There are many approaches to buying or selling antique tractors, including auctions; if you have never used that method, it can seem intimidating. Many fine auction businesses advertise in Antique Power magazine, and I called Mecum Auctions in Walworth, Wisconsin, to learn more about how auctions work, because Mecum offers approximately 15,000 collectible cars, motorcycles, boats, and more, per year. Dan Mecum founded Mecum’s vintage tractor auction division, called Gone Farmin’, in 2010. Many readers have probably seen it televised on RFD TV. The hour-long weekly episodes air every Tuesday, at 4:30 p.m. Central Time. Here is a sample episode.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with Michael “Mike” Baker, operations manager of Mecum’s small auctions division, which includes tractors, road art, and barn art. At the present time (August 2015), Gone Farmin’ has four different auctions per year—two in Davenport, Iowa; one in Nashville, Tennessee; and one in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. At each one, 250 to 300 tractors go across the block. In fact, as I write this, the Mecum website indicates that an auction in November 2015 will feature 300 tractors, 350 farm signs and relics, and 200 toys. These events are free to attend and open to the public.
“We travel the country,” Baker said. “We offer live bidding on the tractors and also have the absentee phone bidding. We do work with proxy bid, and we have our own online bidding forum. We represent the tractor to the potential purchaser the best we can before they actually bid on it.”
I asked Baker some questions newbies need to know.
The Newbie: What are some good reasons to buy a tractor through an auction rather than a private party?
Baker: Through an auction, in most instances, you’ll be able to see the tractor up close and personal and be able to look it over. With other options, such as online purchases, you’re just taking the word of the seller. You don’t get the opportunity to actually experience the tractor itself in person. Our specialty is that we actually drive them across the block, whereas some of the other auctions don’t. We have a tractor club that comes to each one of our auctions, and the tractor club members themselves drive the tractors across the block.
The Newbie: Can potential buyers ever try driving the tractors?
Baker: Potential buyer can’t. Unfortunately, because of insurance liability, we don’t offer test drives.
The Newbie: Are you selling everything from rough working tractors to restored ones?
Baker: We sell any type of tractor.
The Newbie: What should people consider before they arrive?
Baker: Most of the time, whenever somebody’s coming to look at tractors, they already know whether they are going to use that tractor or put it in a pole barn with other tractors to add to their collection. They know what they’re coming to buy even before they get to the auction site.
The Newbie: Let’s talk about selling tractors, rather than buying. I see that your website is full of information about documentation, inspections, checking in, positions in the line-up, and more. (Note to readers: Entry fees are based on position, and position assignments are given on a first-come/first-serve basis.) What else can you tell readers about selling through Gone Farmin’?
Baker: We do the best job we can of disclosing everything we can on the consignment forms. We don’t hide anything from you. There’s a fee to enter your tractor into the auction, and there’s a fee to sell your tractor. We don’t charge any buyback fees in the event you don’t sell your tractor. It’s just your tractor, and you take it home with you.
The Newbie: If a person wanted to consign, how far in advance of the auction date should they make arrangements?
Baker: We prefer you give us as much time as possible to advertise it through our website or even potentially through any of the print ads. Right now, our next auction is 75 days away, and we’ve already got 140 tractors consigned. Those are people who are taking advantage of the consignment process and the advertising.
We have on our website all the photos of the consigned tractors. We also mail out what we call the “big brochure” a month in advance. It’s going to have all the photos of the tractors currently consigned.
The Newbie: Do you ever include non-running tractors?
Baker: We do offer what we call the “fence row” tractors for auction. What we do is pull them across the block. We still like to have every single tractor go across the block. We bring the tractors to the crowd, rather than the crowd going to the tractors.
The Newbie: How many people attend your auctions, on average?
Baker: For the Davenport auction, we’ve been bringing in anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 people. In Harrisburg, this past July, we had, I’d say, close to a thousand people there. And then in Nashville, we’ve been ranging from 600 to 800.
The Newbie: How long does it take to get through all the tractors?
Baker: We usually do about 35 tractors an hour, so in a two-day auction, we’ll do 125 tractors on Friday, then we’ll do another 175 on Saturday. We’re usually done by 4:00 on Saturday. We’ve got a rotation of three auctioneers we use—a father and son out of Illinois, and another gentleman from Nebraska. Our goal is always to keep the crowd into the auction.
The Newbie thanks Mike Baker of Mecum’s Gone Farmin’ for his time, great information, and the wonderful photos he provided. You can reach Gone Farmin’ at (262) 275-5050 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please visit the Mecum Gone Farmin’ Facebook page.
Do you think you would like to try buying or selling a tractor through an auction? If so, take a look through the pages of Antique Power magazine for an auction near you. Also, see my earlier post on The Newbie about buying your first tractor. Probably the most important advice is this: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH before you buy. Good luck!