repairing his telephone and could call for help. After a long time in hospital he returned to the farm. He never completely recovered and finally died. As there were no heirs, the state officials rubbed their greedy hands and decided to auction the possessions and grounds of late Ernie Simmons.

On Saturday 5, 1970, my uncle, cousin and I drove up to Tillsonburg, where the auction was held. What we saw was awesome! By the end of the day possibly thousands of people walking around, looking at the stuff. Lined up dozens of planes. Crates with plane engines, cars of all brands. Crates with motorcycles, like new Harley Davidson Liberators. Farming equipment, incredible amounts of rusty machines and unrecognizable objects. But there was more. As I said before, Ernie collected everything that could become scarce. At the back of the farm house were a few glass houses. One was filled with paper. Old newspapers and magazines and such. Another glass house was filled with aluminium scrap: milk bottle caps, empty tin cans. A third was filled with empty glass bottles. Old shoes! Unbelievable! I still see the pictures in my mind.

We had a great time. For me it was a sort of paradise. Imagine, I could climb around in and out of planes where back home in good old Holland I could only dream about. One could not come close to a plane at home! This entire happening made a huge impression to me, as you can imagine because I am writing this out of my memory. A memory of one day, more than 40 years ago.

I made some photos, you can find on this page. Unfortunately I had not much money to spend so I could take only a few photos, the three films I came with had to last the entire three months. The other disaster was the poor quality of the camera: it was a cheap fixed focus 126 cartridge type. So the photos are not the same quality you find elsewhere on my site. 

photo taken by Jack-McNulty, borrowed from

This could be the Fairey Swordfish that I took the Bathtub key from. These planes were complete wrecks.
Early morning everybody was hunting for souvenirs from these planes. And from the old timer cars and motor cycles.
Besides the Bathtub key I must have a 16-switch panel somewhere…

photo borrowed from

This was an ad in the local newspaper. Sixty-five handguns were offered. Most of them were hanging in the trees, operated by trip wires.

I took the newspaper with me, when I left Canada and went home to Holland. Unfortunately, during the years, it was taken from my photo album, so I cannot show that article here.

Uncle Bill on the prop and cousin Will in the pilot’s seat. “Dad, can I have my wings?”.
They changed means of transportation. Still, Bill has to do the hard work. Kids!
Two nineteen years young boys. Dream on guys, it won’t happen.
Needs a bit of paint here and there….
And finally: the wannabee pilot. Never came to flying, lost most of his hair, but still has the sunglasses!

(C) 2011 – text and photos: H.F.W. van Zwam, except those borrowed from
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