MARION – The legacy of Virgil Litke of rural Marion will be making an international debut at auction July 23-24. The auction will feature a wide range of farming memorabilia and equipment from a collection curated by Virgil Litke. The auction is being hosted by his children, Glenn Litke, Brenda Jordan and Sid Litke. Glenn Litke gave The Free Press a tour of the auction, which ranges from cast iron toys to monumental, fully restored turn of the century tractors.
“My dad liked to have his hands greasy. I like to have my hands greasy too,” said Glenn Litke, walking into a machine shop filled with carefully curated and now categorized horse-drawn farming equipment seats.
Litke shared a passion for farming with his father, and an enthusiasm for the heritage and evolution of agriculture, even while pursuing a 20-year career as a collegiate voice and choral music instructor.
Litke said he got “the bug” for antique farm equipment from his father, and the pair bonded over finding rare and unique items to add to the now family collection.
“All parents are educators, whether they like it or not. You can go through life existing one day at a time and not worried about what happened 10 years ago, a generation ago or 500 years ago. That kid is going to be very ignorant and uninformed and miss out on a lot of life,” said Litke.
Litke’s father had a passion for preserving history to tell the story of farming in the United States, from humble horse drawn plows and cast iron seats to massive steam engines, automobiles and agricultural company memorabilia.
“Dad recognized that, if we don’t preserve some of this and collect some of this, not only will my kids’ and family – like me – wouldn’t know we farmed with horses, or had tractors without rubber tires, or without a starter and you had to crank them,” he said.
Litke added, his father’s philosophy of preserving history meant his interests, even in retirement, were less than typical.
“It becomes a hobby and interesting thing to do instead of playing golf. Now, there’s nothing wrong with playing golf, but you can spend your whole life chasing a little ball around, trying to make it go in the hole, and people get their kicks out of that if that’s where their friendships are. For Dad, it wasn’t chasing a little ball around and seeing if he can make it go in the hole,” said Litke.
Instead, Virgil combed auctions, antique dealers and built relationships with people around the nation to collect items like a four-foot tall Case Eagle, an extensive memorabilia watch fob collection, hundreds of seats and dozens of horse drawn and steam powered equipment.
One item, Litke said, that is a particularly meaningful piece of sale is a Minneapolis Return Flue steam engine. The steam engine was rescued from a riverbed by Richard Wall, of Hillsboro and a close friend of Litke’s. Litke said Wall heard tale, “about a steam engine, for sport, that was driven off a cliff and into a riverbank to watch it break apart. This was in the 30s or 40s. He found where it was in the riverbank and undertook resurrecting and rescuing a steam engine.”
The engine, boiler, wheels, crank, pieces of the drivetrain and differential were all resurrected from the muddy banks and transported to the Wall farm. Later, when Wall was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder, he contacted Litke to take the machine, which was still in pieces.
Litke acquired the engine in 2005, and had several offers to purchase the Minneapolis Return Flue machine, which he said “is a rare bird” but refused the offers.
“Now, with my Dad’s auction, I thought there would be no better time,” said Litke.
In honor of Wall and their friendship based on a shared love of machinery and music, proceeds from the sale of the Minneapolis will be donated to Tabor College.
While parsing through the collection, Litke said the strong relationship between himself and his siblings, and the lessons and values handed down from his parents.
“We handle our challenges in life because we know what our parents and grandparents went through before. We can handle it because we’re not alone; it’s happened before us and we’re going to get through it,” he said.