When the bank trustee called to tell Tim Murphy that his auction house would be in charge of selling the 19 vehicles in the former Ride the Ducks fleet, there were, shall we say, mixed feelings.
Nostalgia for what the amphibious vehicles used to be in the city; rumbling through the streets, loaded with tourists, their heads turning in every direction, blowing into their quacking whistles, and leaving an echo of Motown, Jimmy Buffett or grunge music in their wake.
And sadness for the losses of September 2015, when a Duck vehicle was involved in a crash on the Aurora Bridge that killed five people and injured more than 60. The company filed for bankruptcy in April, citing the “legal issues” around the crash and the coronavirus shutdown.
In February 2019, after a four-month civil trial, a King County jury awarded the victims of the crash $123 million. The jury determined that Ride the Ducks International — the Branson, Missouri-based manufacturer of the Duck vehicle — bore 67% to 70% of the responsibility for the crash; and that Ride the Ducks of Seattle was 30% to 33% at fault. Awards to each of the 40 plaintiffs ranged from $40,000 to $25 million.
“This will be quite a challenge because of all the history,” said Murphy, of the James G. Murphy Co., the commercial and industrial auction company handling the weeklong, online auction, which begins July 1.
Murphy has handled “all kinds of strange auctions” since joining his father’s business in 1980, including the sale of the Kalakala, a 1927 vintage former state ferry that, after years of drama, ended up being scrapped.
“This will be a challenge, and fun,” he said of the Duck-vehicle auction. “Because you get tired of the same old stuff. Backhoes and trailers.”
The sale of the Ducks vehicles — and everything in the bankrupted tour company’s Frelard-area garage — will also be the sale of Seattle history.
But Murphy and his son, Colin, who is in charge of the auction, are optimistic. People around the country, and the world, collect the amphibious vehicles, which were built by GMC for use by the U.S. Army during World War II. The first “duck tour” company was started in 1946 and is still in operation under the name Original Wisconsin Ducks.
“You might find someone duck-hunting on one in Eastern Washington, or in California or the Midwest,” Tim Murphy said.
“They could go into the movie business,” his son added. “There are all kinds of people who collect these things. They’re such a strange piece of equipment.”
The vehicles fit 25 people, have a 5,000-pound carrying capacity and can reach 50 mph on land, but only 5 mph in the water.
The auction lot includes 19 different Ducks vehicles, one built by GMC in 1944, seven in 1945 and the rest in the ’60s and ’70s. The newest one is a 1980 REO. Eleven of the 19 are road- and water-ready, Colin Murphy said.
Some are some custom painted in Seahawks, Washington State University or University of Washington colors.
“You never know,” Colin Murphy said of where those Ducks might land. “You’ve got alumni. Tailgating. Can you imagine showing up to a Husky football game in a Duck?”
The auction includes spare parts, tools and some Duck memorabilia, including the kiosk trailer that used to sit at Westlake Center.
Despite living in Seattle all their lives, neither of the Murphys have ever taken the Duck tour, or ridden in an amphibious vehicle.
Colin Murphy used to work at Michelangelo’s restaurant in the Seattle Center House, and walked past the Ducks tour office every day.
“I just never got around to doing it,” Colin Murphy said. “But they’re very interesting and unique and part of the Seattle I grew up with. We’d be dodging Ducks all the way to work.”
There’s one pretty raw-looking military amphibious vehicle for sale on eBay Motors, for parts. You have to go to North Carolina to get it. Its price: $12,785. There’s another for sale in the Netherlands for 5,000 euros.
Murphy declined to give any of the Ducks in his auction a value, and said there is no minimum bid, so anyone can be part of the action. Within hours of posting the lot, he said, he got a half-dozen calls about the Ducks.
“There’s definitely going to be users for them,” Murphy said. “They will find homes.”