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The kids saw a South Dakota cowboy... John Crabtree saw a need


They say that the Lord works in mysterious ways; John Crabtree is the poster child for this ol’ saying. If you ask John, he would never have guessed that his path would have lead him to having a heart for kids in the Ukraine. In fact, in talking with this South Dakota Cowboy, he’ll tell you that he should have been dead several times over. You got to be tough, living out in western South Dakota and Wyoming, and John’s got the stories and battle scars to prove that the West is still wild. John grew up on a ranch in Torrington, Wyoming. School was easy, and he became bored and restless. With that rambunctious attitude, he had a tendency to get into trouble. Kicked out of school and in a little trouble, John left home at 15 and headed to Montana to set out on a new path. The path lead him to breaking horses and working in the oil fields. He got busted up on some rough stock and eventually found a job at a grocery store while he tried to start school again. He found out that being from Wyoming wasn’t easy in a Montana school, and headed back home. He showed up back in Torrington, Wyoming as one of the best dressed- “brokest” cowboys there ever was. After some discussion with his mother, the school took him back. In school his english teacher encouraged him to write poetry. It was only by the grace of God that he graduated high school. John landed jobs at the Colorado Auto Auction, and eventually bought a Ford Model T, which he drove across the West selling old car parts. The Model T started his car business selling parts and working on projects. He’s been chasing old iron for over 45 years.

Life wasn’t easy for John. He's loved and lost several wives and almost lost his life and livelihood in the process. It was this "bull" attitude that got him almost killed by a couple guys that thought his nose was out of joint. They were waiting outside for him and almost beat him to death. He remembers hearing them talk about how they were going to get rid of his body. They passed out and he made it home. John put pen to paper again, and wrote a poem about the encounter called “Cowboy at the Gate." Years later, they read the poem at one of the men’s funeral. He’s had his house burned down, money stolen, he’s loved and lost, and thought good luck wasn’t coming his way. Hardened more from his bad luck, he didn’t think there was anything left out there. When he was younger, he had a bad experience with preachers and wasn’t going to set a boot through a church door again. But years later, a friend stopped in his shop and told him about an ex-gangster he had talked to at his church. John went, and the words that this former crime boss said hit home. It was like God was calling, and John accepted Christ as his savior and walked out of that church with his load lifted ready to start a new life. This new found salvation didn’t come easily, and he found himself alone once again.

John kept busy going to auctions selling parts and cars all over the world. All while John found time to write and do readings of his poetry taken from his life's adventures.


The truck was a little lonely on those long trips to get cars, and John ventured to the Ukraine after he had lengthy correspondence with a woman there. He packed his bag and ventured off his quiet 80 acres and went looking for love. But when he got to the Ukraine he was unlucky in love again. With time to spare, he was looking for something to keep him busy until heading home. His interpreter said, “there are kids in orphanages that would love to meet a real cowboy.” John has always had a soft spot for kids and gladly excepted the invitation, but he wasn’t ready for what he’d see. John with his big Stetson and matching grin, walked through the doors. A real cowboy, the kids could hardly contain themselves, just like in the books. But John couldn’t over-look the fact that most of them were without shoes and were living in hardship. He heard stories about children and the cruelty of the war. It melted his heart. Just like a true Midwesterner, he went into action to fix this wrong. He took his own money and bought treats, boots, hula hoops, and some other toys for the kids. He thought back of his own kids, and how fortunate he was to live in America. There were 50 children and he could only buy 45 pairs of boots. It broke his heart that he couldn’t buy boots for all of them. He has made other trips to the orphanages and bought more boots. He came home not finding a wife, but a new love, a love for the children of the Ukraine.

John hasn’t told many people, but word got out what he was doing and has received donations to help these kids from the Ukraine. Subsequently, he has had the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Ukrainian children to raise awareness of their plight.

John called VanDerBrink Auctions and said that he wanted to sell his car collection to help raise money and awareness of the plight of the children in need in the Ukraine. John will be selling his entire collection on July 30at 9:30 a.m. and if needed, carry over on July 31 at 9:30 for parts only at his place in Edgemont, South Dakota. This collection of Approx. 120 vehicles consisting of Rods, Restores, and hundreds of vintage car parts from Model T to 1960’s GM will be sold as "no reserve."


Just outside of Custer, South Dakota is 80 acres of Wild West and western Iron. Everything from pickups, Model T’s, 1950 Ford woody wagon project, 1935 Chevrolet three-window coupe, to several "Bubble Top" Impala projects will be up for sale. There’s 1930’s and ’40s bodies for rod projects everywhere. Hundreds of fenders, hubcaps, trim, motors, and much more will be available. The vehicles will be offered online & line, and parts will be for bidders on-site only at the auction. You’ll want to be there in person and not miss this amazing auction. Also, there is no cell phone service on the auction grounds, making it your best option to see the vehicles in person.

This is such a great reason to buy cars and parts — helping John help kids in the Ukraine. John’s road has been rough and tumble throughout his past, but it looks like this cowboy is ready to hang up his hat and heart and settle back into a less hectic life.

I’ve known John for over 15 years. He was one of my first auction customers, and I was always glad to see him. His kind smile from under that Stetson helped me remember that I’m a South Dakota gal and It’s always good to remember that it’s the earth under your boots that keeps you grounded to what’s really important in life. John has always had a kind heart and made time for people while enlightening them with his poetry. It did my heart good to see him so settled, happy, and grounded.


There is something for everyone on this auction. You won’t want to miss your chance to buy from a wonderful selection of cars for rod and project along with many other parts. There is literally hundreds of parts. We’ll be kicking it off Saturday with the cars and rolling into the parts later that day. If needed - we’ll be there with more parts on Sunday. For pictures, more info, video, and more auctions visit or VanDerBrink Auctions 605-201-7005. See you in the Beautiful Black Hills weekend of July 30th, 2016!


Yvette VanDerBrink
VanDerBrink Auctions, LLC
The Lil’ Nordstrom’s Gal

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