While commodities like corn and soybeans are drawing high prices at market, something else in the countryside is drawing top dollar. There’s a boom market for antique tractors. Seventy-eight-year-old Doreen Wonder of Galva started collecting tractors with her husband in 1974 and she’s seen the prices for antique tractors double and, in some cases, triple.
"We had every kind. We had Case and Farmalls and John Deeres and Olivers and Silver King. In 1991, we did sell everything but the Minneapolis-Molines and if we had that collection today…it’d probably knock us over!" Wonder says, with a laugh. Wonder and her husband have retired from farming. Four years ago, the couple sold a rare Minneapolis-Moline model — the U-D-L-X — which featured an enclosed cab and fenders.
"At that time there (were) only — that we knew of — about 20 of them in existence. They were all made in 1938, as far as I know, in Minneapolis," she says. "We sold it for $74,000…The last one we heard of sold for $110,000." Wonder’s a member of a collector’s club and she’s met some of the doctors, lawyers and other professionals who’re buying these rare antique tractors as investments. Glenn Hipnar grew up on a farm, but earned his living on the railroad. He’s been collecting antique tractors for 50 years.
"International, John Deere, Allis Chalmers, Fords — some are a little rare," Hipnar says, gesturing to one of his tractors. "This is my 1936 Silver King." Hipnar’s tractors, in various stages of repair, were recently on the auction block in Shelby, a town in far western Iowa. Lonnie Nixon, an auctioneer from Wakefield, Nebraska, was center stage, taking the bids.
A few years ago, Nixon sold an extremely rare 1913 Case tractor for $150,000. That tractor was recently resold — for a record-setting $400,000. Nixon says the jittery stock market is making tractor investing attractive. And then there are the buyers from overseas who benefit from the weak dollar.
"Anytime you have the big, old tractors, the Europeans will be there," Nixon says. "They buy them and ship them all back to Europe." Duane Sunberg, a farmer from Hamlin, Iowa, owns some rare John Deere tractors and he’s watching this rising market with glee. "As long as it keeps on going up I’m happy," he says. "It makes my collection worth more."