After sitting stuffed and mounted for more than 40 years in a museum, Roy Rogers' horse Trigger and dog Bullet will be TV stars once more.
RFD-TV owner Patrick Gottsch said the Omaha, Neb.-based network will begin airing old Roy Rogers movies on Saturdays starting November 6. The movie cowboy's son, Roy Jr., will introduce each film, as Trigger and Bullet stand in the background.
"The goal is to introduce Roy Rogers to a whole new generation of kids," Gottsch said.
On Thursday, more than 1,000 items hit the auction block, including the Rogers family dining set, which sold at $11,875, triple the presale estimate; Trigger's flower-bedecked straw hat, which fetched $2,750, compared with the $500 to $1,000 estimate; and the hand-drawn music and lyrics to "Happy Trails," which sold for $27,500, compared with the estimate of $500.
All sale prices include the buyer's premium of 25 percent for most items, or 20 percent for prices in excess of $50,000.
The total sale realized $2.98 million, according to Christie's. No items went unsold.
Auctioneer Cathy Elkies said Rogers' silver Jeep Nellybelle was the most anticipated item up for auction, with an estimated sale price of between $20,000 and $30,000.
Pam Weidel, a horse trainer from New Jersey, went home with Nellybelle for $116,500. She said she always felt a special attachment to Nellybelle when she watched Roy Rogers Westerns as a child.
"I called all my cars that over the years. I'd say, 'C'mon Nellybelle,'" she said.
Now that she has the real Nellybelle, Weidel says she's planning to keep it in the private museum of businessman John B. Haines IV, who is in the construction industry, in Pennsburg, Pa.
Julie Ann Ream, the niece of another famous singing cowboy, Rex Allen, said she and others in the audience were nervous about where the pieces of the collection would end up. She said the crowd cheered when an item went to a collector they knew would put the item back in a museum for public viewing.
"A lot of it, you just don't know where it's going," she said.
Trigger's new owner said he's heard from thousands of relieved Rogers fans.
"Over the last 24 hours, I've received so many e-mails of thank you, just wonderful letters, saying 'Thank you for saving Trigger,'" Gottsch said.
With a Western icon on the line, Gottsch said the auction was heart-pounding. RFD-TV CFO Steve Campione sat at Christie's auction hall Wednesday night while Gottsch yelled into Campione's headset from Omaha.
"We almost lost Trigger at $200,000," Gottsch said. "Steve couldn't hear me, and I was yelling on the phone, 'Hit him! Hit him! Hit him!' and he was saying 'What?'"
But they snagged the golden palomino after all.
Gottsch said children will be able to come to RFD-TV's new headquarters in Omaha to visit the famous horse.
Elkies, the auctioneer, said it was the "most colorful, emotional and sentimental" sale she had experienced in her 20 years at Christie's.
At the end of the auction, the audience broke out spontaneously in a rendition of the Roy Rogers theme song "Happy Trails."