Antique tool brings $15,000 in York auction

Courtesy photo - The TR590 wrench and related materials that sold at auction in York for $15,000.

YORK — Is the TR590 the Holy Grail of collector wrenches as some believe? Given the price one brought at auction recently in York the answer is probably a yes.

The annual antique wrench auction at the City Auditorium presented the opportunity to buy one of only seven or eight TR590 John Deere wrenches known to exist. For many it was a genuine treat just to watch it sell. For Norm Green Auction and Realty it was a chance to sell a historical treasure.

In this case, to sell it for a heart-palpitating $15,000. Remarkably, the last known private sale brought even more at $20,000.

The very special wrench came with the experimental Dain all-wheel-drive, four cylinder, three-wheel tractor manufactured by John Deere in 1918-19 under the supervision of Joseph Dain, Jr. Just 100 of the machines were made and sold, primarily in the Dakotas, before the project was abandoned in favor of the John Deere Model D tractors.

Almost every one of Dain’s one-year-wonder tractors were re-purchased by John Deere and destroyed so the company would not have to support repairs and maintain parts for an unsuccessful machine.

The wrench sold in York came with a custom case as well as a reprint of the instruction book and repair manual for the tractor itself. The buyer also obtained a photo of the one known complete tractor remaining as well as a key chain replica of the wrench and other literature.

Condition was rated as Good++ with some light pitting. The tool was given a 10 for rarity, a 10 for desirability and an 8 for condition for a score of 28 out of a possible 30.

Successful bidder at $15,000 was D. Wayne Dill of Harrington, Del. He was among auction attendees from as many as 14 states.

Speaking Tuesday by phone from his home in Harrington, Dill said buying that particular wrench “was my primary objective for making the trip” of 1,434 miles one way.

He said the Dain tractors were gathered up by the manufacturer after it was decided not to produce them anymore. He said dynamite was said to have been planted in the transmissions so they could be blown up before being disposed of in a body of water somewhere in the Dakotas.

“To our knowledge only one tractor survived and a piece of another.”

A man restored it, showed it until his death after which John Deere bought it back.

Dill said he believes eight complete wrenches exist, plus one that’s broken. He knows where most are to be found, too. He specializes in John Deer wrenches, oil cans, cast iron seats and implement tool boxes. He also produces a list of specific John Deere collector items that includes some 630 pieces.

The purchase, said Dill, was equal parts investment and passion for history. It was his first trip to York and, if his wife has her way, his last to drive it alone.

“My wife says if I go back again I’m going to fly,” he said. “I wanted to see that part of the country, which I did,” related the 69-year-old Delaware farmer who raises corn, wheat and soybeans.

“I’m in my shop right now,” he said during the phone call, “working on a planter.”

On the way home from York he made a loop through Kansas and Missouri. What did a New Englander think of the Midwest on his first visit ever?

“When you cross the Mississippi River it’s a whole new culture out there,” he said. “You could buy gas without pre-paying” and people were “absolutely as courteous as can be.”

When the wrench came to the block in York, Ross Ronne of Norm Green said the auctioneer started by asking if anyone would bid $2.50. To the surprise of no one, hands went up everywhere. That moment of mirth permitted one and all to say, in complete truth, that they once cast a bid on the Queen Mother of wrenches. The opening bid was all for fun, though, since an offer was in hand for $5,000 before the auction began.

“It went from $5,000 to $15,000 in about five minutes,” said Ronne. The bid price went up $1,000 at a time until the price hit $14,000.

The day included a bit of wrench cloak and dagger too, apparently.

Ronne and Dill both said it’s common knowledge a second model of the same wrench sold that day in York. A man who owned two of the rare wrenches stood quietly while the one on the auction block sold so as not to interfere with the bidding. Later he contacted the bidder who lost out to Dill. That resulted in a second sale — this time in the parking lot — of $14,000 for one of the two.

That report is unofficial, but no one doubts its authenticity. The result is $29,000 paid for just two wrenches in a single day at York.

Over two days, said Ronne, some 975 wrenches were sold. Some two-thirds of them, he said, were from the collection of Maine resident Don Erving.

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