On the vast, open desert east of Yuma, Ariz., sit three metal buildings under the granite peak known as Castle Dome Mountain. Inside those unassuming structures lies what might be among one of the finest private farm equipment collections ever assembled.
Dubbed the Dome Valley Museum because of its proximity to that impressive mountain, the museum is the life-long dream of Larry Weber. A former farmer born and raised near Princeton, Minn., Larry moved west nearly 20 years ago. Although he left the farm, Larry never lost his love for farm machines and implements. The museum is Larry's showcase, a shrine-like sanctuary where old iron finds a final home.
Far from merely a place to put equipment out to pasture, the museum holds a treasure trove of rare and unusual farm machines. From a special-order Farmall Model 400 Hi-Clear to one-of-a-kind stationary engines, the museum contains aisles of iron made by nearly every manufacturer imaginable.
'What we've done is quite different,' the modest, 57-year-old collector explains. 'We've got a little bit of everything.'
The museum opened in February 2002 and began as a place to store some of Larry's numerous tractors, engines and implements that he'd amassed through the years. Larry also owns Weber Implement, a Yuma-based business that sells late-model, used farm equipment. When the business's lot filled with vintage tractors and other farm equipment, Larry bought the 10-acre museum site and shifted the bulk of his collection there. Only a year after the museum's inception, thousands of visitors have passed through its gates - 2,800 in the first month alone -and Larry expects that number will grow along with his ever-expanding collection.
One visitor, Dennis Miller from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, says he's been to the museum seven times since it opened, and he always brings guests who visit the snowbird. 'This is the greatest thing you'll ever see,' Dennis declares about Larry's museum. 'He's always improving it, and even people who don't really like farm equipment can enjoy his collection.'
The impressive collection includes 775 tractors, both restored and unrestored, as well as stationary engines and dozens of implements from hay rakes to harrows. The machines in Larry's collection came from across North America, including Canada and Mexico - he's even purchased a few from Europe. With summer temperatures in southern Arizona reaching 120 degrees in the shade, Larry takes a few months off each summer to travel. A self-described tractor hunter, Larry is always on the prowl for the next piece destined for the museum.
Unlike some collectors, Larry doesn't factor a machine's worth into the equation when he buys it. 'It just depends on how I feel that day,' Larry says.
With a never-ending passion for old iron coupled with a desire to collect, it's no wonder that Larry's collection grows by the day. 'The other day I sold five tractors and bought six,' he adds with a chuckle.'
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