They started by taking his wheels and parts. Then they took his toys and models. Finally, after working at it all day, a crowd of about 1,500 took away nearly everything Joe Joyce had built and collected over 17 years.
And he loved every minute of it.
Joyce put his collection of about 60 working tractors - and countless spare parts and toy models - on the auction block in Emmetsburg in northwest Iowa in July. Many of the tractors he had built from scratch.
Even though the auction broke up his collection and signaled the end of a hobby nearly two decades old, Joe said he wasn't upset to see it all go.
"I had the fun of building and buying them, and I'm going to have the fun of selling them," he said.
The sale attracted bidders and spectators from as far away as Denmark and Sweden, and from almost every state.
Joyce, who was raised on a farm near Emmetsburg, owns five Joyce I.G.A. supermarkets. But he still loves farming, and especially tractors.
"As they say, you can take the boy out of the farm, but it's hard to get the farm out of the boy," he said. "I just loved being out in the field working with tractors."
But faced with health problems and the loss of some storage space, Joe decided to sell all but two tractors.
His wife, Darlene, had mixed emotions about selling what has been so important to her husband. She said just because he is ending one hobby doesn't mean he will be idle.
"He has to stay busy," she said. "He has things in the back of his mind that he hasn't told me yet. I'm sure it won't take too long for him to fill up those sheds."
But one person's loss is another's gain. The sale included rare tractors that attracted a lot of attention. A John Deere Model P - one of only 20 in existence - was up for sale, as was a 1920 Waterloo Boy, which was the tractor expected to bring the most money.
Gilbert Chestney, a collector from Ann Arbor, Mich., said he was interested in both of those tractors, among others.
But Chestney was disappointed to learn that bidders from around the world came for the sale. "They'll pay top dollar - whatever it takes," Chestney said.
Others who happened to be in the area couldn't stay away. Gary Christenson, Bismarck, N.D., was in Sioux Falls on business. He heard about the sale and came to shop. Two hours into the sale, he owned a gas tank and was shopping for wheels. Reluctantly, he said he would pass on the larger purchases.
"I'm not going to take a tractor," he said. "I didn't bring a trailer on purpose." FC
Chris Grenz is a reporter/photographer for the Des Moines Register, where this article originally appeared.