Twelve years ago Surplus Sales was contacted by Howard Fistell at Fistell’s Electronics in Denver to possibly buy a lot of T-Bar relays they had in excess. That verbal deal on the phone set into motion our own version of a Pickers operation. Howard promised that if we made the 500-mile trip to Denver, and consummated the relay deal, that I would have an opportunity to cherry pick the warehouse. Not just any old warehouse. A lifetime collection of electronic parts that had started gathering when his father created the business some half century earlier. Howard convinced me to come. I did, and was not sorry.
As the story was told, Fistell’s was one of the very first Master Distributors for RCA vacuum tubes in the country. As the years passed, many new manufacturers were added to the distributorship. Most of this inventory is brand new, US made, vintage, prime parts! A proud dad and three children proceeded to build one of the biggest collections of prime, now vintage, electronic components I have ever seen. And I have seen a lot in my 40 years in this surplus world. I made that initial trip in 2002 and filled up two trucks with what I would say was the cream of the Fistell crop. In the following ten years Howard contacted me several times, trying to lure me back to buy more. Perhaps the whole operation. I couldn’t even imagine. It took both of us many years to put together a plan that could eventually end up in a deal for the whole business. Once we had a framework, I headed out with a light crew, tools, packing supplies and 50 pallets.
Fistell’s was established in 1936, 77 years ago! The building is located at 1001 Bannock in downtown Denver. If you had ever been to Fistell’s you know it was three floors and packed to the gills with mandatory, narrow walking paths only. Literally packed to the ceiling with no room to even turn around. It took a couple of days to get a grasp of what was there and then, as Howard soon persuaded me, when I thought I had seen everything, under the surface, in every pile, were more treasures. Howard’s ability to convince me that I could not possibly see everything until it was packed and loaded ended up closing the gap between what he wanted and I was willing to pay. Finally, a deal was struck and I instantly went into hyper move mode.
I got onto the phone to Omaha and set into motion a larger crew, more supplies and additional clothes for the landing party. It was going to be a couple of weeks of dawn to dusk work to sort, pack and load this collection. We added a dozen temp workers and replaced them one by one as they reached their physical limits.
The building was built in the 19th century and had an elevator that had been there since day 1. The lift mechanism was a chain hoist hooked the middle of the car. As it moved slowly between floors, the car bumped sides of the building. No guide rails here. The owners would allow only one person to operate this relic, Mark Fistell, Howard’s brother. So we worked our schedule around his when it came to the transfer of boxes from the second floor and basement to the dock area on the main floor. Moving material from the basement to the ground floor was hampered. Some number of years ago a modification was made. A ramp was used to move horses to the stable in the basement. When the building use changed, out came the ramp. When we started, the dock area was so jam-packed we had to bring in a 20-yard container. It was filled during the day and by night, the back alley came to life. Scavengers picked through every morsel, taking most of it. By morning we could fill it again. 10 times. Most of this back room treasure was tossed to create a staging area that we could build pallets in. That’s not to say what we had to toss was junk, it was lower grade that had to be cut loose for the sake of our sanity. Slow but sure, on the fourth day, we had our first semi-load. 26 pallets. By days end it was headed back to Omaha. Nine 53-foot trailers would be sent back in the next 2 weeks to wait for our return.
What was cool about this deal is that I was familiar with almost everything in the building. Many of the hottest items we had stocked at one time and sold out of. So, at the least, this would make a perfect restock for merchandise we knew we could sell. 50-60 years of electronics was soon to be discovered and packed, carefully, for the trip back to Omaha. Howard, or Howizard as he lovingly refers to himself, explained that at some point in the 1960’s he wanted to diverge into solid-state electronics but his dad had no taste for such foolishness. So he essentially went out on his own, moved to a different building, and started Fistell’s Micro Electronics. In the next 50 years Howard became the foremost expert on anything solid state. He had probably handled every IC, transistor and diode ever devised and, at the end of the day, had about 1
“The hair on my neck still stands up when I think about what waits for us in these boxes”
full semi truck of excellent, prime inventory to add to this deal we put together. It was the addition of this material that convinced me to take a chance. In this collection you will find anywhere from a handful to a box full, of each part number, of the widest assortment of solid state I have ever seen. And, at the risk of repeating myself, yes, in my 40 years of hunting surplus. The hair on my neck still stands up when I think about what waits for us in these boxes. Yes, as absurd as it sounds, we have sorted only about 2% of this material. The deal hit at a very bad time and we had a backlog of other projects to finish before this inventory process could start. So every day we look at 200 pallets stacked 8’ high of Fistell treasure sitting in every aisle of our warehouse just waiting. That’s about 25,600 cubic feet or a quarter million pounds.
From memory I will go through what I know to be in this load so that you might anticipate what will be filtering onto our website. In no particular order: a complete vacuum tube assortment; Amphenol tube sockets and accessories x 10,000; solid state as complete as anyone can imagine; millions of name brand rf and audio connectors like Amphenol, Switchcraft and Kings; picture tubes and CRTs; a complete collection of phonograph needles and cartridges; mike stands and accessories; a truck load of speakers; (don’t laugh) eight track tape players including a thousand factory new 8 track tapes; museum quality table top radios; vintage test equipment like tube testers; high voltage transformers; projection lamps; panel lamps; wall transformers;
quality hand tools (new stock); a full room of antique radio and TV replacement parts; the usual assortments of relays, switches, wire; panel meters; we took only the best of their 1000 pc collection of vintage phonographs and stereo amplifiers; antique telephones and accessories; wonderful high voltage caps of all kinds; builders boxes and cabinets; a full distributor level fuse assortment; and much, much more. Keep an eye on our website and this material will be surfacing.