What a strange sensation driving by Lanford Tractor Equipment today and seeing an empty lot. All those rows of shiny orange Kubotas — gone. All that amassed equipment set out for auction — gone. Nothing but a banner on the fence announcing “Kubota has moved to Del Valle.”
After 66 years, this Austin Ag institution has exited the tractor business. Two Saturdays ago, it put on one of the biggest auctions in recent memory.
Nothing makes a farmer more happy than getting a deal, especially when it isn’t at the expense of another farmer dying or going bankrupt. A throng of tough-built men (I didn’t see a single female bidder) wagered on everything from backhoes to bolts as two teams of auctioneers helped them part with their money.
I had bought my first new tractor at Lanford, had taken it in for repairs and gotten to know its people, like co-owner Jerry Rutledge, who entertained me with stories about picking acres of okra as a kid.
“Vegetables,” he laughed, “that’s a hard way to make a living.”
So is selling tractors, especially in times of drought. Not weather but the natural aging of a family business is what ultimately closed the double-wide gates at Bolm Road. A brand new Kubota dealership has just opened up on US 71 and many of the Lanford employees — and all those shiny tractors –have a new home there.
I can vaguely remember my first auction. I lived in the heart of PA Dutch Country and my parents went regularly to these country outings looking for great furniture deals. One piece was an old string bed with an ornate headboard crowned with a bust of George Washington. They bought it for a dollar and I slept on it until I left home for college. The bed often creaked in the middle of the night, even when I lay completely still. Ghost of its previous owner, I imagined, or old George trying to keep me awake.
My most memorable auction, in famed Lancaster County, was an impromptu diversion to a family reunion. Erin and I had driven up from Atlanta, with two young kids in the car, and we thought it would be fun just to look around. Like watching the reality show Breaking Amish, we found men (again) in straw hats and black suspenders eyeing the forbidden fruit of the English — toasters, window ACs, and other gadgets with plugs. Then it was their turn to gawk at us as we tried to strap a ’50s Schwinn bike and a 100-pound RCA Victrola on the roof.
I went to the Lanford auction with a strict budget (at Erin’s insistence) and a specific need – a five-foot shredder for the river farm. I arrived early and had listened to three hours of “cattle rattle” before a score of us hovered over item No. 271.
“Here we have a five-foot Rhino mower, like brand new,” the auctioneer began. “500 bid, now 50, will you give me 50. 550 bid, will you give me 6?”
My hand shot up along with two others. “Do we have $650?”. Now only two were standing. “Do I hear 700?” My heart was pumping fast. How high was I going to go? My hand seemed disconnected to my brain and shot up again. “Seven hundred now, will you give me 50?” The old farmer across from me must have seen I was intent on taking this Rhino home. “Going once…Going Twice…!Sold”
It was mine at an even $700.
New, these mowers sell for more than twice that amount. I knew because a bidder next to me had pulled it up on his smartphone a minute earlier. Wondering if I had overlooked some obvious flaw, I called out to Jerry as he walked past.
“Did I get a deal or what?”
He assured me I did.
One more happy farmer.
The auction continued late into the evening. Early Sunday morning trucks and trailers pulled into Lanford one last time. So much stuff — collected and tagged and haggled over — now dispersed across the state.
The Lanford family has had a long run since brothers Rex and Don set up shop shortly after World War II. They made a lot of farmers happy – last Saturday and the last couple hundred before that. Now the show is over; the showplace empty.
I haven’t been to the new Kubota dealership yet. I’m still adjusting to the loss of orange and that emptiness on the Lanford lot. It’s like a field of pumpkins have been harvested and the farmer in me is expecting something to grow back in it’s place. It will, eventually – a car dealership or high rise or hotel. But neat rows of tractors, no.
Once the country gets pushed out of the city, it rarely returns.