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Earl's auction draws hungry bidders; Famed down-home restaurant sells signature 'boot-leg' tables, pie dishes, other items

Bit by bit, from the hot fudge pump and Pyrex pie dishes to Western shirts and "boot-leg" tables, Earl's Real Food Family Restaurant in Chaffee was auctioned off Wednesday.

More then 200 hopeful bidders, as well as quite a few curious "lookie-loos," packed the Route 16 restaurant and country music shrine Wednesday as auctioneer Cash Cunningham performed his sales pitch.

And for a day, Earl's was Earl's again, the parking lot jammed with pickup trucks and American cars, the restaurant filled with hungry patrons.

The only one missing was Earl Northrup.

He wasn't quite up to it, Cunningham said.

"And probably, in some ways, he wouldn't want to be here," he added.

The famed down-home restaurant with the large portions and low prices, "home of the original fruit jar drinkers," closed in January. Northrup and his late wife, Marilyn, first opened a hot dog stand in 1956 on the spot. The business grew to a 150-seat restaurant with 37 employees, and Northrup brought in country, bluegrass and gospel groups for concerts on 10 acres behind the restaurant.

Marilyn Northrup died in 2002, and Northrup closed the restaurant for a time in late 2007 but reopened it in April 2008. As the large sign on Route 16 says, it offered home cooking and baking for breakfast, lunch and supper. Under that, a message reads "Thanks kindly for 56 great years."

"You felt you were sitting down at home," said Jim Kirchmeyer, who has known Northrup since both were boys growing up in Chaffee.

It was a local landmark but known throughout the state.

"Nobody knew where Sardinia was, but they knew where Earl's is," Norm Uhteg said.

He was helping out the Chaffee-Sardinia Memorial Fire Company, which was selling coffee, doughnuts and hot dogs at Wednesday's auction.

Northrup is a big supporter of the fire company, said President Danny Heineman. When volunteers spent hours responding to an accident on Route 16, Northrup provided food and coffee.

"He was always open to help us," Heineman said.

Before the auction, Northrup and his son let the fire company take equipment for its kitchen. They also donated the first hot dog stand to the fire company.

Susan Owczarek and her cousin, Annette Pfalzer, are cousins of Marilyn Northrup, and they were hoping to buy some items to take to their annual Rosenthal family picnic.

"We'd love a boot-leg table," Owczarek said of the tables held up by "legs" clad in blue jeans and cowboy boots. She remembers going to the restaurant as a girl and being afraid of the legs because she thought someone was under the table.

Pfalzer left with 10 Pyrex pie dishes, and Owczarek's husband, Greg, had the winning bid for the tables -- $160 each. The Owczareks bought two of the 11 tables, and when the other tables did not go, Cunningham rebid them. A patient buyer got the rest of them for $60 apiece.

No matter to Owczarek and her husband. He was ready to go as high as $200. He said you never know if the next highest bidder would have taken all the tables or not.

Barbara Raymond, of Pike, was ecstatic at her find -- two wooden posts with "Earl's" written on them. Northrup used them as microphone stands, and Raymond was the lone bidder, buying them for her father's birthday. She said her father used to go to Earl's and likes gospel music; the family used to have a musical group.

"He loves Earl's. He talks about it," she said, adding, "No one else bid on them!"

There was time Wednesday for longtime customers to talk about Northrup, the mutton-chopped man known for wearing a cowboy hat to match his cowboy shirt. They talked about their favorite meals -- chicken a la king, grits, Belgian waffles and the "humongous" cinnamon roll, which was "the size of Earl's hat" and cost $3.95, according to the menu.

Audie Northrup, Earl's son, was mostly quiet at the auction. He said he had mixed emotions.

And as for the good wishes for his family?

"We appreciate that," he said.