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INTERESTING IRON

The Aumann Pre-30s Auction: Celebrating our agricultural heritage.

Author

Ryan Roossinck

March 30, 2023

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Y’know, I’ve been a muscle tractor guy for a long time, probably because of tractor pulling. I know there are plenty of other cool eras in ag history, but muscle tractors always appealed to me. That said, I went on a road trip this past weekend to see Kurt Aumann and the team at Aumann Vintage Power. What I saw there definitely broadened my horizon!

They’re in the middle of hosting one of their biggest annual events, the Pre-30s Auction right now. I knew this sale was kind of a big deal, but it never dawned on me how important it is until this past Friday. So let’s talk about that, and why they do it!

Celebrating the history of the machines that built this country…

Aumann Vintage Power - Kurt
For Kurt Aumann, pre-30s machinery is much more than an asset class. It’s truly a passion. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

The Aumann family isn’t new to the auction game. They’ve been in the auction business since 1962. They’ve grown into a large, well-respected company. Furthermore, they host a LOT of auctions every year – mainly for classic farm equipment. Over the years, they’ve built quite a reputation as specialists in Prairie Tractors and the like.

For Kurt Aumann, though, it’s more than just the sale. You know how they talk about antique tractor collectors having a disease with no cure? From where I sit, Kurt may as well be Patient Zero. I’m tellin’ you, this man has a legitimate passion for this stuff. I put him on camera on Saturday for a bit talking about a few tractors on the sale. You can’t miss the passion in his voice. (Stay tuned for those videos; it was blustery and we need to dial out some of the wind noise.)

As a team, though, Aumann Vintage Power has committed to this era – both in expertise as well as preservation. I mean, at the end of the day, these tractors – and the people who know their history – are disappearing rapidly. To that end, they do more than just sell; they’re giving back to the collectors.

Powers Tractor School:

Aumann Vintage Power tractor school crowd
Powers Tractor School was absolutely packed this year. They had 300 attendees from 19 states in that audience! (Photo: Aumann Vintage Power)

Last year, Kurt recruited some of the biggest names in the pre-30s hobby for a one-day “Tractor School” at their facility in Nokomis, IL. From what I’ve been told, it was a mix of round-table discussions, mechanical “how-to” sessions, and (of course) lots of storytelling. It was a big hit, and the team decided to make it an annual event. They named it in honor of Dennis Powers, a noted early tractor collector from just outside Des Moines. Sadly, he passed a few years ago. Dennis cast a pretty tall shadow in the hobby. After they sold his collection last year, they felt like naming the event in his honor would be a fitting tribute.

This year’s Tractor School was a big success too. I wasn’t able to attend, but I was there for the evening’s festivities. As I walked up, I bumped into some folks who’d driven down from Appleton, WI and they gave it a glowing review. One of the biggest highlights was a Zoom call with John Tysse, a well-known Prairie Tractor collector from North Dakota. Hearing about how he bought some of his tractors from the original owners was pretty captivating, from the sounds of it!

Overall, it was very well-attended. Tyson Reed, Aumann’s director of marketing, told me that they had 300 people there from nineteen different states! For a one-day event that’s only in its second year, that’s pretty impressive!

Old Iron Garage:

Old Iron Garage
Old Iron Garage is a pet project that Aumann recently launched. If it does what I think it will, you’ll likely have the site saved in the future. (Photo: Old Iron Garage)

Old Iron Garage is a fairly new project for Aumann, and one that I believe will become very popular in the near future. It’s been in the works for a couple of years now. In an effort to capture the history of agricultural machine history, Old Iron Garage was launched to be a community and repository of knowledge, photos & videos, literature, articles, and a lot more. It’s partly a way to honor C.H. Wendel – one of the world’s most prolific farm equipment historians and authors. He talked about how hard it was to research farm equipment – a topic I’m acutely familiar with – on multiple occasions.

Here’s what I think is so cool about this; YOU can help build it. Old Iron Garage is essentially a crowd-sourced Wikipedia of farm equipment of all ages, and everybody is welcome to contribute. Each tractor model will have its own page and associated information with it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a 1937 Silver King or a 1975 John Deere 4430. There’s a spot for you to upload what you have, learn more about the tractor, and connect with other folks!

Personally (and maybe a little selfishly at that), I think this could be a terrific resource in the future. It’s free to register, and I know there’s already some great information there now.

Who knows? You might even find some Interesting Iron articles there at some point!

Side note: If you’re into podcasts, I know that they’re getting a regular one going. Keep an eye on their Spotify and YouTube channels for new episodes soon!

The Pre-30s Auction(s) Preview

aumann vintage power pre-30s auction preview
This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the Aumann Vintage Power Pre-30s Auction goes. This year, there are actually 9 auctions happening that week under the Pre-30s umbrella! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

The Aumann Vintage Power Pre-30s event isn’t actually just one auction. Between several parts auctions, a couple of massive literature catalogs, an auction for signs/memorabilia/toys, primitives, tractors, photos, and stationary engines, there are actually nine different sales under the Pre-30s umbrella. Like I said, this is a big deal. 

Here’s a few shots of the non-tractor parts of the Pre-30s lineup. Each photo will take you to that catalog if you want to poke around what’s there. There’s lots of neat stuff available this year!

Case Gauge
Say what you will about digital dashes and monitors in the cab; this old-school Case pressure gauge has more style than all of ’em. Hit the photo to see one of the parts auction catalogs. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)
Emerson Brantingham Part
Good luck finding an Emerson Brantingham cast iron gear cover anywhere other than Nokomis, IL right now. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)
John Deere Sign
This definitely isn’t pre-30s, but this John Deere dealership sign found its way into the Signs/Memorabilia/Toys catalog. I’ll bet it brings big money, too. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)
Literature & Photos
Last one before we get into the tractors. This literature & dealer catalog spread is MASSIVE. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Alright, let’s get into the tractors. After all, that’s what this blog is all about, right?

The Tractors…

Between the tractors, crawlers, projects, and a few other odds and ends, there’s over 100 lots in the main Pre-30s Auction catalog. I didn’t have enough time to see ’em all, but I did see a few and what I did see what pretty impressive. Here’s a few that stood out, with regular photos from the folks at Aumann, as well as a few black and white artsy(ish) photos that I took.

30-60 Russell Giant

Russell Giant 30 60.1
30-60 Russell Giant (Photo: Aumann Vintage Power)

The 30-60 is the star of this year’s auction. It was the biggest gas tractor in Russell’s line, and likely the only two-owner tractor of its kind in existence. Yep, this is a legit two-owner tractor. Ken Eder purchased it in 2009 from the Nebraska farm where it had spent its entire life! It’s a neat tractor and runs great! It fired off without a hitch on Saturday and did at least one lap in the yard!

Fun fact: This tractor was originally supposed to be called the 40-80, but when it went to the Nebraska Lab to be certified, it came up a little short. So, Russell re-branded the tractors as 30-60s, and the rest is history!

Russell Giant 30 60.2
When Russell gave it the nickname “Giant” they really weren’t kidding. This is a pretty imposing tractor! That’s a little residual steam in the center. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Field Marshall Series II

Field Marshall.2
Field Marshall Series II (Photo: Aumann Vintage Power)

Ever have a tractor that you wanted to shoot? With the Field Marshall tractor from the UK, you can! This Series II model from the late 1940s has a unique starting system that involves hitting a firing pin on the outside with a hammer, which sets off a shell and starts the engine. These tractors are rare in the US, and they have only 66 moving parts, making them one of the simplest designs ever created. It’s no wonder they’re a big hit at tractor shows.

Field Marshall.1
Field Marshall tractors sold very well in England, and they’re just as popular with collectors over there today! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Peoria 8-20

Peoria
Peoria 8-20 (Photo: Aumann Vintage Power)

This Peoria 8-20 is both noteworthy and rare. There’s really no other way to say this, either; it was noteworthy because of just how terrible it was. With one giant drive wheel on the right hand side of a triangular frame with an off-the-shelf four cylinder sitting in the center, this tractor was a hazard on all but the flattest ground. If I’m honest, I don’t know if you’d even be safe on flat ground! There’s no way anybody’s going to keep from rolling this tractor over!

Only two of these tractors are still known to exist; this one and another in an overseas collection.

Kurt and I did talk about this tractor on video, and once I get the wind noise calmed down a little, I’ll put it up on our social channels. The conversation was hilarious!

Townsend 25-50

Townsend 25 50
Townsend 25-50 (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

At first glance, this looks like a steam engine, but it’s not. This is actually a gas tractor with a two cylinder horizontally opposed engine sitting on top of what looks like the boiler. Roy Townsend founded the company with his dad and one of his brothers in 1914 after Fairbanks Morse got out of the tractor business. They started selling these steam-engine-esque gas tractors in 1915, marketing to the farmer who was comfortable with steam but wanted the instant power that came with a gas tractor.

It’s estimated that there are only about five of these 25-50 models left on the planet, and this is one of the nicer ones. I know there’s been a lot of interest in it, and I’ll be interested to see where it shakes out when the bidding wraps up on April 20.

Fun fact: Somehow, Kurt tracked down Roy Townsend’s grandson not too long ago and had a nice visit with him. He was actually supposed to have been onsite on Saturday for the preview, but I think some health problems kept him in northern Illinois. It would’ve been really neat to talk to him and see what he remembered about those tractors!

Townsend 25 50BW
Kurt has done a fair bit of research on these Townsend machines; he owns one of the smaller 12-25 models personally. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Waterloo Boy N:

0420Aumann Waterloo Boy N (chain)
Waterloo Boy N (Photo: Aumann Vintage Power)

The Waterloo Boy is well-known as the tractor that got Deere into the business back in March of 1918. This one has been restored by the late Kenny Kass. Kenny probably owned and restored more Waterloo Boys than anyone on the planet, and he absolutely knew his stuff. Sadly, he passed away about two years ago. He was a tremendous resource for the collecting community, and his restorations were the best in the business.

Once Kenny finished up the restoration on this one, it sat in a Deere dealership until fairly recently! According to Kurt, it’s the nicest one he’s ever sold. I expect it to command a hefty price, too. It’s a stunning machine that runs as good as it looks!

Avery 15-25 Track Runner:

Avery Track Runner
Avery 15-25 Track Runner (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Ever wonder where Case IH got the idea for the RowTrac lineup? It might’ve been here! The 15-25 Track Runner came out not long before Avery filed for bankruptcy in 1923. It’s an interesting machine, too. It runs on a dual cam four cylinder engine with four stacks, and good grief is that thing loud! The combination of tracks and wheels was unique for the time, but there was a reason. Two tracks and two front wheels really don’t turn very well!

This is one of only two Track Runners left, and it’s the only one in a private collection.

Yuba 20-35 Ball Tread:

A man drives a Yuba 20-35 at the Aumann Vintage Power pre-30s auction
Yuba 20-35 Ball Tread (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Believe or not, during the early part of the century, there were tractor companies all over the U.S. – even California! Yuba built this half-track machine between 1915-1921, and it’s been very nicely restored! The big Wisconsin four cylinder runs very well. Furthermore, with the longer wheelbase and a single front wheel, I suspect it’s easier to drive than the Avery!

A man starts a Yuba 20-35 at the Aumann Vintage Power pre-30s auction
The number of men and women who can keep these dinosaurs running is shrinking by the day. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Final Thoughts…

Nichols & Shepard 20-42 tractor at the Aumann Vintage Power pre-30s auction
(Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

In 1915, there were 61 tractor companies in the United States. By 1921, that number had grown to 186! Some of them turned out some truly amazing products, while others built tractors that were borderline insane. A few of those companies are still around today, and continue to innovate their products for modern, high-tech farming. However, many of them have vanished.

Nevertheless, those tractors – even the failures – they have a place in ag history.

It needs to be preserved. In my opinion, every 4H & FFA kid in America should see these tractors, so they can appreciate just how far we’ve come in 100 short years. There are lessons to be learned here; lessons that a Farmall M, a 4020, and a Boxcar Magnum could never teach. Some of the tractors that on this auction take a half hour to start on a good day – with two or three people attending to them!

Fortunately, there are companies like Aumann Vintage Power working hand-in-hand with collector groups and historians to capture and preserve our agricultural roots. More than that, they’re celebrating it. I’m thankful that there are still guys like John Tysse who are willing to, at 80-something years old, jump on a Zoom call to share the stories of the early days of collecting. I’m thankful that the American Thresherman Association still puts on a big 4-day show in Pinckneyville, IL every August. Even though it’s not necessarily my thing, I still appreciate the hard work that goes into putting these machines on display. As a guy who loves to study this stuff and tell stories about it, having these resources is invaluable.

Capturing the history…

At the end of the day, many of these stories aren’t written down anywhere, y’know? Most of the people with first-hand knowledge of the roots of agriculture aren’t here anymore. Some of it has been passed down orally, and that’s great. But if we don’t get that stuff recorded either on paper or digitally, once it’s gone, it’ll be gone for good. We can’t, and shouldn’t, lose this. It’s too important.

So if you’re reading this, I want you to do me a favor. Next time you have the chance, ask an older farmer about what it was like when he was little. If you can, record it with your phone. What you’re doing is more important than you think. You’re not just chewing the fat with an ol’ boy. You’re capturing a little bit of history.

That’s important.

Fageol tractor at the Aumann Vintage Power pre-30s auction
This 9-12 Fageol was an example of an early orchard tractor, something that’s near and dear to my heart! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

In closing, I’d urge you to take a few minutes and poke around the Pre-30s auction catalog, and register for Old Iron Garage. Soak up a little history. We’ve come a long way, baby!

Aumann Vintage Power Pre-30s Auction catalog

Old Iron Garage

 

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