The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Boondoggle buses headed to Charles Bacon, veteran salvage yard operator in Hopkinton

In City Hall on March 31, 2008 at 8:28 pm

Bidding turned fast and furious in the final couple hours Monday morning at the online auction GovDeals.com as bidders competed to buy nine, little-used electric buses from the city of Cedar Rapids.

The buses are a testament to a $10-million experiment, which was funded in large part by the federal government and which turned into nothing less than a boondoggle.

Bidding  for the nine buses closed at noon Iowa time on Monday after 24 bids.

The winning bid: $30,000 for all nine buses.

The winner: Charles Bacon, owner of C.J. Bacon and Sons, a salvage and recycling operation with convenience store on Highway 38 at Hopkinton in Delaware County.

Bacon on Monday said he will tear the buses apart for salvage.

“I’ve got a big shear on a crane. I can whip one of those buses apart in about 30 minutes,” he said.

Bacon said he wasn’t sure how much he might make on the purchase, which averages $3,333 per bus.

He noted that the buses weigh 12 to 13 tons each, which he figures will mean that he can extract a minimum of $4,000 to $5,000 a bus in salvageable stainless steel, aluminum and steel. Five of the nine electric buses are hybrids with diesel generators, which will bring some money, too, he said.

There’s also plenty of copper, he added, and he said he might get $5,000 alone from the aluminum wheels.

“I’ve been in the scrap business for 30 to 40 years,” he explained.

Bacon said he will be at City Hall on Tuesday with his check. He will haul the buses up to his salvage yard via flatbed semi-trailer truck.

Last Friday, the bidding on the online auction site for government property, GovDeals.com, had the price for the nine buses sitting at $18,000 after nine bids.

At 9 a.m. Monday, the bid amount had risen to $22,000, and Bacon said it went up by $1,000 increments until the deadline of noon.

He said bidders register with computer names, and as near as he could tell, he said he was bidding against an Anamosa salvage operator and a California company that might actually have wanted to use the buses.

Bacon was tickled to have prevailed at $30,000, a bid that came with a little last-minute excitement.

The last bid Bacon submitted as the bids bumped up by $1,000 a bid was $29,000. But earlier, he had submitted an automatic ceiling bid of $30,000. Apparently, someone competing against him bid $30,000 as the bidding closed, but Bacon’s automatic bid of $30,000 placed earlier was the one that won. It was in place first, said Judy Lehman, the city’s purchasing services manager.

Lehman was pleased at the bidding outcome, noting that the city was prepared to take anything above $10,000 for the nine buses.

“We did pretty well,” she said.

The nine buses, none with more than 25,000 miles on it, have been sitting in a fenced-in lot in Cedar Rapids for the last few years while the city of Cedar Rapids has lobbied the Federal Transit Administration to get permission to unload them. The city’s electric-bus experiment, launched in 1996, finally died in early 2005. Many of the buses had been parked well before that.

Recently, the FTA granted  permission for the city to sell the buses.

New, the nine buses cost $2.6 million, and the city’s electric-bus program received another $7.5 million in federal funds to operate it.

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