Dan Mecum’s dad and his dad’s dad both were in the car business; his grandfather was perhaps the nation’s largest fleet vehicle dealer and his dad has a growing collector car auction company.
But among Dan’s fondest childhood memories were the times he spent riding a tractor with his maternal grandfather, a farmer.
Flash forward a few years, and one day Dan and a buddy were driving along a country road, spotted an old John Deere tractor for sale and, in an emotional burst of nostalgia-induced decision making, Dan bought it. He kept the tractor awhile, but then got busy with other things and sold it.
Seller’s regret set in. He eventually tried to contact the buyer, but his widow told Dan of her husband’s death and she was glad to sell the tractor back to him.
Since then, Dan Mecum has sold that same tractor at least four more times, each time for the benefit of the Curing Kids Cancer charity. But those last few sales have taken place at Dan Mecum’s Gone Farmin’ vintage tractor auctions, a company he started and enfolded into his father’s larger Mecum Auctions company, for which Dan, the oldest of the four Mecum sons, also leads the automobilia division.
The deal with the old John Deere is that whomever buys it at the auction keeps it for a year or two and then resells it at the auction to generate more money for the charity.
“I started buying and selling them in around 2007,” Dan Mecum said of the vintage tractor business. By 2010, he had more tractors — 25 — than room to store them, so he staged his first vintage tractor auction, selling his own and another 175 that had been consigned to the sale.
This year Gone Farmin’ will do four vintage tractor auctions and figures to handle $6 million to $8 million in sales.
The next such sale, on June 4, figures to be very special since it not only includes Charles Schneider’s amazing collection of aerodynamic-looking orchard tractors and other tractors, but Schneider’s 5,000-square-foot classic country estate and 40-acre farm in Lapeer, a town in Michigan’s “thumb.”
Schneider was a long-time Ford sales and marketing staffer who originally collected streamlined cars and trucks from the 1930s and ’40s. He liked the lines of a McCormick-Deering 09-4 orchard tractor with its teardrop rear fenders (to protect low-hanging branches and grapevines from the big rear tractor tires) and began a new collection of the finest orchard tractors he could find.
In 2005, he bought a 240-acre farm which now includes the main house, a five-car garage, two-story heated round-roof barn and three other heated buildings to store his collection of some 100 tractors, all of them being offered at the sale along with the tractor version of automobilia — signs, clocks, toys, etc.
Who buys vintage tractors?
“A lot of people have (family) roots in agriculture,” Dan Mecum said, “and there’s a trend toward organic farming and people buying ‘hobby’ farms when they retire.”
Gone Farmin’ displays a couple of tractors at the various Mecum classic car auctions and newcomers are particularly captivated by the orchard tractors.
“Is that a race tractor?” is a common question when people see the aerodynamic rear fenders. “It really draws people to my booth,” Mecum said, noting that two very familiar brands with car collectors — Porsche and Lamborghini — also produced quite a few tractors.