Iowa’s original ‘American Pickers’
STORM LAKE – Decades before the History Channel’s American Pickers began scouring the country’s junk yards, barns and basements for hidden gems, Ralph and Lois Cole, of Storm Lake, began their own quest to find vintage farm equipment, classic cars and other treasures at area auctions
Now their extensive collection, including 90 tractors, is going up for sale this summer and potential buyers from Massachusetts to Colorado and beyond are getting ready to place their bids.
“There’s just a lot of everything here,”said Martha Boyle, president of McGuire Auction Co. Inc. in Holstein. “Ralph and Lois were lifelong collectors whose estate has been broken into three separate auctions and we feel privileged to handle all three.”
McGuire Auction already held one event in April to sell the Coles’ modern farm equipment and more than 400 bidders attended. Now the antique tractors and stationary engines will be sold on June 11, while cars (including a Model T Ford and a Studebaker), along with automotive parts, will sold on June 12.
A third and final auction will be held in July to sell the remaining items from the Cole estate, including above-ground gas pumps, gas station signs and more.
“Together, my sister and brother-in-law spent more than 100 years collecting,” said Mildred Hadenfeldt, 81, who is coordinating the auction. “They were great keepers of family and local history and wanted to preserve the past.”
Coles loved auctions
The Coles’ auction on June 11 will include a Massey Harris pony tractor with a mower, a McCormick Farmall with steel lug wheels, a wide range of John Deere tractors, including a 1952 John Deere 60, and many other models, including Farmall, Case, Ford, Oliver, BF Avery, Minneapolis Moline and Allis Chalmers, including 13 Allis Chalmers Model G tractors, which look more like go-carts than tractors.
“To put this into perspective, my dad’s lawnmower has more horsepower than an Allis Chalmers G,” said Boyle, who added that McGuire Auction has advertised the sale in various antique tractor publications has received a steady stream of inquiries from potential buyers across the nation.
The June 11 auction will also include two Thieman tractors, which were produced in Albert City. The tractors could be made from a kit where the farmer had to procure many of the components, including an engine, from a Ford Model A. The object was to cobble together pieces of used equipment to make an inexpensive tractor, an option that proved appealing during the hard years of the Great Depression.
For Ralph and Lois Cole, their tractors weren’t just part of a collection; they reflected an era of Iowa agriculture that the couple experienced first-hand. After the Coles married in 1947, they spent their career farming together, raising crops, livestock and DeKalb seed corn.
They even had his-and-her tractors and trucks, said Hadenfeldt, who noted that Ralph, a self-taught mechanic, was already a collector by the time he married Lois. “It was a true farm partnership, and they loved farming. They didn’t have any children, and going to auctions was their hobby and their entertainment.”
The Coles continued to build their collection for many years and occasionally drove their antique vehicles in local parades, said Boyle. Ralph was still buying a few tractors at her father’s auctions when she started in the business in 1998.
The Coles were also interested in conservation on their farm, said Hadenfeldt, who noted that Ralph farmed until he became ill and died in 2007 at age 86. Lois, a self-taught artist, passed away unexpectedly from a stroke in October 2010 at age 87.
“They worked hard all their lives and wanted to preserve the land, just as they wanted to preserve pieces of the past,” Hadenfeldt said. “It’s an honor for me to help manage this auction for them.”
You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at email@example.com.
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