Collectors who appreciate the different and the rare found their niche at the Ed Spiess “Lesser Known Classics” Auction held at Rock Island, Ill., on May 15. Spiess, who died in December, was proud of his unique collection, and those who attended his auction showed the same appreciation for the short-line tractor companies from 1939-59.
Last September, when Spiess learned that he had pancreatic cancer, he contacted Aumann Auctions to plan his sale.
“When I first met Ed about his auction,” said auctioneer Kurt Aumann, “he told me outright that he wouldn’t be here to see it. It was a very surreal feeling talking to him about it. Many times I felt a lump in my own throat, all the while seeing the smile on Ed’s face.”
The fact that the tractors’ new owners were excited about their purchases was a comfort to Aumann.
“When we sold some of those tractors today,” he said, “I could see the same spark of excitement and enthusiasm in some of the buyers’ eyes that I saw in Ed’s when he talked about his tractors.”
The auction that was billed as “The Collection of a Lifetime” exceeded all expectations. As the sale date neared, Aumann’s phones rang off the hook and staffers scrambled to add seating for an anticipated crowd of 800 (up from initial projections of 500).
In the end, a crowd estimated at 1,200 was on hand. Nearly 500 attended a preview the afternoon before. Both the preview and the auction were held at the site of Spiess’ business, Dexton Enterprises, which produces custom pallets and packaging. The auction began with items from a wagon (including reproduction Haas literature, $50; Cockshutt literature, $50; and a box of tractor books, $200). A big screen TV was used to show each tractor as it was driven to the front of the crowd. The first tractor to sell was a 1939 Avery Rotrak, which went for $9,500. Next up: the Gibson Super G Prototype, an experimental, one-of-a-kind tractor. A prototype for the tractor built after the Model I, it was the last built by the Gibson Manufacturing Company. The tractor sold to a Canadian bidder at the day’s highest price, $26,000.
Several tractors tipped the $10,000 mark, including a 1949 Intercontinental C26, a tractor built by TEMCO in Garland, Texas for export. The Intercontinental, one of just four known of in the U.S., sold for $18,000. It was, said Solomon Shelton, who painted many of the Spiess tractors, Spiess’ personal favorite.
-1947 American (one of only five built), $17,000;
-Haas D (one of only three known to exist), $16,500;
-1952 OMC (one of just 60 built by the Ostenberg Manufacturing Company, Salina, Kan.), $16,500;
-R.H. Sheppard Diesel SD2, $15,000;
-1949 Simpson Jumbo (built by Jumbo Steel Products), $14,000;
-Farmaster FG 33 (built by Mercer Robinson Co.), $12,000;
-1959 Brockway, $11,500;
-Co-Op C Wide Front (built in Shelbyville, Ind.), $11,000 to an English bidder;
-1949 Wards B (also built in Shelbyville, Ind.), $11,000;
-Co-Op Tricycle, $10,000.
Many other tractors sold for prices ranging from a few thousand dollars up to nearly $10,000, including the Kaywood, Harris Power Horse, Detroit Skid Steer (its reversed driving configuration prompted auctioneer Aumann to tell the crowd “If you had a long night in a bar, don’t come jump out on this one”), Earthmaster, John Blue G, Empire, Friday and – offering comic relief – the Slopemaster, which can tilt 30 degrees in either direction. Another one-of-a-kind sold that day was the Atomic, the only tractor know to be powered by an aircraft-type engine.
Collectors came from all over the U.S. and abroad. The reaction to the Spiess collection was enthusiastic. J.B. Mangus, Renick, Mo., said his philosophy matches Spiess’.
“I learned don’t buy common: buy the rare,” he said. “When you go to sell it, it makes a difference.”
Father-and-son collectors Marvin Cook and Mark Cook of East Sparta, Ohio, took home several Spiess tractors to add to their private museum. A Brockway (which caught their interest because it was manufactured near their home) will join a collection that includes an Earthmaster, Friday, Empire, Sheppard, Thieman, Leader, Normal and two in a series of Harmall C Whites, which were made for just three months in 1950. They also took two Americans (made in Canton, Ohio, also near where they live) and a Slopemaster.
Most of those present, though, left empty-handed, but not disappointed. Arnold Lamb, Bill McWhinnery and Delmar Sproul drove from Ontario, Canada, and felt the trip was well worth it. McWhinnery, who owns eight Fridays and eight Customs, said the experience alone merited the drive.
“It’s nice to get a price on these old tractors,” he said. FC
Cindy Ladage is a freelance writer based in Virden, Ill.