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 agriculture’s 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 ‘30 Auction” right now, featuring tractors from before 1930. 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
For Kurt Aumann, pre-1930s machinery is much more than an asset class. It’s truly a passion.
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. 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. He 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 in both expertise and 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
Powers Tractor School was absolutely packed this year.
Last year, Kurt recruited some of the biggest names in the pre-1930s hobby for a one-day “Tractor School” at their facility in Nokomis, Illinois. 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, Iowa. Sadly, he passed a few years ago. Dennis cast a 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 couldn’t 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, Wisconsin, 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 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 19 different states. That’s impressive for a one-day event that’s only in its second year.
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 website saved in the future.
Old Iron Garage is a 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. 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 have 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 ‘30 Auction(s) Preview
This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the Aumann Vintage Power Pre ‘30 Auction goes.
The Aumann Vintage Power Pre ‘30 event isn’t 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 nine different sales under the Pre ‘30 umbrella. Like I said, this is a big deal.
Here’s a few shots of the non-tractor parts of the Pre ‘30 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.
Say what you will about digital dashes and monitors in the cab, this old-school Case pressure gauge has more style than all of them. Hit the photo to see one of the parts auction catalogs.
Good luck finding an Emerson Brantingham cast iron gear cover anywhere other than Nokomis, Illinois, right now.
This definitely isn’t pre-1930s, but this John Deere dealership sign found its way into the Signs/Memorabilia/Toys catalog. I bet it brings big money, too.
Last one before we get into the tractors. This literature and dealer catalog spread is massive.
Alright, let’s get into the tractors. After all, that’s what this blog is all about, right?
Between the tractors, crawlers, projects, and a few other odds and ends, there are over 100 lots in the main Pre ‘30 Auction catalog. I didn’t have enough time to see more than a few, but what I did see was impressive. Here are 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
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. Russell re-branded the tractors as 30-60s, and the rest is history.
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.
Field Marshall Series II
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 tractors sold very well in England, and they’re just as popular with collectors over there today.
This Peoria 8-20 is both noteworthy and rare. There’s really no other way to say this: 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.
At first glance, this looks like a steam engine, but it’s not. This is 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-styled gas tractors in 1915, marketing to farmers that were 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 recently tracked down Roy Townsend’s grandson and had a nice visit with him. He was 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 neat to talk to him and see what he remembered about those tractors.
Kurt has done a fair bit of research on these Townsend machines; he owns one of the smaller 12-25 models personally.
Waterloo Boy N
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 some of the best in the business.
Once Kenny finished up the restoration on this one, it sat in a Deere dealership until 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
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
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 and 1921, and it’s been very nicely restored. The big Wisconsin four cylinder runs very well. With the longer wheelbase and a single front wheel, I suspect it’s easier to drive than the Avery.
The number of people who can keep these dinosaurs running is shrinking by the day.
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 and 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 together 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, at 80-something years old, to 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 four-day show in Pinckneyville, Illinois, 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
Many of these stories aren’t written down anywhere. 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.
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.
This 9-12 Fageol was an example of an early orchard tractor, something that’s near and dear to my heart.
In closing, I’d urge you to take a few minutes and poke around the Pre ‘30 auction catalog, and register for Old Iron Garage. Soak up a little history. We’ve come a long way, baby.
Aumann Vintage Power Pre ‘30 Auction catalog
Old Iron Garage
Hi! I’m Ryan, and I love tractors. It doesn’t matter if it’s a showpiece, an oddball, or seen its share of life … if it’s unique and it’s listed by one of our auctioneer partners at Tractor Zoom, I’m going to show it off a little bit! This equipment is all up for auction RIGHT NOW so you can bid on it. I think it’s cool, and I hope you will too! This is Interesting Iron!