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Rare Auburn wagon among farm, home items up for bid

September 30, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - In 26 years in the auction business, George Lemaster said he has never seen anything like it.

During a two-day auction starting Friday, Lemaster will oversee the sale of a rare collection of farm and home implements that give a peek into life during the 1800s and 1900s.

The collection is the work of Martinsburg resident Olin Pryor, who started acquiring the items in about 1975.

"I knew when I retired, I needed some kind of hobby," said Pryor, who retired from General Motors in Martinsburg in 1989.

Pryor said he got the idea to collect old farm equipment after thinking about the years he worked on a farm in Belleville, W.Va., during the Great Depression.

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He began attending auctions in Ohio, Virginia, Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania and North Carolina to buy items. Some were bought locally.

One of the more unique items is a horse wagon, which Pryor bought from a man near Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

It was made by The Auburn Wagon Co., which was off East Race Street in Martinsburg, where Martin Distributing Co. is currently, Pryor said.

Pryor kept meticulous records on the items, including advertisements and catalogs. Many are sealed in plastic bags and are stored with the equipment.

A 1906 catalog from The Auburn Wagon Co. shows a picture of the plant, which consisted of a large building surrounded by a cluster of other buildings. Pryor said the plant existed in the 1800s and probably quit making wagons about 1923.

Pryor's Auburn wagon sports red wheels and a green box. The Auburn Wagon Co. made a variety of wagons and many were sold to buyers in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, said Harold Davis, a friend of Pryor's.

Pryor's collection is jammed into two buildings along W.Va. 9 west of the intersection with Welltown Road. The auction will start at the buildings at 9 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Pryor said he concentrated on buying horse-powered items that were popular before the invention of gas engines.

There's a horse-powered hay baler and a horse treadmill. The horse treadmill looks sort of like a small wagon. The horse was put inside, where it walked along wooden steps, which in turn powered ... well, whatever, according to Davis.

Davis said Pryor tells of a woman who used a horse treadmill to power her sewing machine. A shaft extended from the treadmill, which went into the woman's house and powered the machine, Davis said.

Pryor has a picture of a horse treadmill being used to operate a cream separator.

Pryor's collection includes a horse-powered lawn mower, another horse wagon which was made in Middleway, W.Va., and several horse-drawn sleighs.

The rest of the items run the gamut.

As Davis sorted through items at the back of one of the buildings, he pulled out a "cooling board."

People were placed on the board when they died to prepare them for burial, Davis said

"They laid you on that to cool you out," he said.

There is the "Light Heater Stove" which was made in Wheeling, W.Va. The mechanism, which has a date of 1919 stamped on it, consists of three kerosene lamps lined up in a heater box. It was designed to give off light, as well as heat.

A cane hung from one end of the Auburn wagon.

But this is no ordinary cane.

With the flip of a metal cap, the user could pull out a hand measuring stick. The breadth of the human palm was once used to measure the height of horses.

One of the buildings has two levels inside, and the place is full of kerosene lamps, old feed sacks, egg baskets, hand saws, pulleys and other items.

"I've never seen anything like this, ever," Lemaster said.

Lemaster said he did not make any special preparations for the sale, such as researching the value of the items.

"I'm going by the value of what he paid for them," Lemaster said.

For the Auburn wagon, Lemaster said he will probably try to start the bidding at $5,000 or $6,000.

Pryor, 74, said he is selling the collection because of poor health.

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