Rare gems at vintage sale

27 Oct, 2013 01:00 AM
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 Steve Coppack, Perth, was the eventual winner of a bidding tussle that saw this Benz Sendling tractor being knocked down by Landmark auctioneer Steve Wright for the day's top price of $102,000.
Steve Coppack, Perth, was the eventual winner of a bidding tussle that saw this Benz Sendling tractor being knocked down by Landmark auctioneer Steve Wright for the day's top price of $102,000.

IT was the one event that no collector or restorer of farm equipment could afford to miss, and judging by the fact that there were 659 registered buyers, it appeared that very few of them did miss it.

The event was the auction of the late Norm Bates' extensive collections of memorabilia, some restored, some "as-is" and all invoking memories or causing modern minds to ponder.

In an ordinary clearing sale, the big ticket items are the header, air seeder and 4WD tractor, but at the late Norm Bates sale, the youngest tractors were built in the 1950s, while the top price went to a 1925 Benz Sendling.

Two people really wanted the Benz, with Landmark auctioneer Steve Wright finally knocking it down for $102,000 to Perth bidder, Steve Coppack, who revealed later that he was bidding on behalf of a business associate.

The tractor was a two cylinder diesel, built in a time when most tractors were powered by kerosene, and although Norm Bates had fitted an electric starter to it, it was designed for hand cranking.

Its original owner was Bencubbin, farmer Frank Hayman, who was originally a school teacher, but went farming during the 1920's boom, before becoming yet another victim of the Depression.

Although only one was imported into Australia, onlookers were pondering just how many of them are still in existence worldwide.

Another unusual tractor in a paddock full of unusual items, was the Case cross engine, so named because the engine sat across the tractor frame, not up and down as is usual.

It appears that the tractor was originally designed as a self-propelled stationary motor, using its belt pulley to power the threshers and chaff cutters, so that when the job was finished, it could hitch up to the machine and drive to the next job.

Also unusual for a clearing sale, a catalogue was printed, listing about 750 items, from tractors to machines, with such sundry items as magnetos, seats, manuals, maps, signs and other sundries.

Other higher prices saw $40,000 paid for a 1945 Chamberlain 40K prototype twin cylinder kerosene and $22,000 for a 1934 HSCS Steel Horse model K40.

A 1928 Hart Parr Model 18-36 with gas producer sold for $20,500 and a Caterpillar 15 Crawler made $16,700.

Norm Bates' father, Mickey Bates, was a carrier, with a 10-tonne wagon pulled by a team of 30 donkeys, transporting goods to the Murchison stations and bringing loads of wool back.

As the rail junction at the time, Bencubbin was the centre of the sandalwood industry, with 50 "pullers" being based there as they worked around the surrounding stations, with Mickey Bates soon adding sandalwood to his regular loads.

During his travels, he noted good farming country north of Welbungin, so when the sandalwood industry collapsed, he gave the carrying away, turned his 30 donkeys loose, and went farming.

He married and had four children, with his first child, Norman Ernest, being born in 1925, but when he was only 10, his father fell off the roof of a shed he was building, broke his back and died soon after.

With the farm gone, Norm worked as a shearer in the station country during the war, later buying a tractor and doing contract ploughing for the government on the abandoned farms to the north, a common task carried out to stop the locusts from hatching.

These efforts allowed him to buy an abandoned farm at Welbungin from the bank and working as a contractor on local farms earned him enough money to operate his own new acquisition.

There are many local stories about Norm and his brother Bunny, both as local shearers during the spring shearing season and Bencubbin citizens.

Norm once invited Heather Radford, a farmer's daughter from north Mukinbudin, whom he met when she was working in a shearing shed where Norm was shearing, to view the farm and its house.

The house had been the domicile of stray sheep during the hiatus between owners, and the story goes that, showing her the abandoned house, he said "what do you reckon?", which she knew was a formal proposal, and which she accepted.

Humour was fairly common in those days, with Heather's father Jack later going blind, so he would always attend the Bencubbin Show with his guide dog, collecting for charity.

He was asked once what had caused his blindness, and he responded "staring at the sky looking for rain at north Mukinbudin in September"

Humour could also be found on the Bates' side, with Bunny once being asked whether he went to Perth often, to which he responded, "No need, they have a pub in Bencubbin".

The north fascinated Norm and his family, so he designed a caravan to fit on the back of his Landcruiser ute, allowing them to trek around the station country each year in comfort.

They later bought Bimbijy station north of them, turning it into a tourist station under Bunny's management.

One local pondered how Norm had time to run a farm, shear sheep and still be able to carry on his hobby and passion with old machinery.

He couldn't answer his own question, but more than 1000 people at the sale were grateful that Norm found the time, which allowed him to leave his wonderful legacy.

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