Keeping track of record-setting sales of antique John Deere tractors? Keep an eraser handy. Prices continue to rise, as proven by the recent sale of a 630 All-Fuel Hi-Crop for $175,000. That follows the November sale of an experimental 'GP' Wide-Tread for $170,000, and a 630 Gas Hi-Crop for $141,000 in 2000.
Jim Mills, the new owner of the 630 All-Fuel, says the tractor is the centerpiece of his collection, which consists of John Deere and IH Hi-Crops ('I grew up on International,' he says.). Jim is relatively new to the antique tractor hobby, but he's got it bad. 'I've been working on my collection for a couple of years,' he says. 'I just fell in love with the John Deere Hi-Crop. These tractors are as addictive as anything you can get.'
Mills' 630 All-Fuel Hi-Crop is one of three built; one of two known to exist. Of the 10 630 Gas Hi-Crops known to exist, nine are accounted for; of the three LP models built, two are accounted for.
When this 630 first surfaced, though, it looked more like a mutt than a pedigreed show dog. 'It was a mess,' says Jerry Holmes, Janesville, Minn. Jerry and his friend, the late Ron Coy, partners on several tractor projects, brought the tractor back from Florida after another friend passed along the lead. In March, Jerry and Coy's wife, Pat, sold the tractor to Mills in a transaction conducted by the Moline Tractor & Plow Co., where several consigned tractors are on display.
The 630 had been abandoned along a Florida canal; Jerry and Ron were thrilled to add it to their Hi-Crop collection. Only later did they discover what they'd found. 'It was a fluke,' Jerry says. 'We had no idea it was rare.'
Restoration was completed in 1992. 'Ron was the mechanic; he was phenomenal at taking gears apart,' Jerry says. 'I'm the nitpicker, making sure the bolts all match.' They were able to save the engine block and the head. 'Those were important because they had the 'All Fuel' numbers,' Jerry says. 'We did considerable work to recondition the engine. We saved one shaft and two gears out of the transmission. We put in new bearings, of course, and the same in the rear end.'
Jerry and Ron got their start with Hi-Crops at the first Two-Cylinder Expo, where they met Dick McMurray, a 2-cylinder fan who became their mentor. That winter, the Coys visited the McMurrays in Florida, where they hit the 2-cylinder jackpot. 'I can't tell you how many semi-loads we brought back over the years,' Pat says. The Florida connection fueled the fire. 'They used to kid around about finding a nursing home that had a shop where they could work on old tractors,' Pat recalls.
Jim Mills understands that kind of passion. 'One reason I collect Hi-Crops is self-preservation,' he says. 'You have to limit yourself, or the next thing you know, you have 400 tractors.' He doesn't expect prices to slow anytime soon. 'In 10 years, people will wish they'd bought now, 'when the prices were lower'.'
It appears that values for all John Deere collectibles - from pocket ledgers to tractors - are continuing to increase, adds Jeff McManus, manager of the Moline Tractor & Plow Co. 'To coin one of Dennis Polk's more famous sayings, 'A rising tide brings up all boats.' That said, it's comforting to know that, for $500, a 13-year-old kid can still bring an unstyled 'B' out of the fencerow, put it in the garage, and restore it over the winter.'
Chris Visser, the Californian who sold a 630 Gas Hi-Crop for $141,000 in 2000, says he's surprised by recent prices (including an unrestored 630 Gas Hi-Crop that sold for $100,000 early this year in California). 'Since 9-11, you'd think things would be up in the air,' he says, 'but right now, prices are kind of brisk.'
It's all driven by collector interest, and increasing awareness of production numbers. 'There are rarer Hi-Crops than the 630,' he adds, 'but I don't think anything's going to surpass the popularity of the 630.'FC