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Tractor collection pulls crowd to Ulen farmstead

Daryll Huwe of New York Mills, Minn., looks over a line of tractors for sale Thursday on the Mikulecky farm near Ulen, Minn. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

ULEN, Minn. - Bill Johnson, a retired farmer and now a collector of antique tractors, showed up for the Robert Mikulecky farm auction here Thursday without a trailer.

He wasn't really sure he intended to buy something.

But buy something he did.

Johnson's winning bid of $52,000 for a 1924 Model N Waterloo Boy tractor prompted congratulations all around, and many pats on the back.

Johnson hinted he might feel the need to recall such affirmation later, when he was back in Leonard, N.D.

"I hate to come home and tell my wife what I bought," he said, his smile indicating his spouse was perhaps no stranger to surprises.

Johnson's new old tractor was one of about 150 up for sale Thursday, the first of a two-day auction of antique farm equipment collected by Robert Mikulecky and one of his late brothers, Frank.

Robert, Frank and another brother, George, farmed in the Ulen area from the early 1940s until they retired.

"They worked like fools. They had chickens, and they had hogs; they had beef, and they had dairy," said Todd Mikulecky, the son of the late George Mikulecky and nephew of Robert.

When the brothers got tired of working so hard, the first things to go were the hogs, Todd Mikulecky said.

The chickens went next, followed by the dairy cattle and - finally - the beef cattle.

The collecting, much of which was done in the 1970s, started after the brothers stopped farming.

"When the cows left, the tractors came in," said Todd Mikulecky, who helped organize the auction and who was there Thursday morning with his wife, Lois.

Both said the collection was very important to Robert Mikulecky, now 88 and living in an assisted-living facility in Ulen.

Watching a lifetime of collecting disappear couldn't be easy for her uncle-in-law, Lois Mikulecky said.

"It's going to be a very tough day for him," she said.

Robert Mikulecky spent much of Wednesday watching auction preparations, but he wasn't there for the auction's start Thursday.

He was expected later, however.

Not that spotting him would be simple.

With hundreds of potential buyers and the simply curious milling around, the farmstead resembled a day at the steam threshers reunion held near Rollag each Labor Day weekend.

Making the connection even stronger were trailers used to shuttle people from parking areas in nearby fields to the Mikulecky farmstead; many were on loan from the steam threshers.

Colleen Seifert, wife of Loren Seifert, the managing auctioneer for the sale, described the two-day auction as out of the ordinary.

"We have never had an auction of this quality. This is an amazing, historic event," she said.

Among those watching the activity Thursday was David Mikulecky, the son of the late Stanley Mikulecky and one of Robert Mikulecky's nephews.

He said the sale of the old tractors was a major life event for his uncle.

"It's like saying goodbye to your kids. He worked a long time to put this stuff together, and it's really gotta be tough to see it go," David Mikulecky said, adding he had fond memories of visiting his uncle's farm as a boy.

"Robert was a very well-liked uncle," he said. "Being a single bachelor, all the cousins were his kids."