By CAROLE DEUTSCH
LOWDEN, Wash. — The sale billed as The Ted Small Power Collection and sold by Macon Brothers on June 22 consisted of 430 lots of iconic farm vehicles, vintage motorcycles, classic cars and other historic mechanical equipment, all of which were the most desirable of their kind for even the most selective collector.
Headliners included five Indian motorcycles, a 1910 Auburn Touring car, a 1929 Caterpillar crawler tractor, and an 1896 Golden Gate gasoline engine, among many other collectible machines that attracted bidder attention from across the country.
With 900 registered bidders, 1,500 attended the auction. There were 850 cars parked in the field, causing Macon to set up an overflow facility.
Ted Small, a wheat farmer and decorated World War II aviator, spent 60 years amassing the collection that spanned the horse-drawn era to the early diesel age.
He was a knowledgeable and dogged collector, determined to obtain that sought-after relic even if he had to stalk it for years. He was also a self-taught master mechanic. Friends claim he could restore any mechanical mechanism through nothing more than natural talent and gritty resolve. As a result, all of the machinery was sold in working condition – ready to be fired up and driven away.
Adding to this attractive equation was the online video presentation by Macon Brothers of each item offered in the sale. Not only was a bidder able to read an accurate product description, but was also able to see and hear it in action. This video feature, a Macon specialty, was a presentation format that was unique, as well as informative, and can still be seen online at Macon Brothers’ June 22 site on www.proxibid.com.
The auction favorite was lot 129 when the “Holy Grail” for iron collectors, an 1896 “Golden Gate Engine,” came to the block. The rare, free-standing engine, which was stamped No. 4 on the cylinder, was invented and produced by Adam Schilling & Sons of San Francisco and originally sold for about $700.
The seven-horsepower gas engine is one of approximately 10 known to exist, and it is the largest, the rest are smaller three- or four-horsepower engines. No one knows how many survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
In its day, the Golden Gate was state-of-the-art with an overhead cam and a fuel injection, four-stroke gasoline engine. It sported two solid iron 52-inch flywheels, each weighing hundreds of pounds, and a 29 1/2 inch wooden belt pulley.
This tough workhorse not only had strong stage presence at the auction, standing 9 feet high, but also had a powerful and equally pleasing sound of a low consistent whirl against a spitting chut, chut, chut. Doug Macon described it best as “the sound of energy in motion.”
Ted Small obtained the Golden Gate from the Ferguson farm on Cottonwood Creek where it was used to grind seed. A friend and competitive collector, Gilbert Merry, narrowly missed bagging the prize instead of Small.
Through the years, Merry made several appeals to Small to buy the engine, mostly through his nephew John Merry, who Gilbert would send occasionally to “make Ted an offer and let him name his price.”
The results were always the same; Ted would not sell, John would report to Gilbert, and Gilbert would respond in a grumble that “he really didn’t want it anyway.” After Small’s death at the age of 88, Gilbert began thinking about buying the engine again. He had full intentions of attending the Macon Brothers auction but died 10 days prior to the sale.
The bidding for the coveted Golden Gate opened at $100,000 to three competitive bidders, moved rapidly to $125,000, $150,000, $175,000, and hammered at $200,000 to John Merry, a collector himself, who, with a margin of help from fellow farmers, bought the Golden Gate engine in honor of his uncle Gilbert and the posterity of the Walla Walla farm community.
The realized price, including a 10 percent buyer’s premium, was $220,000.
John Merry said that as he stood by his Uncle Gilbert’s deathbed he was moved by the memories of the treasure hunts with his uncle who taught him everything he knew about engines. He wanted to buy the Golden Gate on his behalf. John sought a spiritual sign and took notice of the name tag of Gilbert’s attending nurse, which was “Schilling.” Someone named Schilling invented and produced the engine in 1896 – John’s course was set, and as of June 22, his mission to “buy the Golden Gate from Ted Small’s collection” for his uncle was accomplished.
The Golden Gate engine was not, however, the only show-stopper at the Ted Small Power Auction. A 1910 Auburn touring car with a 4-cylinder gas engine was a two-door, five-passenger, right-sided steering model that was painted dark blue and handsomely appointed with brass running lights and wood spoke wheels.
This crown-jewel among antique car collectors sold for $104,500 to a bidder who flew in from Omaha. The under bidder was a fellow auto collectors’ club member who came from Michigan. The winning bidder graciously allowed the under bidder to drive the Auburn as close as he could get to Omaha, where the owner finally took full possession of his new found “collectors’ gold.”
A 1929 Caterpillar “Sixty” crawler tractor that Small dubbed, “The King of His Fleet,” is widely referred to as “the elephant” for its power. The 4-cyclinder gas engine had a manual flywheel start and a 20 inch wide, 119 inch long, 72 inch gauge track with side-mounted fuel tanks and rock guards. It was used by the previous owner to pull a Harris combine and sold with a canopy for $44,000.
Five Indian motorcycles, representing sought-after models that were all restored and in running condition, attracted bidder interest. Topping the group was a black 1941 Indian Model 441 that achieved a realized price of $55,000.
A 1946 Indian Chief with a metal sidecar sold for $52,800. A 1940 Indian Chief, a favorite model of Steve McQueen, which was purchased by Small from the original owner, brought $36,000. A price of $52,800 was paid for the earliest bike in the collection, a 1918 Indian Twin Power Plus motorcycle. A 1940 Indian Scout sold for $36,300.
“It was exciting, and the engines were fantastic, but it was not what I expected,” Doug Macon said. “With a sale of this caliber I was not anticipating ‘friendly rivalry’ so to speak. The collectors were supportive of each other, each one giving it their best shot, but pleased when a winning bidder was a fellow collector. It was obvious that they did not want Ted Small’s collection to go to someone who would not prize the engines as Ted had. Ted Small was a well-loved man, and his friends stepped up to the plate for him in a way that made me proud.”