Amy Cunningham

More than 70 tractors rolled onto the Johnson County Fair Grounds last week only to leave with new owners Saturday evening following the International Harvesters National Consignment Auction held October 29 and 30.
The auction, an annual event hosted by the International Harvesters Collectors Club, attracted sellers from states as far away as California and New York. Buyers also came from around the country and, thanks to live online bidding, people from around the world had access to items offered at the sale.

An International Harvesters truck features a sign that reads, “Gardner or Bust.” Collectors of International Harvesters items, including trucks and tractors, converged in Gardner for an auction last weekend. Staff photo by Amy Cunningham

“Between the people at the sale and live online bidders we had registered bidders from approximately 20 states,” recalled Auctioneer Andy Conser of Valley Falls, Kan. “I know we had two live bidders in person who drove in from New York state, and, on Friday during the collectables auction we had a registered bidder on the internet from Belgium.”
More than 350 bidders and an estimated 200 onlookers, many of them tractor enthusiasts and collectors, descended on Gardner for the event.
The group kicked off the auction Friday afternoon, selling more than 1,000 pieces including toys, signs and memorabilia.  Conser said that Friday’s event stretched into the evening, going past 10 p.m.
Saturday’s activity concluded with the sale of nearly 750 items, including parts, trucks, an International Scout and, the main event, 77 tractors.
Bob Kirkwood of Topeka brought his International Harvester 504 to the sale looking for a buyer.
“A friend of mine told me about the International Club so I thought I would bring my tractor down and try to sell it,” Kirkwood said, hopeful that the tractor would do well in the auction. “There were lots of buyers at the sale. If there’s enough buyers and they come to buy something, well, they buy it.”
According to Greg Coker of Overbrook, Kan., many of the tractors in the auction are no longer in use as farm machinery.
“They are more of a store and display, parade-type of thing.  They don’t work much anymore,” Coker explained.  “There were some that are pretty collectable.  We had four high crop tractors and one orchard tractor, which is collectable.”
The orchard tractor was one of three items brought to the sale by Sam Walker of San Deigo.  Walker hauled his items to the event by making two trips from California to Kansas.
“What I do is I try to bring something different (to the sales),” Walker said as he gestured to his orchard crawler.  “I got this out of Palm Springs, out of the citrus growing area.  I have a couple of unique items here, an O12 which is a 1934 and a T20 which is a 1936.”

Tractors line the Johnson County Fairgrounds during a collector’s convention. Organizers estimate that more than 350 collectors attended the annual event. Staff photo by Amy Cunningham

Coker, president of the Internaltional Harvesters Collectors Club Kansas Chapter No. 3 and one of the event’s organizers, said that Gardner was selected three years ago to host the event because of its proximity to Lawrence, Kan., home of collector John Pierson.  Pierson, who passed away in 2008 of pancreatic cancer, planned to sell off a portion of his prized possessions.
“He initiated the idea of using this auction to thin out his collection, so he helped bring the auction to Kansas,” said Coker.  “Unfortunately he passed away before we got here, but 27 of the tractors we’ll auction off today belonged to him.”
Next year’s auction will take place in Frederick, Mo., but Coker believes there may be another opportunity for Gardner to host the event in the future.
“It’s gone very well.  The city’s been real good to work with us, so has the (Johnson County) Fair Board,” Coker states.  “It’s a nice location, right off of I-35, there are plenty of hotels in the area, so that’s not been a problem.  We’ve been really pleased with Gardner.”

Tractors line the Johnson County Fairgrounds during a collector’s convention. Organizers estimate that more than 350 collectors attended the annual event. Staff photo by Amy Cunningham