Eight Tips For Buying At Auction

I recently went to an auction sale looking for some grain trucks to part out, however when I got there the trucks weren’t selling yet.

As I walked up to the crowd I saw that they were selling an auger. A nice 37-foot, severn-inch auger with a 16-hp Kohler engine. It looked better than any auger we owned, with hardly a dent or a scratch on it. The bid was at $200 and nobody was bidding so I stuck up my hand and bid $300. Then you know what? Nobody else bid. I had a jarring thought, “Maybe the motor is seized.” I hadn’t heard it run. No wonder no one was bidding –the motor was no good. These thoughts raced through my head as I waited in vain hope for someone else to bid. But still nobody else bid. I’d bought a nice looking auger that probably had a dead motor.

I found out later the motor was fine. I guess the other bidders had all the augers they needed. We got a really good auger for much less than I thought it was worth. This boded well for the day.

Then the trucks came up for sale. They were nice trucks but everyone wanted them. The 1976 GM three-ton sold for over $9000, but it was in beautiful shape. That was too much for this junk dealer. Even the late 50s GM three-ton sold for over $1500.

Then they got to the end of the auction and some consigned equipment belonging to a different farmer. There was a grain truck that might be good for parts as well as a tractor, among other things. The tractor was a 1976 1270 Case with only 3600 hours on it. It didn’t look too bad until you went in the cab and then you realized it had been a nursery for Mr. and Mrs. Mouse for many years. The seat was a bit shaggy but not too bad. Tires were OK but not great. There were likely original tires so they were a bit cracked but not too bad for being over 30 years old. The tractor definitely needed a heavy duty cleaning.

Although we’d farmed with Case 970s and 1070s for years, I didn’t know too much about the 1270s except that they were in 120 hp range.

I talked with a gentleman I knew and he said that the tractor had been stored for 20 years, hence the low hours. Also, the engine had been rebuilt at 3300 hours. When the auctioneer came around it started well and the powershift seemed to work OK as they moved it back and forth.

I thought it might be handy to have around so I bid a few times. When the bidding stopped at $4000 I was the high bidder. Was it a good buy? I wasn’t sure at the time. I went home and told our son Ben that I’d bought a 1270 Case and he wondered if I was starting to get a bit senile. We didn’t really need another tractor.

We drove it home and it seemed to run fine. Ben got used to the idea of having it and he fixed up its deficiencies. It needed new front tires. He removed the mouse houses in the cab, recharged the AC and gave it a really good cleaning. This year he replaced some of the missing lights and we had to replace one rear tire. Luckily, we found a used tire for the back that we hope to get a few years out of. The powershift works fine and the motor doesn’t use oil. Total cost to date: Approximately $5500.

So the big question is, Was it a good buy? I think so. Was there some risk involved? Definitely. It could have used oil and had a lame powershift. These problems would have cost us $4000 + in parts plus a lot of labour. But we got lucky this time. We hope to get 10 to 20 years out of this tractor.

With running old machinery like we do, it’s nice to have a spare tracoctober tor. Our 970 is now off the sprayer but could be used for that chore if needed. The 1270 works well on the sprayer, but if our 4690 dies in seeding time we could shorten our Versatile drills from 35 feet to 21 feet and seed with the 1270.

Was it a lucky buy? To define luck is a bit difficult. Luck is being able to take advantage of an opportunity if it arises. But you have to be prepared. Here’s a few factors that helped me be prepared to buy a tractor at auction.

1. Research your prospective purchases. Try and learn what to look for on machines you want to buy. I knew a bit about Case tractors and how they should run and sound when they were started.

2. Don’t be shy about asking for details of used machinery at a sale. The more you know the better prepared you are. Phone ahead before the sale and talk to the owner. Usually his number is listed on the sale bill. You’ll get some answers to your questions but remember the owner is trying to sell the stuff on the sale bill.

3. Have a friendly banker. Very seldom can I buy a lot of machinery without financial help from somewhere. Make sure you have some cash available or a banker that can write up a loan on short notice if you come across an unexpected bargain.

4. Go to sales. If I hadn’t been at the sale, I couldn’t have bought the tractor or the auger. Even if you don’t buy more than a burger and a piece of pie it can be a learning experience and is often an interesting day.

5. Know the value of the machinery. Sometimes stuff is selling cheap because that’s all it’s worth. Don’t pay more at an auction for something that you can buy off a dealer’s lot for less money.

6. Be ready for the unexpected. I sure wasn’t planning on buying a tractor that day or an auger. But they were both good buys and fit well into our operation. They will enable us to have some backup equipment for the day when something breaks down and we don’t want to stop and overhaul it immediately.

7. Don’t get carried away and buy too much stuff you don’t need. We now have three good tractors (plus one in the sick bay awaiting repairs) to crop 1,400 acres. We have three augers in the 35-to 40-foot range. With our older stuff breakdowns are expected and we now have some spare equipment. I shouldn’t have to look for any more of these items for a while.

8. Remember, if you buy it you have to get it home. (We spent two full days bringing home our set of Versatile drills. 200 miles at 10 miles an hour.) Some things transport well and easily and other things do not. Calculate the transport cost to bring it home if it’s a long ways away and compare the total cost to items that are available close to home and don’t require a lot of transport.

That’s the story of the afternoon at the auction. We’ve now got enough machinery to do us for a while but you know I got this auction flier in the mail and I just might wander over to see how stuff sells.

RonSettler,hiswifeSheila,andtheirsons BenandDanfarmandrunarepairand salvagebusinessatLuckyLake,Sask.



Next time you’re at an auction sale you might like to have this list of tips with you. It’s not too convenient to stuff your pockets full ofGrainewspages to be handy when you might happen to need them, but if you have a BlackBerry or other brand of smartphone, you can.

All you need is the free app available at getscanlife.com — it only takes a minute to download. Once you’ve done that, use your smartphone’s camera to take a picture of this bar code and the article will open up on your phone. Standard data charges apply.

About the author

Ron Settler's recent articles



Stories from our other publications