A sputtering economy has failed to throttle back a collecting boom in antique tractor sales as more investors seek safer bets with old farm equipment.
The rumblings of Wall Street’s decline have turned antique tractors into the latest blue chips for some consumers scrambling to restore lost savings and shore up wobbly retirement accounts.
Scott Raszewski, owner of more than a dozen antique John Deere tractors, said the values are soaring with some rare collector tractors fetching more than $100,000. One 1915 Case tractor recently sold for $400,000 at auction.
“I think a lot of this has to do with what is going on in the country and people wanting to cash in on some valuable memories,’’ said Raszewski, who operates a small transmission repair shop 11 miles north of Somerset, Pa. “I just really collect and enjoy them, but I’m amazed at all the recent interest.’’
Paul Stoltzfoss of New Holland, Pa., said much of the tractor purchasing stampede is coming from Europe, where collectors are frantically trying to reclaim their agricultural history.
“We’ve seen a lot of activity from folks in Belgium, Ireland and Germany because during World War II many tractors were scrapped to make war equipment,’’ said Stoltzfoss, a tractor collector and dealer.
That flurry of overseas tractor trafficking is confirmed by Jay Proost of the American Society of Agricultural Appraisers, Inc.
“We’re even seeing a lot of tractors from the late 1950s being shipped to places like Russia because there is big demand now for small tractors since many of the state-run farms have been disbanded or carved into smaller family farm plots,’’ said Proost, who also predicts increased demand for appraisers by year’s end.
As the markets continue to unwind, Proost said more agricultural appraisers will be needed to reappraise farm equipment, which is often used as collateral for some farm loans.
In addition to demand from foreign markets, antique tractors continue to take center stage at local festivals and annual collector club meetings.
Nationwide, seasonal farm and apple festivals are seeing increased interest in their antique tractor displays.
At this year’s Delmont Apple ’N Arts Festival, the antique tractor display grew from 14 to 40 tractors. And the old antique cider press made more than 6,000 gallons of fresh cider at this year’s event compared with only 500 gallons last year, according to Craig Truzzie, a director of the Fort Allen Antique Farm Equipment Association in Scottsdale, Pa. Since the club was established in 1964, it has been committed to restoring and preserving traditional farm equipment and educating the public about traditional farm tractors and farming methods.
About 20 percent of the club’s 400 members are active, allowing for many opportunities to see vintage machines and implements in action.
The majority of the club’s antique tractors are privately owned, but some are donated to the association.
“The whole idea is to get more people interested in antique tractors and the history of farming in this country,’’ said Truzzie, who was raised on a strawberry farm near Rogers, Ohio.
“We’re also seeing a big swing in antique tractor values depending on geographic location,’’ said Truzzie, who owns a 1948 Ford 8-N. “Before this craze to own antique tractors got hot, you could pick up a beginner antique tractor for about $600, but now that price has jumped to more than $3,000.
Not all tractor collectors are farmers. “They may have lived on a farm as a child or they may have had a relative who lived on a farm. Many think back and say, “My dad had a tractor and I need one, too,’’ said Truzzie.
Not just any tractor though. Family traditions and brand loyalties run through generations.
“People have their own memories of tractors, and it’s all individualized to the tractor that they are familiar with,’’ said Susan Knaub, treasurer of the Early American Steam Engine and Old Equipment Society of Red Lion, Pa.
Jimmy Dee, 73, of Sheridan, Wyo., remembers being lulled to sleep sitting on his father’s lap while he plowed the family farm with a John Deere tractor. By age 4, he was driving the tractor himself. At present, Dee owns about 30 John Deere tractors spanning the years of 1926 to 1949.
Those interested in starting a collection can find project tractors for a few hundred dollars. They are usually true fixer-uppers – the type that have been rusting by a fence with tree branches growing into the frame. A tractor that needs some work but still runs starts at about $2,500 and models that have been immaculately restored can sell for more than $150,000, according to Lewis J. Frantz, vice president of the Rough & Tumble Engineer’s Society in Lancaster, Pa.
But finding parts for antique tractors can be a challenge. When Bill Alter of South Bend, Ind., was restoring a Minneapolis Moline last winter, he called all over the country to get parts.
“In the end, it’s about preserving heritage,’’ said John Wisslet, 81, of Cleveland Ohio. “There are not many family farms left and we owe it to the next generation to give them a taste of what we had and what made this country great.” Wisslet owns a Model D Gravely that belonged to his father.
“But I may end up putting the family tractor up for sale if the economy continues to tank,’’ Wisslet said. “This is a good time to sell.’’
Rebecca Klaus of Franklin, Tenn., has already sold her grandfather’s 1926 John Deere tractor to save her home. “We needed the cash to pay off the debtors,’’ she said. “I hope to get back into collecting again when I get some job security,’’ said Klaus, an unemployed real estate broker.
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