Last fall, Don Macmillan sent us a copy of the catalog for his tractor auction in England. We thought our readers would be interested in the outcome, so we wrote and asked for a more complete story. What follows are Don's reflections on his long career as a John Deere dealer and collector. Don lives at 'Whiterig' in Etchilhampton, Nr. Devises, Wilts, England.
My interest in John Deere started with the arrival on the Cotswold farm where I was a pupil of a new John Deere AR tractor, serial no. 259,254 in the spring of 1940.
Until then all the work on a farm a mile square, 640 acres, was done with horses except for one small Allis 'B' and the occasional loan of brother-in-law's 'WF'.
The new tractor was the only John Deere around those parts, and amazed everybody with its lugging abillity. I was appointed its driver and we were pulling a 4 furrow Cockshutt, 10' plow when Fordson's pulled 2 furrows and International 10-20s and 15-30s looking much larger pulled either 2 or at most 3 furrows. I had learnt to plow with 3 horses and a 2 furrow plow-not a ride-on!
On the petrol tank of the AR it said John Deere, Moline, Ill., so I duly wrote to them telling them of our new acquisition and they replied inviting me to visit them 'after the war.'
In 1942, Aug. 1st, I left the farm to start custom operating with a secondhand Oliver 90, a 4 furrow Ransomes plow, a fuel tender and my motorbyke on a ramp behind the tender.
Since much plowing was needed for the war effort to feed our island nation, I applied to the War Ag Committee for a new John Deere and on Feb. 8, 1943, I obtained my first model 'D' on steel wheels for ?417.10.
Gradually over the years my custom operation grew-I had my first combine in 1944, a Case 'QRS' 12' engine driven bagger combine which we pulled with one of our 4 John Deere tractors, (the styled D, an unstyled D, a new A and an unstyled BW). in 1947 I bought a 220 acre farm which I farmed for 20 years.
Because I had little capital to spare I used to buy a machine just before the season and sell it as soon as I'd finished with it, which meant I was dealing in secondhand tractors (mostly John Deere) and combines, another line in which I specialized. In 1958 I sold 112 combines which could well be a world record for one person, and several years I passed the 80 sales mark.
My first visit to the States and Moline was in September 1947 and I was promised then that if Deere ever came to Europe I could have their agency. In 1949/50 the pound was devalued against the dollar-from $4 to ?1 to $2.40 to ?1 which meant that all U.S. John Deere equipment became too expensive to sell in the U.K.
As a result the original importer of John Deere, Standens, went over to Massey-Ferguson and I acquired all their J.D. spares, and was the only dealer in the U.K. who kept the green and yellow banner flying.
In 1956 Deere bought Lanz in Mannheim and in November 1958 I was appointed their first dealer in the U.K. At the annual dealer dinner at the Smithfield Show on Dec. 5, 1978, I was presented with a paperweight which sits on my desk, commemmorating this fact. At the same dinner I gave the 300 or so dealers, their wives and staff a 'John Deere-This is Your Life' presentation on the history of Deere in the British Isle.
With the impending depression on the horizon, I decided to sell my dealership which by then had two branches in Devises and at Wilton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire to the neighboring John Deere dealer in Somerset. This left me with a large quantity of parts they didn't require, the Branch House stores was also full due to the beginning of the recession and in addition I had the company vehicles plus a large stock of the original '2 cylinder' spares.
In 1977 I had decided that if I didn't start collecting old John Deere tractors, machines, and literature, they would soon disappear. I had a model M which I'd bought in Dublin in 1959 and an AW I'd acquired in 1969 as a nucleus and over the next 4 years I collected a further 37 tractors. Most of these were purchased in these Islands, but I had imported 9 from the States and Canada in 1978.
Because I needed the space occupied by this collection, all the parts and the vehicles, I decided last summer to hold the auction sale, which was the subject of a page advertisement in the Sept/Oct 1981 issue of G.E.M. Of the 39 tractors collected, 6 were still abroad-one in France, 2 in the U.S., and 3 in Canada, so that on October 3rd, 33 eventually came under the auctioneer's hammer.
Between 300 and 400 attended with some from Europe and North America. We decided to produce a glossy catalogue of the sale with a photo of each of the tractors offered, taken by a member of the Devizes Camera Club. We charged ?2 over here and $5 abroad for this book which is quite a collectors item in itself, and a few of which are still available.
My original intention was to sell about 12 of the tractors offered, which were either duplicates or where I had better examples on offer to me, and keeping 21 plus the 6 not yet shipped home. When the auction was complete, however, I ended up selling 21 and keeping only 12- despite the reserves I had placed on most of the tractors.
As always happens at an auction some of the prices obtained were surprising, and particularly would this apply if comparing British and U.S. market conditions. It must also be borne in mind that it costs over ?800 ($1500+) to ship a tractor from the States to U.K. now, and after that one must pay 16% duty on nett landed cost plus a further 15% Value Added Tax. If one is given a tractor in North America, it costs over $2000 at home here!
Having said that the 1918 Waterloo Boy made the highest price for a tractor that I have heard, ?8400, the 1928 'D' ?1200 (required some attention and was stuck), the 1935 'D' ?2600-we are not so insistent on steel wheels over here- the 1938 'G' ?1500, Bs from ?600 to ?900, 'H's: ?800 to 825 and 'A's: ?400 to 1400.
I did not sell-intentionally-the unstyled 'L' (my pride and joy), the 'GP' orchard model, the unstyled 'A' and 'B's, my original 'M' and the 'GW' amongst others. Still to come home I have a 1922 Waterloo Boy, a 1925 'Spoke D' and a 1927 D in Canada, and two 1927 and 1931 GPs in the U.S. and am looking forward to my next trip-to acquire 3 or 4 more tractors to make up two container loads. (4 or 5 tractors per container)
I hope the above proves of interest. My collection has been loaned to the National Science Museum, who have recently taken over a local aerodome with seven large hangars, and where they have the first hovercraft SRNI, a Comet, Trident and Dakota (DC3), many old trucks, cars and motorcycles in addition to the agricultural side, which includes steam plowing engines, a thresher, old combines, including a John Deere '36', and much else of great interest.
Already I have purchased a 'BW' since the sale and have an AR, BR and BO on offer over here, plus many tractors 'over there' so that I look forward to many years collecting ahead. I think most of the fun in our hobby is in the collecting, and the super people you meet with the same interests. For me it is said I have green and yellow blood in my veins. May I wish you and all your readers a very happy and successful 'collecting' year in 1982.