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Love of engines lead to serious 50-year collection
By Eric C. Rodenberg

MANKATO, Minn. – In the fall of 1956, Donald “Red” Goodburn, with a song in his heart and a brand new $29.95 Sears toolbox, began his first day of work as for a local trucking company.

It was the first job for the 18-year-old farm boy from nearby Madelia. Goodburn had no working knowledge of combustible engines. His only credentials were a good work ethic and some mechanical aptitude.

Generally, he would arrive to work at noon on Monday and work until all his tasks were done for the day. “I was just a flunky,” Goodburn now recalls, but there was much to keep him busy. Many weeks, Goodburn went home on Wednesday evenings after having already accumulated 40 hours of work.

“The winter of ’56, I took apart an old Cummins, they called it a 165,” Goodburn recalls. “I put new sleeves, pistons, new rod bearings and checked the mains. We put it altogether in the spring of “57, set it in a truck and it ran like a million bucks. I was a farm boy, but (following his mechanical success), I was hooked on Cummins.

By the following year, the owner of the trucking company saw potential in Goodburn and got him accepted into a special program at the Cummins Columbus, Ind., headquarters. “It was a great opportunity,” he says. “There were only six in the class, we had a good teacher and we learned how to completely tear an engine down and put it back together.”

Returning to Mankato, Goodburn put his new skills to work. He ultimately became the foreman of another trucking company’s shop where, often working from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. to build the shop’s customer base. When he began, he supervised five mechanics. Within two years, the shop had enough work for 30 mechanics and had expanded the business.

By the early 1970s, Goodburn found the “seed” of what ultimately turned into a collection of rare and, perhaps, one-of-a-kind antique engines. “I traveled to Waterloo, Iowa, to attend a consignment auction,” he says, and there I purchased a 1 ½ horsepower John Deere engine on an original tin cart for $37.50. As a child this is the type of engine my parents owned to run the grain elevator on the family farm.”

The fuse was lit. From there, Goodburn bought, traded, sold and refurbished several gas engines and became an early life member of the Le Sueur County Pioneer Power, which currently boasts about 500 members.

The unique combination of Goodburn’s technical knowledge, experience and nearly 50 years of collecting has made his name well-known throughout the antique gas and diesel engine collecting community.

Today, the Goodburn collection is comprised of 40 diesel and 200 gas engines, including late 19th century English engines, a rare diesel boat motor with a low serial number and an ultra-rare Cummins engine which many collectors believed at one point to have never been manufactured.

The latter – a 4-horsepower engine – was contested by the late Lotus Alexander, whose father worked at the Columbus plant. Checking the company archives, Alexander concluded the engine was never made.

Nonetheless curious, he drove up to Minnesota from southern Indiana to look at the engine, concluding that – despite no paperwork on the production – at least one 4-horsepower engine was made by Cummins. And, to anyone’s knowledge, the only such engine made was owned by Red Goodburn.

Last fall, the Goodburn family displayed 12 of their best engines at the Le Sueur County Pioneer Power show celebrating the 40 years that Goodburn and his wife, Marcy, have been members of the organization. Many of the most seasoned collectors were impressed with the family display.

Today, Goodburn’s once fiery red hair has turned a fluffy snow-colored white (“It’s thinned some,” he quips, “but I’ve still got about 80 percent of my hair). Now, at 82 years old, the cold Minnesota winters in which he used “to play with my engines” in the frigid barns and sheds on the Goodburn farm has lost much of its charm.

“I told my three sons that after I kicked the bucket, take all this stuff to auction and sell it,” Goodburn said. But after seeing a large estate auction conducted last fall in the neighborhood by Maring Auctions and Henslin Auction, the family decided it was time to sell.

Henslin and Maring auction companies, both founded in the 1980s, have routinely worked together on large auctions, both in Minnesota and throughout other parts of the country.

“Matt (Maring) and I have worked back and forth for years,” Allen Henslin, owner of Henslin Auction, says. “We’re really good family friends and work well together.”

Maring Auction is in Kenyon, Minn.; and Henslin Auction Auctions is headquartered in Bird Island, Minn. About 900 lots will be sold during the two-day auction.

Part 1 of the Goodburn Collection is comprised of more than 500 lots of unique engine parts and supplies, toys, pulleys, magnetos, tools and other related engine items. It will be a timed online auction only, beginning on May 6 at noon and ending May 14 at 5 p.m.

The second day of auction will be May 16, beginning at 9 a.m. This will be a live online only auction, featuring more than 300 antique gas and diesel hit and miss engines. Not only will Cummins engines be represented at the auction, but also a myriad of other brands, including around 35 John Deere engines.

Previews for both auctions will be at 50803 421st Avenue in North Mankato. The second auction was originally scheduled as a live auction; however, the Covid-19 cancelled out any live participation.

Henslin said he and Maring have received calls from all over the United States and overseas from collectors interested in the auction. “Both auction companies have contacts throughout Europe, New Zealand, Australia, in addition to throughout the United States, and the Goodburns thought we would be a good fit for both buyers and sellers.”

Meanwhile, Red Goodburn has mixed feelings about disseminating his collection. He is keeping a few pieces for sentimental reasons. “It’s been a terrific ride,” he says. “We made a lot of great friends and it’s been a great hobby. I’m just grateful that these items will find a good home, and the history of these early modern-day miracles are being preserved.”

Contact: (320) 365-4120

(507) 789-5421

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