BRUNSWICK, Maine — Pickup trucks tagged with license plates from throughout New England lined Bibber Parkway on Tuesday morning as oil dealers and others arrived early to bid on vehicles owned by the former Thibeault Energy, which closed abruptly in January.
Auctioneer Ross Finn started the bidding just after 11 a.m. Within two minutes, he had sold a 2003 Ford pickup truck with 67,909 miles for $4,000.
Another 35 vehicles followed during the next 90 minutes, including a 1996 Mack truck showing nearly 400,000 miles, which sold for $6,500.
Thibeault Energy closed its doors Jan. 22 after more than 80 years in business, leaving prepaid customers and others in the midcoast region scurrying to fill their oil tanks on some of the coldest days of the year.
Tuesday’s auction of the fleet of vehicles that provided service to generations of Thibeault customers marked the latest chapter in the saga of the locally owned fuel dealer’s demise. While previous turns in the tale of Thibeault’s downfall elicited a mix of anger, frustration and sadness, Tuesday’s focus was bargain hunting.
On Tuesday, Shawn Desrochers of Desrochers Oil in Biddeford hoped for a deal. Eyeing one particular truck, he said, “We’ll see if it gets low enough. If not, it’s cheaper to buy new.”
An advance “viewing” of the inventory held Monday drew “a good turnout,” Finn said, “and most are back today, which is good.”
In addition to the 75 to 80 bidders who had pre-registered in person and paid the 25 percent deposit, Finn, of Joseph Finn Co. Inc. of Newton, Mass., said bidders from as far away as Pennsylvania registered in advance to view the auction online.
“It’s like buying antiques,” he said. “Oil and propane delivery companies — competitors to Thibeault — may hope to buy low and sell. It’s just like buying antiques.”
“Anybody want a working truck?” Finn called, hoping to start bidding at $5,000 for a 1985 Ford F700D utility dump truck with 194,538 miles and a Meyer plow.
But buyers were cautious, instead offering $2,000 initially before eventually placing a winning bid of $5,600.
“We’ve had a little trouble getting this to move,” Finn said of one of several older vehicles that, like everything on Tuesday, were sold “as is.”
John Babb, president of J&S Oil in Augusta, said he also attended the auction looking for a deal. He eventually found one: a 2004 Ford fuel delivery truck with 64,509 miles, for which he paid $36,000.
“I think everything is going for what you would expect at a distressed auction,” Babb said. “There’s quite a bit of equipment — more than you would expect at a one- to two-truck operation.”
Babb said he drove to the auction hoping to bid on “some of the newer heating oil trucks” initially advertised, which he noticed weren’t available on Tuesday.
While Finn said “98 percent” of the items advertised in advance flyers about the auction were sold on Tuesday, other bidders said some of the newer vehicles were missing.
Keith Finley didn’t bring a letter of credit to Tuesday’s auction. He didn’t plan to buy a truck or a lift, but instead hoped to see former Thibeault customers.
For years, Finley, doing business as Keith’s Meter Service out of Old Orchard Beach, calibrated Thibeault’s delivery trucks.
“I enjoyed doing business with them,” he said of the Thibeault family. “A lot of people feel it’s sad because it could be their business, the way the market is right now. The Thibeaults had a very good business. They grew up here. They didn’t want to be here today. When they realized they were in trouble they tried to sell, but they couldn’t. They really don’t want this to be their legacy.”
After Thibeault Energy closed on Jan. 22, a message at the Thibeault phone number for months stated that the company ceased operations “for reasons beyond its control.”
The Maine Attorney General’s Office received hundreds of consumer complaints about the company and launched an investigation into whether a civil violation of a state law occurred. The Maine Attorney General’s Office has yet to make any public statement on the results of that investigation.
As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, Thibeault Energy had not filed for bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, according to the federal online Public Access to Court Electronic Records database.
Nor had Vivian J. Thibeault, who is listed as the company’s president, treasurer and sole shareholder-director, according to the secretary of state’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions.
A February letter from “The Thibeault Family” to former customers notified them that M.W. Sewall had purchased Thibeault’s propane tanks, but offered former customers no hope of recouping any of the money they had paid in advance for fuel.
Sewall representatives have not returned several calls for comment on that letter.
On April 18, Finn told The Times Record that “a secured party” that he declined to identify had retained the auctioneers. According to its website, Joseph Finn Co. Inc. provides auctions, appraisals and liquidations of assets for companies and banks.
Although Finn declined to say how much Tuesday’s auction raised, he did characterize it as “a great success.”
For former customers of the longtime local oil company, though, success is not on the horizon.
Most customers who have contacted The Times Record in recent months said they have not recouped any of the funds paid to Thibeault Energy before the company closed.
One woman, however, offered a solution to others in her situation.
Catherine Scanlon thought she had lost $1,000 to Thibeault, but then realized she paid it with a credit/debit card.
“We filed a claim with the Attorney General and [her credit card company] and got $780 of the $1,000 back that Thibeault owed us,” Scanlon wrote in an April 19 email to The Times Record.