Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Antique auction gathers farm machinery, friends

By Mike DuPre'
Gazette Staff

Ron Mair seems to have collected as many friends as pieces of antique farm machinery.

Saturday, the former farmer and General Motors retiree was selling some 350 antiques at auction. The friends kept ambling up to say hello and share a moment on a bright, crisp fall day.

Ole Berg drove in from Jackson County.

"We broke horses together years ago. I'm an antique myself," said Berg, who at 78 is five years younger than Mair.

They worked together at the GM plant, and like Mair, Berg buys and sells antique machinery. Berg started farming after he retired.

Mair farmed while still working in the factory.

At his home on Mineral Point Road west of Janesville, Mair looked down the hill toward the rows of machinery being auctioned by Bill Perkins of Avalon.

"I've lived in this neighborhood for 60 years. I've lived here for 30 years," Mair said. "I've been around horses all my life, and this is the stuff I was born and raised with. I've been collecting for 50 years."

He sold most of the 160 acres he once farmed-"I used to milk cows. That's when I had a few kids at home."-and still keeps half a dozen Belgian draft horses on the remaining 53 acres. Parade watchers in the area have seen Mair and one of his two-horse teams.

Mair and his late wife, Gale, raised five children. Char Ceder, his partner of 29 years, brought her four children into the family.

With a family that size, it's no wonder that Mair couldn't be exact about subsequent generations: "19 or 20 grandkids, about 10 great-grand."

Wearing beards, denim suits and straw hats, several Amish men were at the auction. Most weren't there to buy old machinery, said one of them, Lester Detweiler of rural Brodhead.

They were there to see and socialize with old friends, he said.

"He and his wife always came and helped us with consignment sales for Clearview School north of Brodhead," Detweiler said.

Most folks were there to buy-even if they didn't know what they would do with their purchases.

With a self-professed "soft spot for farm stuff," Bob Kolton of Indian Creek, Ill., pushed away a manual lawnmower with rusty blades and a wood handle.

"For five bucks, I couldn't pass it up," he said. "I'll put it in the shed with the other old stuff."

Dale Shorter was more pragmatic. He and his family recently moved to a 5-acre place outside Whitewater, where they have a dairy cow.

"We priced milk strainers. New, they sell for about $300. There's one here, and if I can pick it up for $100, I will," said Shorter, who also is a roofer in Janesville.

Don Wolter of Brodhead stopped to show Mair one of his newfound prizes, an iron hay carrier made at the Harris Ace Hardware store in Janesville in about 1900.

Asked why he bought it and what he would do with it, Wolter replied: "Just to have it. … Hide it from my wife."

When Wolter said he paid $10 or $12 for the antique, Mair let out a surprised "No!" then added: "I'd say it's worth about $50. In my lifetime, I only found two or three of them."

But in his lifetime, Mair has found far more friends.

It's what you'd expect from a World War II Navy veteran who said of his antique trade:

"I never sold anything that I couldn't go back and talk to the guy."