I Think I've Been Here Before: The Hornbaker Auction

The 3-day Hornbaker auction in Tribune, Kansas gives three collectors a lot to carry home.

John Deere spring corn sheller

The John Deere D600 spring corn sheller.

Photo courtesy Steve Stratman

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In 2014, a friend, Steve Cochran, told me about an auction in Tribune, Kansas. Steve and I had been watching for a 1-row corn picker and there was a nice-looking one on the three-day Hornbaker auction. While I was looking at the sale bill, a large spring corn sheller caught my eye. It was about the same size as the one we borrow to belt to our steam engine in Salida, Colorado. Steve and I decided that each of us would take a pickup and trailer. My dad, Wes Stratman, came along as well.

What a Wonder!

The corn picker was listed for the third day, so Steve planned to go out on day two. Dad and I drove out the first morning. By noon I had not raised my hand a single time and Dad had only purchased a few small boxes of items. The afternoon told a different story. I was unable to pass on a square-tub Maytag washer, Fairbanks platform scale, Wisconsin engine and Kinkade garden tractor.

I was visiting with some guys about a piece of equipment they had just purchased when I looked up just in time to see the auctioneer drop the gavel and call out Dad’s number for a Wonder cement mixer with a 1-1/2 hp John Deere engine. Time out! We had hauled Dad’s 1970 Hesston 140 to the auction for him to use in getting around. If Steve was able to purchase the picker and I was successful with the sheller, we were going to have a space issue.

After the sale ended for the day, we drove out to the farm where the third day of the auction would be held. Dad had been to the Hornbaker place in the early 1970s, but I think even he was amazed by the approximately 25 acres of antique, vintage and modern equipment to be sold.

We went back to town and drove down the main drag. At the far edge of town were the fairgrounds, where two large engines and other items would be sold. There we found the spring corn sheller pictured on the auction flyer, a John Deere Model D600 in really nice condition. After looking it over, we noticed the running gear was not original. It was a little undersized and the homemade front axle was slightly twisted.

No Wonder

The next morning, Dad asked the auctioneer to put the Wonder cement mixer back on the sale and he did. By noon they were on the tractors. Steve and Dad drove to the fairgrounds where the sheller, engine and other items were located. Since Dad and I had seen those the day before, I stayed with the auctioneer. They sold the handful of items from in town, and by the time Steve and Dad returned, I had already purchased the sheller. I was very pleased.

At the end of the day we took Steve out to the farm so he could see the corn picker and other treasures. After scratching our heads about how we might load the 1-row picker, we returned to load the sheller. Steve and I removed the grain elevator, cob stacker and blower chute. Next we winched the sheller onto the trailer, but when the back axle rolled onto the wood floor, I heard the board breaking. With a little jacking and a 2-by-6, we had the sheller in position.

We anchored it and loaded the parts previously removed for hauling. I had the four items purchased the first afternoon, plus a nice Letz corn grinder (how could I keep my hand in my pocket when the bid was $10?). We decided not to load until after the last day of the auction.

Too good to pass up

Steve went out to the farm early the next morning. Dad and I decided to hang back awhile since I vowed not to make any more purchases and wanted to make sure Dad did the same. The way things were lined up, we felt the picker would either be one of the last items to sell or one of the first; we were hoping for the latter.

Unfortunately, during announcements, Steve learned the picker would be one of the last. More unfortunate was the fact the wind was blowing hard. At times you could not see 20 feet in front of you. But one good thing, it would be too miserable for Dad or me to make sure nothing sold too cheap!

I kept my promise by staying in the truck and catching up on some Farm Collector magazine reading, but Dad had to purchase a shop grinder and some disk blades. “Okay, nothing too big,” I said. “I think we can make it fit.” As the end of the sale approached, I was talking to Steve, who was standing next to the picker that was finally about to be sold. Then what do I hear but the auctioneer saying “sold” – and again calling Dad’s number!

Loading and reloading

After Steve made the winning bid on the picker, I walked over to see that Dad had purchased a piece of military lubricating equipment and part of a horse-drawn implement about 16 feet long. We were happy to see a very large front-end loader with fork attachment being used to help people load. After waiting our turn, we dropped three chains from the forks and the operator quickly had the picker nicely placed on Steve’s trailer.

Meanwhile, Dad found a friend he’d made earlier in the day and sold him the 16-foot implement part. We loaded Dad’s other purchases and his Hesston and called it a day.

The next morning, we still needed to load a few items. The Letz grinder was at the fairgrounds with no forklift, and there was no one around. Dad noticed a carnival ride truck that looked like it had been sitting in the same spot for a decade. It had a boom and chain hoist attached to the back end.

We discovered the skids mounted under the Letz already had a chain someone welded to it just for dragging around. So in a short amount of time and using very little muscle, we had the grinder loaded on my trailer. We drove the handful of blocks back to load my washer, platform scale, engine and garden tractor. As I was unloading and rearranging some things in the back of my pickup to make room for the last of the purchases, it crossed my mind that this was the way many auction trips end. “I think I’ve been here before,” I said to myself. FC


As a youth, Steve Stratman worked part-time at his father’s John Deere dealership. He’s currently employed by the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Steve enjoys collecting and demonstrating a variety of antique and vintage farm-related items. Contact him at stevestratman@yahoo.com.