hoping to unearth
Oahu Construction is puttingBy Peter Wagner
$7 million worth of equipment
up for auction in a
CLAY Darrow leaned out the window of his compact rental car and ran his eyes over a battered John Deere 310e backhoe.
"This old dog's got a lot of miles on it," he said. "I don't want that."
The 66-year-old retired mortgage broker was looking for something to clear his five-acre lot near Lahaina. He found out about the auction on the Internet and flew over to inspect the equipment.
"That's a dandy right there," Darrow said, pointing out a newer-looking model in a long row of backhoes. He made a note in his catalog.
Darrow was among scores of contractors, business owners, and handymen wandering a vast, mud-filled holding yard in Ewa yesterday sizing up equipment that once belonged to Oahu Construction Co. Some $7 million in earthmovers, excavators, graders, and a fleet of light and heavy trucks went on the auction block at Blaisdell Center today in the company's bankruptcy liquidation.
Some 500 potential bidders are expected at the auction, believed to be the largest of its kind since Hamakua Sugar Co. liquidated after a failed attempt at bankruptcy reorganization in 1992.
Conducting the event is San Francisco-based Rabin Brothers, which handled the Hamakua auction and yesterday was also overseeing the sale of inventory at MidPac Lumber Co., which ran into financial problems and recently closed after being sold to CGBN Inc., an offshoot of Maui-based CG Investments, in 1998.
Oahu Construction filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September, listing $12.6 million in assets and $21.5 million in debts. But efforts to reorganize failed and U.S. Bankruptcy Court recently approved conversion of the case to a Chapter 7 liquidation, effective Feb. 29.
The company, founded in 1946, is being sold, lock, stock and barrel to pay off its debts.
Ted Pettit, attorney for Oahu Construction in the case, blames Hawaii's economy.
"It began in October of 1998 when they lost the capacity to bond jobs," Pettit said. "Once that happened, they couldn't bid on further work."
Company revenues fell from about $100 million in 1994 to $45 million in 1998, he said.
Among the hearty hopefuls standing in the rain and mud yesterday to inspect equipment before the auction was a contractor hoping to find three backhoes. The man, an executive of Wasa Electrical Service Inc. who asked not to be identified, was saddened by the spectacle of a dying company.
Taking refuge nearby under a huge tractor were two tradesmen with D & R Construction, also looking for a backhoe. They had their eye on a Case 580, a little old but a powerful four-wheel drive workhorse.
Across the yard, standing under a colorful umbrella, was Diane Johnson, whose husband Loren was in the maw of a big portable mulching machine.
"Ive been looking for something like this for a long time," he said, poking his head out for a moment. "But this is a "spendy' item."
The Waianae couple operate All Paradise Tree Service, which they said could use the 650 horse-power, 318 twin-disc clutch, 8-foot diameter sandwiched chipper and hydraulic loader to make mulch.
What: Oahu Construction Co, equipment auction
Up for bid
Where: Blaisdell Center, Hawaii Suites.
When: Today, from 9:30 a.m.