There are many good reasons to attend a vehicle auction, not the least of which are the buy or sell aspects. If you have an interest in the type of equipment being sold, it’s a great way to get up close to stuff you might never see outside a museum. It can also be a good way to determine market values in preparation for a purchase or a sale.
Collecting vintage or classic tractors has become a big phenomenon—and not just with farmers. It’s difficult to pin the down the motivations, and maybe it doesn’t really matter. People are attracted to the functional beauty of farm equipment and the simpler lifestyle it represents. A restored tractor that sold new for $5,000 in the 1960s can sell in the high five figures; or it can go for not much more than it sold for new. That’s part of the excitement at an auction.
If you watch cable TV or follow car-collecting at all, you’ll know the name Mecum. The Mecum family has been in the collector car auction business since 1988, although car nuts go way farther back in that family. Dana Mecum is responsible for transitioning the family from car dealerships to collector car auctions. It didn’t take long to establish Mecum as a mover and shaker in that business.
By 2008, Mecum auctions was celebrating 20 years in the business and beginning a new TV show on the HD Theater Channel (“Mecum Auto Auctions: Muscle Cars and More”). After achieving the highest price for an American car—$7.25 million bucks for a 1965 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe in 2009—some said the Mecums had little more to prove. Not so fast!
In 2010, Dana’s son, Dan, put a new branch on the family business tree by beginning the Gone Farmin’ Tractor Auctions. Although tractors have been part of the Mecum game for some time, an occasional tractor-only auction was a new idea.
For now, both the spring and summer auctions are held at Mecum’s big facility in Walworth, Wisconsin, but look for them to expand and, in the future, perhaps go on the road.
We decided to attend Mecum’s spring 2011 Gone Farmin’ Auction, initially just to see the array of super-collectible tractors at the event and bag some of the niftier ones for Tractor Talk features. You saw the High Crop Farmall MDV in last month’s issue (“Working Tall: Super-Rare 1952 Farmall Super MDV High Clearance,” Tractor Talk, page 146).
It turned out to be a really exciting event and a lot of great fun. There were 135 tractors on the block, with a bunch of memorabilia on sale, to boot. The Northern Illinois Vintage Tractor and Engine Association provided manpower for moving equipment around.
The big draw for this auction was a major collection that was up for sale. Noted tractor restorer and collector, Tom Geyman, is retiring to Florida. He offered 20 of his masterfully restored tractors for auction. These were tractors worth coming to see, not only because he had some very rare units, but also because the workmanship and level of detail were just outstanding. Considering what these tractors cost to restore, the selling prices were bargains, because they went at no reserve.
Despite some spring snow flurries (it was in Wisconsin, after all), the sell-through rate was 80 percent, and the attendance was more than 800 people registered, bidders and sellers alike. And that doesn’t count the spectators and lookie-loos. A total of $484,500 changed hands. The top price was $24,000 for Geyman’s 1966 Farmall 1206 tractor—not bad for a relatively small auction and only the third one.
Geyman didn’t have the only outstanding tractor at the auction. You can look at the accompanying images to see a few more (even some gassers we hope will slip by our vigilant editor, simply because they are too cool to ignore). You’ll see some of the more interesting diesel tractors in detail in upcoming Tractor Talk columns.
This was our first experience with a classic tractor auction; it was a true hoot on many levels.
If you have something to sell, it looks as if Mecum can get top market dollar for you. If you are looking to buy, there are bargains to be had—if you know just what you want, what it’s worth on the market and the discipline to bid smart. If you just want to join the throngs of spectators, you’ll find it a remarkable experience.