He was known as the tractor doctor.
For more than 25 years, McComas Albaugh collected, fixed and restored antique tractors at the family dairy farm in Union Bridge, Md. His sudden death on May 10, 1999, at the age of 66, came just days before his biennial open house when he traditionally welcomed friends, neighbors and collectors to share his enthusiasm for the care and preservation of antique farm equipment. The show went on as planned, with a memorial service added to honor his name and his role in the world of collecting and restoration.
Fifteen months later, Round Spring Farm was again host to a large crowd of collectors as who came together for the day-long auction of his treasured collection.
There were more than 60 tractors. Many were expertly restored, while others waited for care and attention from a new owner. The names Massey Harris and Cockshutt were front and center, but other makes were also represented, including Case, John Deere, Avery and International Harvester Cub. In addition, an extensive display of equipment (much of it featuring Massey Harris and Cockshutt logos) included combines, plows, mowers, planters, balers, binders and pickers. A collection of tractor memorabilia included literature, farm toys, signs and mementos.
"They say this is the best collection of Cockshutt and Massey Harris on the East Coast," said Joyce Albaugh, McComas's wife of more than 40 years. "McComas used to go to shows, but it got too expensive, so we had open houses every other year instead and it was wonderful. People came from all over. He corresponded with everyone all over the world about the equipment, and they contacted him. He knew everything about old tractors."
The auction crowd came from far and near, with more than 500 potential bidders signing up to take an active part in the proceedings. Many were from surrounding communities in Maryland and Pennsylvania who remembered Albaugh with respect and affection. Others had traveled from as far as Minnesota, Texas, Wisconsin and Illinois to be a part of the event and to make one last connection with the tractor doctor. Some took copious notes on equipment that caught their collector's eye, while others just enjoyed the cheerful companionship of those with similar interests.
Ervin Albaugh was in on the start of the hobby collection and contributed his expertise in mechanics through the years to assist in the many restoration projects undertaken by his cousin, McComas.
"It started in about 1974," he said. "It just snowballed into a collection. He always wanted something no one else had. A bunch of guys got together at the farm to work on stuff. He knew people who were machinists. It was a community effort, a nice thing to do. And the guys pitched in for the auction. All but four of the tractors will start up – we bought all new batteries."
It was a beautiful August day in the rolling farmland of northern Maryland as Kurt Aumann of Aumann Auctions in Illinois started taking bids on the tractors.
A rare 1936 Massey Harris Pacemaker that had not been restored went for $4,750. A Massey Harris 44 orchard tractor (originally from Florida and dating to the 1950s) set off some lively bidding and eventually sold for $5,600. This unusual machine had been in pieces, ready for restoration. Ervin Albaugh and his friends put it back together just in time for the sale.
A quartet of completely restored Cockshutt tractors got plenty of attention as their engines chugged away. They included a 1959 540 and a 1962 550, both gas-powered, along with a 1960 550 and a 1962 570, both diesel. The four machines brought in a total of more than $17,000, with the 570 topping out at $5,500.
Three fully restored Cockshutts from an earlier decade (a 1949 30, a 1950 40 and a 1954 50 with a wide front) also attracted many bidders. The 50 brought $8,000, while the others ranged from $5,000 for the 40 to $4,750 for the 30. A fully restored 1956 Cockshutt Golden Eagle tractor sold for $3,500.
There were three Studebaker trucks on the auction block. They included a 1952 pickup in original condition that went for $1,400, and a restored 1952 straight truck that brought $1,300. Also included in the auction was a big collection of spare parts, more than 300 separate lots and pallet loads.
One tractor was not for sale. Parked at the entrance to Round Spring Farm was a 1961 Cockshutt 580 super diesel in mint condition.
"McComas didn't do the restoration on this one," Ervin Albaugh said. "It came from Ohio from a state trooper named Andy Appelfelder who restored it in about 1989. He and Andy were good friends, and he bought it from him."
According to Ervin, Cockshutt made only three of this particular model as an experiment. The company was then sold to Oliver and the model never went into production. As far as is known, this is the only one still in existence. It seems a fitting memorial to the collector who always wanted something that no one else had. FC
Jill Teunis is a freelance writer living in Damascus, Md.