One of the high points of the year, for me, is getting together with Jerry Toews to check out the vehicles that will be auctioned at the yearly Kansas Mennonite Relief Sale at the state fairgrounds in Hutchinson.
The event, coming up April 17-18, will be the 47th annual sale, and we have been doing vehicle highlights for the last several years. Good folks in various Mennonite communities always seem to find great old tractors, trucks and cars that they no longer need and offer them up for the general auction, where lively bidding ensues.
The proceeds provide aid to more than 55 countries around the world.
Of course there are other attractions, like the amazing quilt auction, where dozens of beautiful handmade quilts are sold to the highest bidders, beautifully handcrafted furniture, and the fantastic array of homemade German, Russian and Swiss Mennonite foods offered to those who often spend an entire day at the event.
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But for me it’s always been first, and foremost, about the old machines, many of them true barn finds. And about getting to spend time with Jerry, who searches them out, cleans them up and gets them running in time for the auction.
“Usually, we have more tractors than vehicles, but this year, it’s the other way around,” he said as he gave me a walking tour of the vehicles. “We have three cars, two trucks and two tractors.”
Jerry was off washing one of the cars when I arrived at his place, so I made myself at home, wandering around, snapping photos of the various vehicles on a cool, misty Monday morning. And then I heard him coming down the driveway, the distinctive sound of a VW flat four engine accompanying him as he rolled up in a still-damp, brilliant red 1970 Karman Ghia coupe.
We exchanged greetings and Jerry, in his usual low-key but enthusiastic way, proceeded to tell me the background story of the Karman Ghia as he wiped it down with a chamois.
“It was donated by Charlie Claassen of Liberty, Mo.,” he said. “His dad, Ted Claassen, went over specifically to the factory in Germany, because he wanted a special paint job on it. This wasn’t a factory color.
“He brought it back to America and carpeted his garage. The car was lovingly stored in that garage for many years. It’s only got 56,020 miles on it. Isn’t it a beauty?” Toews said. The Karman has received one repaint, but is otherwise all original, right down to the unusual electronic clutch shift setup, a feature that the factory soon learned wasn’t a selling point for the car and dropped from the option list.
The other car that grabbed my interest was a 1950 Studebaker Land Cruiser 4-door sedan, in original gray paint, showing 58,000 original miles on its odometer, which is housed in a very ornate dashboard. Barbara Snyder of Hutchinson donated the bullet-nosed Stude to the cause.
Jerry hopped behind the beautiful steering wheel and fired up the Stude.
“It’s got the flathead 6-cylinder engine, which was rebuilt before it was put away,” he said. “It’s a three-speed with overdrive and it all works. You run it up to 30 miles an hour, let off on the gas and it shifts right into overdrive. It purrs like a kitten,” he observed.
We went on to discuss the old green ’51 Ford half-ton pickup donated by Clark & Anna Marie Wiebe of Newton, a survivor of 67,000 miles of farm use, powered by a trusty flathead 6-cylinder engine. And the ’48 Ford F-4 grain truck with a metal-floored lift box and a mysterious Mercury flathead V-8 engine under the hood, which seemed to have been made in Canada.
“It was probably sold brand new in Hillsboro … donated by Herb and Pat Bartel of Hillsboro, so it hasn’t moved too far in all those years,” Toews said. The final car to be auctioned is a massive 1962 Cadillac 4-door hardtop donated by Russell Stucky of Moundridge, a complete running car in need of restoration.
That only left the tractors, which I figured were Jerry’s favorites. I photographed the 1950 John Deere M, a small two-cylinder tractor, inside Jerry’s big tractor shed. The sale flyer indicates it would be perfect for teaching youngsters how to operate a tractor in the field. David Duerksen of Newton provided this tractor for the auction.
Toews bustled about, setting the switch, turning on the fuel and applying the choke on a beautifully restored 1945 IHC Farmall H, before grabbing the crank to give it a spin.
“It should start right up,” he said. And sure enough, it did, so he maneuvered it out of the shed into the sunlight for a better photo op. The grin on his face confirmed my suspicion that it the tractors were what really got Jerry revved up.
“It is very nice, mechanically,” he said. The Farmall came to the auction via an anonymous donor.
We went inside the house following the photo session and sat at the big oak table with Jerry’s wife, Leann. We talked about all kind of things, not just the auction, and it was good to catch up with them, as always, since there will be little time for chat at the auction, where they are both very busy.
So if you’re looking for a fun way to spend a day, or two, head over to Hutchinson next Friday and/or Saturday. The cars, trucks and tractors will sell roughly between 1-2 p.m. on Saturday. You can find more complete details on the various auctions and events at www.kansas.mccsale.org.
Reach Mike Berry at firstname.lastname@example.org.