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Machinery Pete: Generators and Jack Fleck

Agriculture.com Staff 09/24/2009 @ 9:49am

Sold on an auction yesterday, September 23rd, in southeast Michigan was an Onan model 170 WB natural gas generator, in good condition, 170 KW, for $6,000.

Any time I see a generator sold on an auction for a high sale price like this it takes me back to the year 1999. I was 10 years into my odyssey of compiling auction sale price data. Everyone was talking that year about "Y2K" as the calendar year 2000 quickly approached. By summertime 1999 I began to pick up on a distinct trend.

Used generators were selling for big bucks.

Made complete sense. Stories in the newspapers and on TV talked of electrical power grids failing when January 1, 2000 rolled around. Older computers would crash. Chaos with all things electrical.

When I think of that time, summer 1999, I also think of one particular phone call I made. The call was to Jack Fleck of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Fleck was an Iowa farm native (Davenport) who famously defeated Ben Hogan in a playoff to win the 1955 U.S. Open golf tournament. The 1999 U.S. Open was returning to the course where Fleck defeated Hogan, Olympic Club in San Francisco. I had been writing a summer golf column for the Rochester Post-Bulletin newspaper since the mid 1990s and thought it would make an interesting column to track down Jack Fleck and see what he's up to, what he recalled about the 1955 Open.

I reached Fleck at the little golf course he owned and operated in rural Arkansas. We had a nice conversation. Mr. Fleck couldn't have been nicer or more generous with his time. But the reason I recall our phone conversation so vividly 10 years later has nothing to do with golf. The very first thing Mr. Fleck said to me after I explained who I was, a golf columnist with the newspaper in Rochester, Minnesota?

"Son, do you own a generator yet?"

Shows I think just how folks were thinking in the summer of 1999, what was on their minds and definitely why so many bidders at auction were willing to pay big premiums for used generators.

Click on the links below to see auction sale price data I've compiled on various makes of generators over the years. Have some fun and scroll back in the data to the sale prices from 1999. Compare to what they've been selling for since.

The beauty of the auction method of selling is the final price simply reflects what interested buyers were willing to pay for the item on a particular day in a particular place. What's it worth? Boom, the gavel falls and know we all know what its worth. Prices fluctuate up and down for a myriad of reasons.

I think of what I saw with the run up in used generator prices back in 1999 and subsequent drop in prices in 2000 after Y2K proved to be nothing to worry about. Makes me wonder about 2010 for used farm equipment values. We're coming off a period right now of very strong commodity prices. Used equipment values have soared higher and higher on all types of equipment, tractors, combines, heads, grain carts, grain trailers, farm trucks. Folks have been willing and able to pay bigger bucks at auction to acquire what they wanted and needed.

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