For $6,990, you could have a Halloween ride that would be the envy of Count Dracula.
The white Oldsmobile hearse parked on the lot of L&J Motors on the “Strip” in Mandan was bought new in ‘78 by Thompson-Larson Funeral Home in Minot.
“Always better MPG on return trip,” the chalk writing in the window reads, punctuated with a smiley face. A flag fluttering from the window announces: “We finance.”
Usually when L&J owner Jim Wetch goes to classic car auctions, he comes back with a Mustang or a Camaro, never a hearse.
“I didn’t even know it was there,” he said. “It’s just something different.”
After Wetch drove it back from Motor Magic Classic Car Auction in Minot, he put a coffin-shaped luggage rack in the back “just for fun,” said salesman JD Wetzel.
The vehicle, with about 60,000 miles on it, sports a red velour interior that’s like new.
“Used very little and only for short trips,” the window ad reads.
When Wetzel starts it up, he pumps the gas a couple times.
“These older cars aren’t fuel injected,” said Wetzel, who prefers to drive a pickup. “I’ve been a Chevy man all my life."
But even he admits the width and length of the Oldsmobile makes for a smooth ride.
In Wetzel’s nearly 40 years selling cars, he’s never had a hearse to offer.
“This may be the oddest,” he said.
The dealership has had a few offers so far.
One man thought about buying it for a trip to California. His wife has trouble sitting for long periods so he thought he might put a mattress in the back so she could lie down.
Wetch has taken it to the casino and back and got some looks from other drivers. He plans to take his five grandkids trick-or-treating in it.
“They’re all excited about it,” he said.
Randy Kilback, owner of Master's Auctions and Motor Magic, said he's worked auctions all over the Midwest. He's occasionally seen a hearse on the auction block in his 21 years in the business but this was the first in Minot, to his knowledge.
There was also an early-'60s Checker taxi cab in the lineup and they joked with auction-goers about which they would rather go home in, said Kilback, who admitted it was a little eerie having the hearse in the auction house so they opened the bidding early.
"It went out the door pretty fast," he said. "I think people were glad to see it go."
Funeral directors understand the odd appeal of a hearse for sale but it is also something they struggle with, said Mark Roth, owner and funeral director of Thomas Family Funeral Home in Minot.
Respect is at the height of the service Roth provides, which can be a difficult line to walk at times, knowing people's tastes for the morbid differ. He said the funeral home often gets calls from families wanting to rent hearses as jokes for a birthday party. They say no because they don't want it to reflect poor taste when they're in the business of caring for people's loved ones in their final moment.
It's not that they don't joke or have a sense of humor, Roth said. In fact, they might be funnier than most and they get a chuckle out of Minot Air Force Base airmen prank calling for "Myra Mains" on Halloween.
But they also remember that "what's funny to one might not be to another," Roth said.
As someone who works so close to death, for Roth, Halloween is just another celebration of life and getting together with family, with the added benefit of sugar and frosting on top. As a boy, Roth would go to Judy Sperle's house in his hometown of Napoleon, where there was chili and hot apple cider on the stove.
"I will forever remember, when I was little, you wanted to go to Judy's house," he said of the woman who would later become his mother-in-law.