|By Eric C. Rodenberg
LOWDEN, Wash. — From the dry land wheat farming hills and canyons of southeastern Washington, there has been a strange parade of sorts. It’s been going on for months, seemingly never-ending. It is certainly something that no one in this area has seen before.
All manner of antique motorcycles, tractors, cars, Caterpillars and old engines on wagons are seen converging onto the old Small farm outside Lowden.
This “strange parade” will culminate on June 22, when Auctioneer Doug Macon steps up to the auction block and begins calling out bids for these mechanical relics of the West.
For collectors of old iron, it will be a real Wild West Show – with Rumely Oil Pull and Titan tractors from the early 1900s, one-cylinder engines from the late 1800s, early model-cars (including a 1910 Auburn Touring car with a wood frame), antique Caterpillars (from the smallest to the mammoth D8), and Indian motorcycles (a 1918 Power Chief right up to a 1946 yellow Indian Chief with a sidecar).
Although such a sale is unique for the area, what also makes the sale even more distinctive is that each piece is up and running – the new owner can just fire them up and stand back.
Macon will sell the 60-year-old collection of farmer Ted Small, who died in 2008 at the age of 88. Small, who was a dry land wheat farmer by trade, amassed his collection shortly after mustering out of World War II, where he flew B-24 Liberator bombers.
Most of the vehicles and engines were bought within a 40-mile radius of the farm.
“Dad would hear about something, and then he would go to the owner and talk with him,” said his son, Dan Small. “He didn’t give up if he really wanted something … it might be six years or so before he got it, but never gave up.”
But, it was the mechanics that fascinated the elder Small.
“My dad had a real mechanical aptitude,” Small said. “He was not trained as a mechanic or engineer. He just got books and read up on everything. He was self taught.
“He loved all things mechanical – but, he especially loved engines of all kinds – and the thrill of ’hearing them run’ after hours of patience and labor doing repairs and restoration.
Among the many gems in the auction, is a real oddity – which not too many people know about – a 7 horsepower one-cylinder gas engine.
Embossed on the engine is “Golden Gate Gas Engine, 1896, S.F.”
According to the 1890 book, Imperial San Francisco, the engine was the product of a company founded in 1883 by Adam Schilling at the 200-block of Main Street in San Francisco.
“This engine can use natural gas, water gas, coal gas or gasoline, and can be used where any rotary power is needed … every engine being guaranteed for one year. There is no danger from fire or explosion. There is no boiler, no coal or wood, and consequently no ashes.”
It is unknown how many such motors were made, particularly since very few businesses survived the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
Small is said to have bought the engine from a man who used it for grinding grain feed.
Standing nearly 9 feet tall, the machine has what appear to be a big smokestack, huge flywheels and a driveshaft that makes it adaptable to near any job.
The Golden Gate engine is expected to sell for more than $100,000.
“We’re getting all kinds of calls from all over the country,” Terry Maurer, public relations director for Macon Brothers Auctioneers, said. “We haven’t even begun marketing this thing - we don’t even have the catalogs finished. But, I can tell you it will be a big auction.”
Nearly two years, Macon Brothers sold some of Small’s personal property which included a cigar Indian attributed to James A. Brooks (1869-1937) for $55,000.
Small “officially retired” from farming his 4,000 acres in the late 1990s; however, after that he was a constant presence tinkering in his work shed.
During his lifetime he restored more than 50 early farm tractors and several of the early single-cylinder engines. His collection includes automobiles from the early 20th century up through some of the classics of the 1970s.
“Dad had a lot of help from fellow collectors when he first started,” Small said. “He always liked helping those coming into field … He loved talking about these mechanical things … trading parts … and everything that goes with collecting.”
Macon Brothers Auctions will have a day-long preview on June 21.
Contact: (509) 529-7770