Good Times, Bad Times

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John Deere R
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Antique tractor
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Full-steel-wheeled tractors

Bargains abound right now on the antique tractor market, beckoning newcomers to enter the world of collecting. Those interested in selling their old iron, however, may find that the market for more common tractors is soft right now. No matter which end of the spectrum you’re on, to get the best value when buying or selling, it is important to know the current general values.

One way to learn more about tractor prices before entering the trading fray is to purchase a report on them. The cost of such a guide likely will be more than recovered in a lower purchase price, or a higher selling price, on equipment.

Prices often vary considerably from region to region, and internationally, and they may vary depending on whether one is dealing with an individual or an auction house. Some owners may even change their asking price in response to such random variables as ‘dealing diplomacy,’ what side of bed the owner got up on that morning or the daily farm report.

At auction, final prices occasionally can be surprising too, due to such variables as sparse buyer attendance, the weather or economic conditions.

Bud Panning, a collector/restorer from Bigelow, Mo., says if a collector finds a tractor he wants desperately, or if a seller has to sell for some reason, it can make a lot of difference in the price.

‘It’s like any other kind of antique, with an interested collector often paying more than he expected for a tractor he must have.’

Bud says he thinks that, at auctions in his part of the Midwest, guessing prices beforehand is iffy, at best. He blames the poorer farm economy, resulting in farmer/collectors having less money to spend. Also, some restorers have slowed down on their programs recently because unexpected price dips have occurred at some auctions.

‘Still, rarer or more-famous tractor models continue in strong demand,’ Bud says, ‘while some of the commoner ones have declined. I recently saw a more-common Farmall H in near-mint condition and near-new rubber bring $750 at an auction near here. A year or two ago it might have nearly doubled that amount.’

At the same auction, a John Deere R in very good condition – excellent tin, nice paint, very good tires – and rare for the area only brought $2,200.

‘I thought it would have gone considerably higher.’

Bud also mentions a 1950 Farmall Model C in mint condition that he personally has restored. He says a year ago he could have gotten $2,500 for it versus about $1,500 now, even though he has matching implements that also can be purchased.

Tractor part prices also seem to be somewhat softer, he adds. For example, Farmall H fenders bubbled up to about $350, but now can be found for considerably less.

Glen Brink, a collector who lives near Farragut, Iowa, says he’s seen some lower prices as well.

He cited an Oliver on full-steel wheels that recently sold for only $350 at auction. Full-steel-wheeled tractors are down in value likely, he adds, because they must often be cut down for pavement use and they’re more difficult to drive.

Like Bud, Glen says he thinks the more common tractor types are not moving like they were, ‘but rarer ones will always have a market.’

He says that in addition to private treaty and auction buying, he uses a ‘finder’ or ‘jockey’ to spot good buys across the country. He has dozens of tractors shedded and likes to get them out for inspection by taking them to 13 or more shows annually.

When using a finder, make sure the person is well acquainted with you and your interests, so the fee you pay for his services is well spent. Glen’s finder has found several rarer models, including some he is particularly interested in owning.

‘I think going to auctions is a little better than talking with private individuals,’ Glen says. ‘Get to know your values well before attending an auction and you’ll be better armed.’

Dennis Polk, who annually sells 1,200 to 1,500 tractors at his New Paris, Ind., auction house, says, ‘As the hobby has grown, values across the country have become closer.

Generally, the farther east you go, the higher the prices.’ In addition to auction tractors, Polk sells about 200 privately each year, but he notes, ‘We don’t make the market, we just try to adjust to it.’ He also assembles ‘Polk’s Gold,’ a yearly report on actual tractor sales that is never more than 12 months out of the market.

Dennis says condition is one of the biggest factors in determining final values of individual tractors. He notes the terms ‘repainted’ and ‘restored’ are often confused and many times what is advertised as restored is really only repainted. Among other criteria that affect final values are sales costs. For example, estate auctions generally add 15 percent to the value, regardless of condition.

Two reports and a new reference book are among the market value resources now available to antique tractor collectors. These can serve as starting points for gaining information about values, but current prices are not set in stone and often vary considerably from region to region, and internationally.

Polk’s Gold is a bi-monthly, 50-page, soft-covered auction report. It contains auction prices for tractors, crawlers, implements, toys and other collectibles. Accuracy and up-to-date prices are stressed, according to publisher Dennis Polk. Subscription rates are $24.95 annually in the United States and $30.95 in Canada and other countries. For more information contact Dennis Polk Equipment, Subscription Dept., 72435 SR 15, New Paris, IN 46553; (219) 831-3555; Fax (219) 831-5717; E-mail; Internet

The FA.C.T.’s Report is a newsletter published by Greg Peterson, an experienced market watcher who also is available for consultation on old or modern tractors and implements. The Report costs $69.96 yearly and is available on line or by mail. Phone (800) 381-0423.

Hot Line Antique Tractor Guide is a new, annual 350-page paperback report. It contains specifications, auction prices and photographs of tractors and crawlers made before 1960. Reviewers have rated it very accurate. Cost is $19.95 plus postage. For more information, contact Hot Line Antique Tractor Guide, P.O. Box 1115, Fort Dodge, IA 50501; (800) 673-4763;; website:

Gary Van Hoozer lives in Tarkio, Mo., and has been a frequent contributor to Farm Collector.

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