Antique tractor collection goes on auction block
October 12, 2017
DICKINSON, N.D. — A line of rusted tractors, neatly tagged and laid out according to make and model, might seem like the start of a junkyard, not the beginning of an auction — yet many of these relics were worth more than their weight in iron.
"With Minneapolis-Moline, that was the first tractor I drove, in the early 40s," said Nick Schmidt, owner of a vast collection of vintage tractors and farm equipment, many of which were Minneapolis-Moline brands, that were sold on Saturday, Oct. 7. "So I just kind of stayed with 'em. Plus, my dad had a good friend who had a Minneapolis Moline dealership … he treated us like his own kids."
A steady breeze was not enough to dissuade collectors from roaming the lot across from the Schmidt family farm, where Ritchie Bros Auctioneers had arranged Schmidt's collection of over 100 vintage tractors, trucks and pieces of farm equipment, dating back over a 40-year span.
"For an antique sale this is a lot of tractors," said Ben Hochgraber, territory manager for Ritchie Bros. "Normally when we do sales there are maybe half this many, mixed in with other tractors … for an antique tractor sale in itself, from one owner, this is a lot of tractors."
“I’m 88 years old. If I want to have an auction sale, I’d better get it done real quick,”
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Schmidt himself would not advise any ambitious collectors to try to collect so many.
"Never get that big," he said. "Y'know, if a guy had four or five or six or 10 tractors that you could keep running all the time (that'd be good) … I wouldn't say go 100 tractors."
On Saturday, Ritchie Bros auctioneers led a slowly growing crowd of collectors up and down the rows, singling out tractors and whipping up bidders into a spending frenzy. A few pieces fetched relatively small prices, but others saw bidding wars erupt, the auctioneer's voice rising in volume and in speed as prices went up and up and up, closing out at last with thousands of dollars spent on a single antique. Hochgraber explained that certain individuals may value specific types of tractors far more than their market value.
"These might go to a wide range of guys who is maybe just missing a specific tractor in his collection," he said. "Which then makes that specific tractor worth a lot more to him than normal market value."
The tractors' value isn't in their ability to still do work, but in what Hochgraber described as nostalgia.
"The nostalgia has been a huge thing for (Nick) … to kind of bring back to the old days of when he was little, what his dad did, what he grew up doing," Hochgraber said, adding that the Moline brand has historically been present in the Dakotas. "Back in the 40s when tractors weren't coming long distances … a lot of what drove people buying equipment back in the past and maybe even today … was dealership support. Minneapolis-Moline had some very good dealers in the Dakotas … that's a huge thing when people are buying equipment."
Schmidt said that his reason for selling the enormous collection now was simple.
"I'm 88 years old. If I want to have an auction sale, I'd better get it done real quick," he said.
Prior to the auction, Hochgraber said that it was impossible to single out just one tractor he thought would do well — all of the auctioneers had their own favorites. The event was drawing buzz and attention well in advance of the sale itself, Hochgraber added.
"We've had phone calls and inquiries from as far as Canada, over to Wyoming, all the way back over to Ohio, Illinois," he said, noting that he expected plenty to make the trip to Dickinson in person to participate. "With older tractors like this we're hoping for more on-site and an Internet presence to come help."
The design of the vintage tractors themselves remains striking and unique in an age where more and more complicated technology has become integrated into the traditional tools of farming. Hochgraber said that this timeless quality will likely remain unique to these tractors as the years go on.
"Same as cars, I kind of highly doubt in 50 years we're going to see a 1997 Toyota Corolla fetch as much money as you see (with) an old GTO," he said. "The design is different, what people like is different … and I think there's just something to be said about classic vs modern."