America’s heartland. When anyone thinks of farming, they think of the Midwestern United States, where the majority of our food (and a lot of the world’s) is grown, harvested, and shipped off to markets far and wide. Billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and tons upon tons of wheat, corn, beef, pork, and soybeans, all of it found among the 12 states between the Northeast, and the Southwest.
Farming wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for a Vermonter who moved to Grand Detour, Illinois in the 1830s, a blacksmith named John Deere. In 1837, Deere introduced a significant improvement to the cast-iron plows used by farmers in the area, opting instead to fashion one from polished cast-steel, shaped in a way to better handle the clay soil than the standard plows of the day.
“The Plow That Broke the Plains” made Deere and his namesake company — established in Moline, Illinois in 1867 — the most well-known agricultural company in the world. Other names would soon follow — International Harvester, Case, Minneapolis-Moline, Allis-Chalmers, Massey-Ferguson, Ford, Oliver, White — each one leaving their marks upon the earth, and in the ag industry.
A couple of weeks ago, I flew all the way from my Old Dominion home in the New River Valley of southwestern Virginia, to the heart of John Deere itself, the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa. The mission: to deliver the goods on the Mecum Gone Farmin’ Fall Premier — held at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds across the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa — for Clymer Manuals, plus more for Internet Brands Automotive Group.
Back at the start of the New ’10s, the Mecum family decided to give vintage tractors their own place in the spotlight, with the first Gone Farmin’ auction held in Walworth, Wisconsin in 2010. Since then, the Gone Farmin’ brand has harvested bushels of success, including a TV deal with RFD-TV to present the auctions to its rural audience.
And while the brand has visited a few cities over the decade, its home has always been in Davenport, where Mecum holds both a spring and fall auction annually. The fall 2019 edition kicked things up a notch with a special collection of John Deere tractors, and its first-ever vintage truck auction.
The centerpiece of the 2019 Fall Premier was a collection of over 100 classic John Deere tractors curated by Jim Mills of Marshall, Illinois. Though tractors have been a part of his life since birth, it wouldn’t be until leaving the horse industry in 1990 that Mills would begin his impressive collection, starting with a replica of a John Deere 720. Nearly each one of his tractors has been meticulously restored with the help of RFD-TV tractor analyst Wendell Kelch, and until this year’s auction, none had never gone outside, for fear of gathering dust and dents.
Meanwhile, vintage trucks had been on the block over the decade Gone Farmin’ has been in operation, but there had not been a dedicated block until this auction. As Mecum Auctions wrote in its Vintage Trucks catalog, “trucks have been a staple on American farms for more than a century, serving as natural stablemates alongside their tractor brethren.” Thus, it was only natural to dedicate a special part of one of the days of the four-day auction just for trucks.
Just like the main Mecum Auctions brand, Gone Farmin’ offers tons of road art on the block. From neon and lighted signage, to toys and oil cans, there was something for everyone who registered to bid during the four-day auction. It was quite possible for more than a few bidders to come a way with at least one tractor, a truck, and enough art to decorate the metal building they would live in.
Of course, if you weren’t there to bid, but did want to take home a tractor, Le Mars Toy Store of Le Mars, Iowa had more than enough to offer tractor fans young and old. The store partners with Mecum to sell a limited-edition die-cast tractor during the Davenport auctions, such as the Case 2594 offered at the 2019 Fall Premier.
Every morning, a sight like this would greet me on the way into the auction. Everywhere were tractors of all kinds either moving into position on their own power, or towed by newer tractors across the green carpet inside. Diesel, gasoline, and oil lingered in the cold air, while the sounds of engines clattered in my ears. It’s an experience unlike any other.
With just two major auctions a year, all held in Davenport, every Gone Farmin’ auction is an extravaganza, where all the stops are pulled out. As a result, there are more than enough impressive and unique tractors and trucks for everyone to have a favorite. So, here are my favorites from the Gone Farmin’ Fall Premier 2019 auction.
If there was one tractor or truck that would steal my heart at the Fall Premier, it was this: a one-of-one replica of the International Harvester HT-340 concept tractor. The original was built in 1961 to demonstrate IH’s hydrostatic drive system. Like some other alternative power concepts at the time, the HT-340 was powered by a turbine engine.
Alas, the original suffered a few damages on the way back from its first outing that year. All was not lost, though, as IH rebuilt (and repainted) the HT-340 over a few months, returning it to the show circuit as the HT-341 in 1962. Five years later, it landed in the collection of the Smithsonian, where it remains today.
This replica, too, is powered by a turbine engine, bolted upon the bones of a bog-standard IH 340 tractor by General Motors master mechanic Brian Harris. The whole affair was built using the original blueprints for the HT-340, and the results are astounding. This jet-age tractor went home with its new owner for $75,600.
As the HT-340 replica was impressive for its looks and power, this trio of behemoths were so for their looming presence: a Gas Traction Co. Big Four “30”, a Holt 75 Crawler, and a Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. 35-70.
Before family farms shrunk in size, tractors and crawlers like these goliaths made short work of the earth before them. The Big Four “30,” for example, was able to to plow 30 acres of land per day, thanks to the four-cylinder gasoline motor hiding within the cab between the eight-foot-tall rear steel wheels.
Of the trio, the Big Four lived up to its name and size, moving on to its new farm for $315,000. The Holt 75 (an ancestor to the Caterpillar line) stalled at $200,000 before, as Mecum says, the bidding went on off the block. Finally, the Minneapolis 35-70 found a new home for $89,250.
This 1960 Ford Workmaster 601 has a personal connection to yours truly, as I got a chance to talk to the owner when his tractor went up on the block on the first day of the Fall Premier.
Formerly owned by Glenn Anderson of Jackson, Missouri, the Workmaster went through a nut-and-bolt restoration to bring it to showroom condition. The Ford went to its new home for $5,040, all thanks to the work Anderson put into it, and for all he did to keep it in tip-top shape afterwards.
Another item which touched my heart was this 1989 Dodge W350 flatbed. It may not look like much, but the story makes it wonderful for all it is.
The story goes two brothers bought this Dodge, but could not decide what to do with it. Thus, they did decide that neither one of them would drive the truck until they agreed on what it would do for them, opting to keep the truck in their garage.
Alas, no decision was ever made, the brothers having gone to the grave without ever putting on another mile on top of the 165 miles already on the odometer. All the while, the truck spent 30 years waiting to head back on the road.
Unfortunately, the bidding stalled at $18,000 for this red Dodge. I guess the brothers also decided from the great beyond that no one else would have it until they made their final decision.
One of my friends from middle and high school, along with his brother, owned International Harvester Scout IIs. I even rode in my friend’s blue Scout II a few times, including a trip to a metal show in El Dorado, Kansas.
Thus, anytime I see a Scout II, I stop in my tracks. This one, though, stopped me for another reason: it had been on the auction block before. Back in September 2019 in Louisville. The Rallye hadn’t found a home upon the red carpet of the Mecum Auctions event at the Kentucky Exposition Center, so its owner figured they’d try their luck in Davenport.
Alas, this beauty stalled upon the green carpet of Gone Farmin’, the bidding ending at $23,000 before moving on to the next lot. The owner will try again in Kansas City in early December, when the Scout II will go back up on the red carpet during the three-day Mecum Auctions gathering at the Kansas City Convention Center.
Chugga-chugga-choo-choo! All back aboard the tractor train! This is a 1914 Rumley M 16-48 traction engine. Before the big gas-powered monsters arrived on the scene, steam power ruled the day on the farm, and Rumley was among those building magnificent beasts like this from their factory in La Porte, Indiana.
The traction engine soon fell into the pages of history because of the fuel efficiency gasoline offered. Meanwhile, the M. Rumley Co. merged with Advance Thresher Company in 1915, becoming Advance-Rumely Company; Allis-Chalmers would buy the new company in 1931.
This John Deere 6140D was the newest tractor on the block that wasn’t pulling other tractors across it. The one-owner model was built in 2013 in Saltillo, Mexico, and was equipped with a loader for the toughest jobs on the farm. It also sold for around $15,000 less than its original price, heading off to a new farm for $61,950.
Here’s a turbocharged tractor to make farming a blast! This 1972 International Harvester 4166 packs a big motor to move all four wheels, though the rear pair would get the most traction when hauling hay bales or big plow behind it. It was definitely one of the coolest tractors I saw while in Davenport.
“America! Fuck yeah! Farmin’ the fields all motherfuckin’ day yeah!” That’s definitely how you’d feel if you bought one of the 200 to 300 Case 1570s painted in the “Spirit of ’76” livery back during America’s Bicentennial. This unrestored example proves that it was working the fields back then, and may continue to do so at its new home.
All of these Case and New Holland units could someday — if not already — find themselves on the block of a Mecum Gone Farmin’ auction. They may not seem like future classics to us now, but the same could be said for the ones they pulled across the green carpet back in their respective days.
The four days I spent at the Gone Farmin’ Fall Premier were wonderful. I’d love to do it again soon, whether it’s another Fall Premier, or the Spring Classic in late March. There’s just nothing like being around the classic machines which helped feed America and the world.
Photos: Cameron Aubernon/Aubernon Highway