Earl's 'stead: Waltons house sold for $126,500

If you listened to the hype, the little house that auctioneer Bill Bryant was selling in Schuyler last Saturday was "a part of our culture," the representation of "so much nostalgia" and "everything we value in America."

That might seem like a bit much for the three-bedroom, one-bath, cracked-plaster, wobbly-stairs, funky-kitchen, turn-of-the-century place on one-third acre with "public water and sewer."

A bit much, that is, until you realize that the house is the original home of the Hamners, the real family that inspired the Waltons, the television family that warmed the hearts of '70s America.

Making up the 40 or so folks stamping around in the snowy front yard of the old place on December 6 were two or three TV film crews, six or seven print reporters, and about a dozen employees of Lynchburg's Counts Auction and Realty– and two actual bidders. The only member of the original family in evidence was Audrey Hamner "Erin" on the show.

How did she feel about her brother Jim's decision to sell the homestead? "Jim's health is not the best," she said. Did she expect any family members to be bidding? "We've all known Jim was planning to sell it. If anybody had wanted it, they would have bought it by now," she replied.

Perhaps the most famous member of the clan is her brother, Earl Hamner Jr., who wrote the scripts that memoralized his family's hardscrabble Depression optimism. What did he think of the sale?

"I think whatever happens, whoever lives there, inherits warmth, comfort, security and feelings of love. That's something my family can pass on," he said in a phone call from Los Angeles.

Auctioneer Bryant did his best to rev up the somewhat lackluster crowd by mentioning just those things. And while he enthusiastically recounted calls from fans as far away as "Germany and other foreign countries," no dramatic Christies-esque head nods or lapel taps indicated the arrival of intercontinental telephone bids.

Instead, the contest came down to a low-key ping-pong exchange between the two bidders, enlivened by manic shenanigans from Counts' crowd massagers, who flailed their arms, shrieked in ecstacy when the ante was upped, and groaned in despair when the action stalled.

After Bryant got the action under way "Think of all the good times that's been had on this porch" the bids inched up from an opening $91,000 to hover dramatically for what seemed like five minutes at $113,500. More flailing, more mention of the "endless possibilities."

Finally, a woman who identified herself as Pam Rutherford emerged as the victorious new owner with a bid of $123,000.

Rutherford said that she bought the house to "preserve it," but had no plans beyond that. "I bought it to keep it from being torn down," she told the swarming reporters.

Earl Hamner says that while he doesn't know Rutherford, he "finds her plans to fix the house up encouraging."

Not so happy with the outcome were unsuccessful bidders Jim and Lisa Arnold, a Manassas couple who had come looking not so much for a piece of Americana as for a place to live.

Jim Arnold, a truck driver, had heard about the auction only a few days before when he stopped for gas on Rt. 29. "We were going to live here," he said, adding that the short notice had not allowed them time for a home inspection, and they were reluctant to pay any more than their last bid of $122,000 (without the "buyer's premium") "for a place that looks like it needs so much work."

"We might be sorry," Lisa Arnold said wistfully. "It's just what we're looking for."

Auctioneer Bryant mentioned one bit of help they might have had: Bob Vila of This Old House, the original home-makeover show, had allegedly inquired about the sale. "He wouldn't do anything contractual," Bryant said of the man who presided over the long-running PBS show, "but he wants to talk to the buyer about possibilities."

Bryant had said at the beginning of the sale that Jim Hamner "had chosen the auction method to prove the home's true worth."

Who knew that "everything America stands for" could be had for $126,500?

All this could have been yours.