Rare tractor dispersal's highlight

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Bob GarnantCountryman

A new national Australian record auction price was made for a vintage tractor in WA's Wheatbelt last week.

The late Norm Bates' lifelong pursuit to amass an extensive collection of tractors, farm machinery and odds and sods, based on the wealth of the Wheatbelt, was passed on to the public when Landmark auctioned all 747 lots.

A total of 663 registered bidders swarmed the Bates family farm in Welbungin, many to have a sticky beak, though others were keen to own a piece of history.

Landmark auctioneer Steve Wright said the sale - 12 months in the planning - pulled in the largest attendance of his 40-year career.

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"It was testament to Norm's passionate dedication of preserving old farm machinery which was proudly supported by his family," he said.

Norman Ernest Bates, who died aged 86 in 2011, was a remarkable mixture of local historian, tractor restorer, farmer, station owner and competitive country sportsman.

According to his obituary, Norm developed an eye for restoring abandoned farm machinery and enjoyed sharing this interest, organising the first meeting of the Central Wheatbelt Tractor Club.

Norm's son Neil, speaking on behalf of his family, said they had decided his father's vintage tractors would best be in the care of those who most valued their worth.

"Vintage tractors require extensive maintenance and should fall in the hands of the willing," he said.

The collection of 21 restored vintage tractors was the highlight of the overall sale, which grossed about $500,000.

A 1925 Benz Sendling was the pinnacle of tractor rarity - one of three in the world - and very high in value, selling for $102,000.

_Countryman _contacted The Old Machinery Magazine journalist Lance Wilson, of Port Macquarie, NSW, who said he believed the price was an Australian auction record for a vintage tractor.

"The previous auction record was $95,000, however a very rare tractor sold privately for more than $200,000," he said.

When Mr Wright called for opening bids on the Benz, a starting $18,000 wave sparked a competitive bidding war between two parties.

Perth earthmoving service manager Steve Coppack remained steadfast to secure the Benz, against Victorian interest by way of phone link-up. Mr Coppack said he acted on behalf of an undisclosed buyer whose country of origin, Germany, was also shared by the tractor's manufacturer Mercedes-Benz.

Mystery and rumours quickly spread as to whether the tractor would remain in WA, with some optimistic talk it would reappear at a business facility in Redcliffe.

Under the Australian Government's movable cultural heritage prohibited exports register, objects of exceptional cultural importance may be denied an export permit.

Williams tractor collector Kevin Martin was not going to leave the fate of the 1945 Chamberlain 40K prototype to speculation, with a $40,000 bid of confidence to secure its future in WA.

"My sole motivation was to safely secure the Chamberlain into WA ownership," he said.

Only two prototypes were ever built at the Chamberlain family's Welshpool factory and the other example belongs to the WA Museum.

From Norm's records, the tractor was bought in boxes and, upon reassembling the machine, he discovered it was the other known prototype.

Mr Martin started collecting tractors to save WA's agriculture history from the scrap heap.

"As one who appreciates our agriculture heritage and how machinery forged the necessary land clearing, it is a difficult task to ensure important models remain in Australia, against strong overseas interest," he said.

Other rare tractors that sold included the 1934 HSCS Steel Horse ($22,000), 1836 Hart-Par ($20,500), 1951 KL Bulldog ($18,500), 1929 Caterpillar 15 crawler ($16,700) and 1924 Fordson Bell City crawler ($16,500).

Local Bencubbin farmer Nick Gillett bought the 1953 Lanz Bulldog Model P tractor for $15,000, with the machine having originally worked on his family's farm.

"We will be pleased to have the Lanz back at home again," he said.

Other top-end sales included Norm's 1926 Federal Republic truck ($15,000) and a 1900 Rider Ericson hot air engine ($8000).

There were numerous unrestored tractors, hay rakes and other machinery items which all found new homes at various prices.

A 1927 Model T Ford flatbed utility sold for $4000.

Norm's collection also included some interesting smalls which also found competitive bidding among locals and well-travelled treasure hunters.

An early 20th century Camel licence registration fetched $2200.

A pair of salt and pepper shakers even went as high as $250.

The rare set was marked Clarice Cliff, Bizarre, highly sought after by those who treasure the late English artists' Art Deco designs of the 1930s.

Such a large sale of many rare and wonderful items could well set off a new wave of nostalgia for collectors.

Norm's son-in-law Alan Gracie said the family was pleased to see the collection distributed in WA.

"The crowd responded with their appreciation for Norm's passion for the restoration of vintage agricultural machinery," he said.

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