Buck Kamphausen and the truck he rode in on have both had extraordinary journeys that led them home last weekend. As a kid, Kamphausen lived in Bow …
Buck Kamphausen and the truck he rode in on have both had extraordinary journeys that led them home last weekend.
As a kid, Kamphausen lived in Bow Mar near Fritz Noble, who had a large stake in Littleton’s historic Coleman Motor Company. The auto-manufacturing plant was founded in 1916 by Harleigh Holmes, who invented front-wheel and four-wheel drive.
The company shut down in 1987, but Kamphausen, Littleton High School Class of ’57, spent large chunks of his youth mowing Noble’s lawn and visiting Coleman, where some of his favorite childhood memories reside.
“As a kid, you’re fascinated by mechanical things, and knowing that they were built here was fascinating,” he said. He recalls Noble letting him drive an enormous Coleman dirigible puller around town, which was built heavy enough to stay on the ground when attached to an airborne blimp.
Kamphausen’s journey from those days to Western Welcome Week 2012, where he joined the Grand Parade in his restored 1938 Coleman snowplow, is storied and legendary. An undertaker by trade, he drove his first ambulance to Swedish Medical Center and founded Columbine Ambulance on Prince Street, just a couple blocks from the Coleman building on Nevada Street.
He later moved to California, where he owns several cemeteries and was the first to offer the service of burying cremated remains at sea. That idea grew out of his love for deep-sea diving, which led to him making underwater repairs to the Oroville Dam in California, among others. He was one of the first four tourists to visit the Titanic, in a Russian submarine and against a judge’s order. He also owns a ghost town (which he is restoring), a car museum and three yachts.
But Kamphausen’s early love of powerful machines never faded and led to his current position at RM Auctions, perhaps the largest auction house of investment-grade vehicles in the world. The company’s website lists him as the company’s ambassador and a valued adviser.
“I credit a lot of my success to Littleton’s work ethic of a farm town,” said Kamphausen. “But it’s not Littleton the town, it’s Littleton the people. Whatever you are, you learn when you’re a little kid. I grew up in a town that was supportive of me.”
On the same weekend Kamphausen was cruising his old stomping grounds in his bright-orange behemoth, RM Auctions was setting records. The 1968 Ford GT450 that was the camera car in Steve McQueen’s movie “Le Mans” brought $10 million, more than any other American car at auction. Also sold was a 1960 Plymouth XNR, a one-of-a-kind concept car that was once owned by the Shah of Iran.
While the Coleman wouldn’t win a race with either of those, Kamphausen was every bit as excited about it and the chance to bring it home – which is a story in itself. His sister, Dana Dunbar, found it sitting in a field near Minturn, Colo., about three years ago, full of elk antlers and petunias. Before it retired, it worked hard for the state clearing narrow mountain roads.
Dunbar called her brother right away, and he told her to get back there pronto. So she tracked down the owner of Bottle Mountain Trading Company, where it had been resting for 30 years or so, and bought it that night. There was still air in the tires, and Kamphausen’s protégé, Josh Voss, had it running in a day and a half.
The first 18-wheeler that came to deliver the truck to Kamphausen in California couldn’t bear its weight, so a pinch-hitter was called in. As it was pulling on to the highway, a new state truck happened along, honked and escorted it for a few miles.
“So many generations between the two,” said Dunbar. “Now it’s become such a wonderful beast for me. I really feel Buck’s love for it in my heart.”
Kamphausen’s dream for the snowplow now is for it to live at Littleton Museum, joined by as many Colemans as can be found. He’d be willing to donate to a community effort to build a home for them and envisions a Coleman museum that would draw visitors from around the country.
“This is a huge part of Littleton’s history that is neglected, and it should come back to its home,” said Dunbar.