It will be hard to forget the recent sale held at Tom and Betty Watt’s ranch in Elbert, Colorado. If you were there, you know what I mean. From the sheer diversity of horse-drawn vehicles to the great weather and strong prices realized on many pieces, it was an extraordinary event. Equally memorable was the gathering of so many familiar faces and western vehicle enthusiasts. In some ways, the event felt as much like a family reunion as it did an auction. Folks came from all over the U.S. and Canada. Author, historian, and Concord Coach authority, Ken Wheeling, was there on a writing assignment from the Carriage Association. The Stagecoach and Freight Wagon Association was on also hand as well as representatives from the American Chuck Wagon Association and the Santa Fe Trail Association. Collector’s pored over the pieces, examining every part of the whole while sharing details about other vehicles in their own collections. Needless to say, it was an exceptional opportunity to both view and learn about America’s early transportation history.
Harley Troyer’s well-known auctioneer service worked for months prepping the event and, it seemed, that anyone with even a passing interest in these antiquities had heard of the sale. The auction had been promoted and talked about for almost a year. It included almost sixty period wagons and carriages built by some of America’s most legendary manufacturers. On Friday, June 16th, a steady stream of onlookers flowed throughout the barn as they previewed the wide assortment of wagons, carriages, and coaches.
Hundreds of folks from all over the United States and even Canada attended Tom and Betty Watt’s auction of antique horse-drawn vehicles.
The sale was scheduled to begin on Saturday morning, June 17th and, as the sun rose, the field near the barn began to fill up with cars, trucks, and trailers. License plates from a myriad of states dotted the landscape. Multiple, full-sized semi-trucks with enclosed trailers sat atop a rise overlooking the whole affair, waiting in anticipation for what would be purchased and loaded within their confines. Barbeque vendors filled the air with the smell of fresh pulled pork while countless attendees speculated on what a particular vehicle might fetch. It was, after all, a large representation of wheeled history accumulated over the course of fifty years. Not only was it an opportunity to witness the results of a half century of collecting but it was one of those rare occurrences when an auction was truly more than an auction. It was a chance to get to know folks and connect with some of the best known and most experienced collectors of these pieces. Most everyone had their eye on taking something home. It was a no-reserve auction, meaning that everything would sell, no matter the bid.
The first wagon to sell was this replica of a Studebaker Army Ambulance. It was built by Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop and brought $44,000.
The first vehicle to be sold was a piano box buggy made by the legendary Mifflinburg Buggy Company. It brought $1,300. Following that up, a Park Phaeton with lamps closed with a $4,000 top bid. The next handful of pieces all sold for less than $3,000 – an Albany Cutter sleigh for $1,400, a three-seat bob sleigh for $1,600, a Hansom Cab for $2,600, a Governess cart for $700 and a Draft horse show cart for $1,900. It was a start that carried average to expected prices but, for those who might have thought the sale would end up a little soft, the reality was that the room was just starting to warm up.
The auctioneer’s booth was positioned on a small, three-wheeled trailer pulled along each row of vehicles. Once that modern transport made its way past the first few carriages and arrived at the wagons, the feverish bidding began in earnest. Most buyers, it seems, came there for the wagons, coaches, and western vehicles. First up in that category was a replica Studebaker Army Ambulance built by Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop in South Dakota. Back and forth competition for this exceptional piece brought the final price to $44,000. Another top-seller was an original Abbot-Downing Yellowstone coach, commanding $56,000. A feature-rich, Newton chuck wagon with fully-stocked chuck box, fly, poles, mannequins, and other accessories claimed a $33,000 tag while a full-sized, reproduction Concord Coach built by J. Brown sold for $28,000.
In another instance, a ‘mud wagon’ – identified by stagecoach historian, Ken Wheeling, as a ‘Florida Wagon’ – brought $30,000. According to Ken, the stage was cataloged by Abbot-Downing and, despite the geographical-sounding name, Ken shared that the design was not limited to use within a particular region; it was marketed throughout the U.S. Even so, it's a piece rarely seen.
Built by legendary St. Louis builder, Weber & Damme, this wagon featured excellent original paint and graphics on the box.
Many of Mr. Watt’s quality farm wagons brought 11, 12, 13, 14, and even $15,000, leaving little doubt that the value of good, original wagons continues to climb. In fact, if there were lessons to take away from this auction, one of the most apparent would have to be that unrestored, wooden wagons with significant amounts of original paint are very much in demand. While many buyers were drawn to the major builders like Bain, Charter Oak, John Deere, Birdsell, Newton, Owensboro, Peter Schuttler, Weber-Damme, Columbus, and Weber wagons in the sale, other regional brands like Wagner, Lamons, Knapheide, and Rhoads were highly sought-after as well. In fact, even unrestored wagons with minimal paint seemed to have an abundance of interest. Moral of the story... if you have a good, original farm wagon – take care of it and keep it that way. If you don’t have one, you might want to consider acquiring a quality example as part of a diversified investment plan!
The Charter Oak wagon brand has roots to 1856. This was another high-quality wagon with original paint at Tom & Betty Watt’s auction.
This fully-equipped Newton brand chuck wagon attracted a lot of interest. The final bid totaled $33,000.
While in Colorado, I had the great privilege of not only talking to many good friends but meeting a lot of wonderful folks from all over the country. Truth be told, that’s one of my favorite parts of traveling, researching, and consulting with collectors on these early vehicles – this country is full of great people. Actually, it’s refreshing; especially since the news media has a way of making it sound like the sky is always falling. All it takes is a trip outside our familiar haunts and into the heart of this incredible nation to see why it’s still the most blessed and wonderful place in the world. At America’s core, there are a host of good, honest, hard-working people who understand the value of our past and the tremendous opportunity we have to live in this Land of Liberty.
Here’s a special shout-out to all of those I had the privileging of talking to and hanging out with last week. I appreciate your kind words as well as the encouragement to keep plugging away on this weekly blog. Next week will be my 300th blog post. Trust me; there are weeks that it seems like even more. Ultimately, it marks a lot of time on the keyboard as well as in our Archives and on trips around the country. From the beginning, one of my biggest goals has been to help others see the value, depth, and extraordinary history tied to these old vehicles and builders. Hopefully, we’re making some inroads there. And to the gentleman who asked if I might still have one of the few “Borrowed Time” books we printed – It’s on the way, my friend.
Have a great week!
Tom and Betty Watt’s historic Yellowstone Coach was the top-selling vehicle at their auction. It sold for $56,000.
Multiple bidders battled for this Bain wagon on an original through-bolted running gear. Ultimately, it commanded just over $14,000.
This Rhoads brand wagon box sits on a Birdsell gear. The entire wagon is featured in the book, “Borrowed Time.” It’s a rare set of wheels that brought $15,000.
The Wagner wagon brand was produced in Jasper, Indiana and predominantly served that local region. This extraordinary survivor sold for $14,000.
This Standard Oil wagon sold for $11,500 while the J. Brown-built Concord Coach (in the background) brought $28,000.
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