It will be hard to forget the recentsale held at Tom and Betty Watt’s ranch in Elbert, Colorado. If you were there, you know what I mean. From the sheer diversity of horse-drawn vehiclesto the great weather and strong prices realized on many pieces, it was anextraordinary event. Equally memorablewas the gathering of so many familiar faces and western vehicleenthusiasts. In some ways, the eventfelt as much like a family reunion as it did an auction. Folks came from all over the U.S. andCanada. Author, historian, and ConcordCoach authority, Ken Wheeling, was there on a writing assignment from the Carriage Association. The Stagecoach and Freight Wagon Association was on also hand as well as representatives fromthe American Chuck Wagon Associationand the Santa Fe Trail Association. Collector’s pored over the pieces, examining everypart of the whole while sharing details about other vehicles in their own collections. Needless to say, it was an exceptionalopportunity to both view and learn about America’s early transportationhistory.
Harley Troyer’swell-known auctioneer service worked for months prepping the event and, itseemed, that anyone with even a passing interest in these antiquities had heardof the sale. The auction had beenpromoted and talked about for almost a year. It included almost sixty period wagons and carriages built by some ofAmerica’s most legendary manufacturers. OnFriday, June 16th, a steady stream of onlookers flowed throughout the barn asthey previewed the wide assortment of wagons, carriages, and coaches.
|Hundreds of folks from all over the United Statesand even Canada attended Tom and Betty Watt’s auction of antique horse-drawnvehicles.
The sale was scheduled to begin onSaturday morning, June 17th and, as the sun rose, the field near the barn beganto fill up with cars, trucks, and trailers. License plates from a myriad of states dotted the landscape. Multiple, full-sized semi-trucks withenclosed trailers sat atop a rise overlooking the whole affair, waiting inanticipation for what would be purchased and loaded within their confines. Barbeque vendors filled the air with thesmell of fresh pulled pork while countless attendees speculated on what aparticular vehicle might fetch. It was,after all, a large representation of wheeled history accumulated over thecourse of fifty years. Not only was itan opportunity to witness the results of a half century of collecting but itwas one of those rare occurrences when an auction was truly more than anauction. It was a chance to get to knowfolks and connect with some of the best known and most experienced collectorsof these pieces. Most everyone had theireye on taking something home. It was ano-reserve auction, meaning that everything would sell, no matter the bid.
|The first wagon to sell was this replica of aStudebaker Army Ambulance. It was built by Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop and brought$44,000.
The first vehicle to be sold was a pianobox buggy made by the legendary Mifflinburg Buggy Company. It brought $1,300. Following that up, a Park Phaeton with lampsclosed with a $4,000 top bid. The nexthandful of pieces all sold for less than $3,000 – an Albany Cutter sleigh for$1,400, a three-seat bob sleigh for $1,600, a Hansom Cab for $2,600, a Governesscart for $700 and a Draft horse show cart for $1,900. It was a start that carried average toexpected prices but, for those who might have thought the sale would endup a little soft, the reality was that the room was just starting towarm up.
The auctioneer’s booth was positioned ona small, three-wheeled trailer pulled along each row of vehicles. Oncethat modern transport made its way past the first few carriages and arrived atthe wagons, the feverish bidding began in earnest. Most buyers, it seems, came there for thewagons, coaches, and western vehicles. First up in that category was a replica Studebaker Army Ambulance builtby Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop inSouth Dakota. Back and forth competitionfor this exceptional piece brought the final price to $44,000. Another top-seller was an original Abbot-DowningYellowstone coach, commanding $56,000. Afeature-rich, Newton chuck wagon with fully-stocked chuck box, fly, poles,mannequins, and other accessories claimed a $33,000 tag while a full-sized,reproduction Concord Coach built by J. Brown sold for $28,000.
In another instance, a ‘mud wagon’ –identified by stagecoach historian, Ken Wheeling, as a ‘Florida Wagon’ –brought $30,000. According to Ken, thestage was cataloged by Abbot-Downing and, despite the geographical-soundingname, Ken shared that the design was not limited to use within a particularregion; it was marketed throughout theU.S. Even so, it's a piece rarely seen.
|Built by legendary St. Louis builder, Weber &Damme, this wagon featured excellent original paint and graphics on the box.
Many of Mr. Watt’s quality farm wagonsbrought 11, 12, 13, 14, and even $15,000, leaving little doubt that the valueof good, original wagons continues to climb. In fact, if there were lessons to take away from this auction, one ofthe most apparent would have to be that unrestored, wooden wagons with significantamounts of original paint are very much in demand. While many buyers were drawn to the majorbuilders like Bain, Charter Oak, John Deere, Birdsell, Newton, Owensboro, PeterSchuttler, Weber-Damme, Columbus, and Weber wagons in the sale, other regionalbrands like Wagner, Lamons, Knapheide, and Rhoads were highly sought-after as well. In fact, evenunrestored wagons with minimal paint seemed to have an abundance of interest. Moral of the story... if you have a good,original farm wagon – take care of it and keep it that way. If you don’t have one, you might want toconsider acquiring a quality example as part of a diversified investment plan!
|The Charter Oak wagon brand has roots to1856. This was another high-qualitywagon with original paint at Tom & Betty Watt’s auction.
|This fully-equipped Newton brand chuck wagonattracted a lot of interest. The finalbid totaled $33,000.
While in Colorado, I had the greatprivilege of not only talking to many good friends but meeting a lot of wonderfulfolks from all over the country. Truth be told,that’s one of my favorite parts of traveling, researching, and consulting with collectors on these early vehicles– this country is full of great people. Actually, it’s refreshing; especially since the news media has a way ofmaking it sound like the sky is always falling. All it takes is a trip outside our familiar haunts and into the heart ofthis incredible nation to see why it’s still the most blessed and wonderfulplace in the world. At America’s core, thereare a host of good, honest, hard-working people who understand the value of ourpast and the tremendous opportunity we have to live in this Land ofLiberty.
Here’s a special shout-out to all ofthose I had the privileging of talking to and hanging out with last week. I appreciate your kind words as well as the encouragementto keep plugging away on this weekly blog. Next week will be my 300th blog post. Trust me; there are weeks that it seems like even more. Ultimately, it marks a lot of time on thekeyboard as well as in our Archives and on trips around the country. From thebeginning, one of my biggest goals has been to help others see the value, depth,and extraordinary history tied to these old vehicles and builders. Hopefully, we’re making some inroadsthere. And to the gentleman who asked ifI might still have one of the few “Borrowed Time” books we printed – It’s onthe way, my friend.
Have a great week!
|Tom and Betty Watt’s historic Yellowstone Coach wasthe top-selling vehicle at their auction. It sold for $56,000.
|Multiple bidders battled for this Bainwagon on an original through-bolted running gear. Ultimately, it commanded just over $14,000.
|This Rhoads brand wagon box sits on a Birdsellgear. The entire wagon is featured inthe book, “Borrowed Time.” It’s a rare setof wheels that brought $15,000.
|The Wagner wagon brand was produced in Jasper,Indiana and predominantly served that local region. This extraordinary survivor sold for $14,000.
|This Standard Oil wagon sold for $11,500 while theJ. Brown-built Concord Coach (in the background) brought $28,000.
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