There’s a bunch of different interesting angles on the Fate-Root-Heath Company. They made everything from bricks to locomotives, and honestly I’m surprised nobody’s written a book yet. Their most successful venture was tractors like this Silver King R66. Heck, Henry Ford owned several of ’em, and thought they were the best tractor buy on the market!
Like many smaller tractor companies of the 30s and 40s, they outsourced parts and essentially ordered them as needed. The finished product was a good quality piece, though – a very versatile little 4-banger gas tractor. Because of their gearing, you could put a Silver King into the field, plow 5 acres with it, and hustle home at 45 mph! They became pretty well known for being a fast tractor on the road!
The crazy road trip story…
And on that note…I stumbled on an old interview with one of Silver King’s sales guys not too long ago. Apparently, a local customer once bought one of their 3-wheeled tractors; he planned to pull a small camper behind it from Plymouth, OH all the way down to Florida! So the story goes, he got a few miles down the road and stopped for dinner. After a few beers, he got a fair bit more ambitious and decided to go to Florida…but with a pit stop in California first!
That’s exactly what the guy did, too! He drove his trusty Silver King from Ohio to California, then Florida, and all the way back to Ohio! That camper bumping along behind him the whole way! Not only that, but when he returned, he sold the tractor to a local farmer who worked it in the field!
This particular Silver King R66 currently lives in NE Iowa, and I know it’ll need some TLC to get it back into good shape. That said, it’s all there (for the most part), and I suspect that this tractor will sell fairly inexpensively. Parts aren’t tremendously difficult to find, as the components are fairly common. Depending on the serial number, it’ll probably have a Hercules or a Continental gas 4-banger in it and a 4-speed transmission. If you buy it and decide to drive across the country with it, plan an overnight stop in Des Moines! I’d really love to see it!
First, let’s cut to the chase before we get into some of the stories. As of the time I publish this post, you’ll have about 10 days to get to Avoca to see Farmall Land. After 5PM on Sunday, September 27, Jerry & Joyce Mez are retiring, off to travel the world and spoil their grandkids! Subsequently, our friends at Girard Auctions will be sending everything off to new owners. Everything will be sold through a series of online auctions (the land and the buildings too) beginning later this fall. You’ll be able to find all of the details for the tractors and equipment on Tractor Zoom, so keep an eye on the site!
Now…on to the stories.
In the event you’re a red fan, the long lines of flourescent lights probably give it away. Today, we’re celebrating one of the coolest collections of interesting red iron on the planet. Welcome to Farmall Land USA.
If you’ve ever wondered what true passion looks like, Farmall Land USA is where you’ll find the answer. From the moment you walk in the doors and sign the 3-ring binder guest book on the table, you’ll not only see the passion – you’ll feel it. Over the past 50 or so years, Jerry & Joyce Mez have built an utterly amazing collection of the red machinery that built this country. They genuinely appreciate the opportunity to show it to anybody who walks through their doors, too.
The Dealership Days
Jerry’s grown up around red tractors almost all of his life. The Mez family moved to Avoca, IA from Falls City, NE and Max (Jerry’s father) opened Avoca Implement in 1943 when Jerry was just a toddler. The dealership was quite successful, and eventually expanded to locations in Greenfield, IA and (for a short time) Atlantic, IA. Jerry & Joyce sold both dealerships to Titan Machinery in 2008. The museum has been their full-time focus since then.
“Since I was 3 years old, everything I have is attributable to farm equipment,” Jerry said in a 2010 interview.
Jerry began collecting red tractors in the mid-70s when he got out of the Army. The first one in the collection? One of the first tractors his Dad ever sold, a Farmall F-20. It was all downhill from there! Jerry & Joyce have close to 220 tractors in the collection now (nearly all of them pre-merger tractors), give or take a few. You’ll usually find about 150 on display at any given time.
The Farmall 1206
So what’s his favorite? A Farmall 1206 narrow-front that his father sold new out of the Avoca dealership to a local farmer in 1966. Jerry bought it back from the original owner in 1988. When I last talked with Jerry in late June, this 1206 was one of the few that he was planning on keeping after retiring from the museum.
The ih 4300
In addition to his 1206, another favorite that Jerry really enjoys showing off is a 1962 IH 4300 – one of the rarest production tractors IH ever built! IH didn’t build many to start with (I think the number was in the low-mid 40s; they were essentially built-to-order by Hough). Many were used pretty hard by construction companies, and Jerry believes there are only about six of them known to still exist. Weighing in at 30,000 pounds and sporting an 817-cube turbocharged inline six mated to an Allison automatic transmission, this one is definitely a crowd favorite. He looked for it for about 15 years, too, and the restoration process was extensive (it was a basketcase when he got it). All in all, it took two full nights to clean it up enough to see what they were working with for the restoration!
The museum typically sees well over 5000 visitors per year, and Jerry figures that he’s had conversations with guests from every continent and every state in the union as well! One of the last times I visited, I actually had an international (no pun intended) encounter while drooling over a wide-fendered Wheatland 1256! I met a man who was here in the states from Australia. He really wasn’t involved with agriculture in his day job back home, but he’d heard about Farmall Land and wanted to stop. “Stuff like this, and the people who run this museum is what makes America so great!” he said. Indeed it does, my friend.
The farm and garden tractors themselves are one thing, but that’s not all that makes up this amazing exhibit. Additionally, the memorabilia and examples of other products that International Harvester (fridges, freezers, etc.) built is mind-blowing! Altogether, I’m sure there are well over a thousand die-cast toys ranging from 1/64th up to 1/8th scale, plus a load of nice pedal tractors too! Basically, according to Jerry, “If it’s red, we’ve probably got it.”
So, like I’d mentioned earlier…if you want to see this collection in all of its glory, you need to make some plans within the next week or so. After September 27, the doors will close permanently.
Additionally, here are some details if you decide to make the trip!
Address: 2101 N. Lavista Heights Rd., Avoca, IA 51521
(Basically, it’s at the intersection of I-80 and Iowa 59 off of exit 40; an hour or so west of Des Moines, or about 45 minutes east of Omaha.)
Hours: Closed on Monday, Tuesday – Saturday 10AM-5PM, Sunday 12PM-5PM.
Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for 13-18, $3 for 5-12, and free under 5!
COVID-19 rules do apply as well, folks, so out of respect for Jerry & Joyce’s wishes you’ll want to have a mask with you, and wear it while in the museum.
All in all, there’s no community of people nicer than tractor people, and honestly, folks like Jerry & Joyce Mez and their small staff are the reason why. They absolutely love what they do, and love to share their passion for tractors with anybody who stops in to say hello. They’ve given very selflessly to the industry, farmers, and tractor collectors. In fact, I think I’m going to sneak away on Saturday the 26th and stop in one more time to say thank you. I hope I’ll see you there, too.
Finally, here’s a gallery of photos from several of my visits, as well as a few shots from Girard Auctions! At the end of the day, though, neither my photos nor anybody else’s do Farmall Land proper justice. You really need to take it in for yourself.
Again, special thanks to my friend Lee Klancher and the team over at Octane Press for lending me the photo of that Jerry’s beautiful 1206. Lee wrote a great piece about one of his visits to Farmall Land. He’s got lots of photos that I didn’t get during my visits, too! Read that here.
The story of how White Farm Equipment was born is a long one, and you’ll get bored hearing it. Suffice it to say that in 1969, WFE was born. At the time, they were still maintaining three different legacy brands underneath their umbrella – Oliver, Minneapolis-Moline, and Cockshutt. When 1974 rolled around, though, they decided to phase them out and start fresh with White.
WFE knew that it needed to make a big splash on the market in order to establish itself quickly. They saw a hole in the market for sort of an in-between tractor. Something that was a step up from a row-crop but not something real big like a Steiger. What they really wanted to do was create the “crossover” of tractors. One that could do it all…like a Field Boss. 😏
In a nutshell, WFE wanted to build a tractor that checked off all of these boxes.
If you think about it, that’s pretty much the same thing that Toyota did when they built the RAV4 in 1995 (sans the hinge in the middle).
Overall, they did a good job of executing on it, too. The White 4-150 Field Boss ticked off nearly every one of those boxes above. Very sleek, stylish and quiet, it sat lower to the ground than its 4WD competitors, turned sharper, and didn’t lose traction either! Occasionally, you’ll hear farmers complain that these are lightweight tractors that aren’t up to the job. No…that’s not true. The 4-150 wasn’t a deep tillage tractor. It was built as a beefed-up rowcrop tractor that would handle a little bit of everything. And at the end of the day, it did the job just fine! Can the 4-180 handle more? Yep, you bet. White built it that way…on purpose!
Frankly, this particular tractor has aged better than most early Field Bosses. The body panels are nice and straight, there’s very little rust on the cab, and the best part? 3300 original hours! And, assuming it hasn’t been beaten like a red-headed stepchild, the 3208 Cat should have some life left in it. It needs new rubber (or will soon), and the seat is torn up a bit, too. But, other than those items, this is a pretty solid example of the Field Boss! It sells on Thursday, September 10 at an auction up near Madison, WI!
Now, that said, these motors are a little finicky. They don’t all run like the Lustik family’s Silver Bullet alky superstock pulling tractor. They don’t like to be lugged down real low, nor do they like real high RPMs for extended periods of time. Some of ’em tend to use quite a bit of oil, too, so make sure you’ve got plenty of that around. They DO sound pretty darn good with straight pipes, though. There’s a really good video from a knowledgeable Oliver guy on YouTube out there from a few years ago where he takes his for a drive (after he’d just bought it). Watch it here.
Here’s a little bit of the advertising that WFE put out when they released the 4-150. Interesting stuff!
Not too long ago, my buddy Dustin and I were working on his S670, getting it ready for harvest. He’s a farmer in northern Iowa, and his combine is getting up there in years. He was debating over whether to continue to repair it, trade up to a different used model, or buy a brand new one. Dustin knows his equipment better than just about anybody I know, but I could see that his head was spinning. With so many options on the market right now, I’m sure he’s not the only one!
One of the unknowns he was wrestling with was about the transmission. Is a John Deere ProDrive (essentially an IVT system) the way to go, or is a conventional 3-speed the better idea? Try Googling that question sometime; you’ll find so many passionate opinions on the ag message boards that you’ll give yourself a monster of a headache! Eric in western New York says, “ProDrive is a must have!” Two lines later a guy in southern Illinois comments that he absolutely hated the one he’s got now and he can’t wait to get rid of it!
While the debate still goes on, the general consensus is that ProDrive transmissions make better use of torque from the motor. In turn, that makes it easier to maintain speed in the field (especially useful in hilly ground like Dustin’s). The trade-off for the increased efficiency is that the option itself is more money when they’re new, they’re slower on surface roads, and depending on who you listen to, they’re a lot bigger headache when they break.
So, to try and help Dustin, I told him I’d do some analysis on it using our Iron Comps data to see what effect ProDrive had on residual value. I couldn’t help him weigh all of his unique pros and cons. That said, I do have access to a huge database full of farm equipment auction results. I knew that I could help him with the numbers aspect.
I’ll admit, I was curious as to how it would shake out. I knew there would be a “ProDrive Premium”. But at some point, I figured there would be a point where that started tailing off. I also wondered if there was a point where the 3-speed became a better option.
I made a call to a local dealer and found that an S670 with ProDrive sold for about $428K in 2015 (ProDrive was a $7K option). So with that baseline number, I went into our Iron Comps database. It’s powered by Tractor Zoom’s auction data, and captures over 55% of the market, more than any other source. We’ve got close to 150 S670 sales just within the past two years in the database. It’s a numbers game and the bigger the data set, the more confident we can be in our results.
The table below breaks down the values even more into three scenarios of combines with 600, 1200, and 1800 hours. The first row shows the expected average value for ProDrive S670s. The second row is the expected value of a S670 with a 3-speed. The bottom ‘ProDrive Premium’ percentage is the amount that could be attributed to the ProDrive for that age of combine.
The results for the newer combine affirm what ProDrive advocates have been preaching. A ProDrive in our dataset with 600 separator hours should sell for about $185K at auction. Its 3-speed counterpart, just $163K! A difference of $22K (13% premium) is a lot bigger number than the $7K option when it was new! This indicates that there’s definitely a demand for these combines – especially those without a ton of hours!
As the combine ages, so does excitement for the ProDrive. So much that it is essentially negligible at 1800 hours. A likely explanation is the cost to repair a ProDrive, which older machines are more likely to need. Typical repair bills for out-of-warranty transmissions are fairly steep. Based on what I’ve heard, you could be looking at $25-30K to replace a shelled transmission. Not a small number. I can definitely understand why the premium starts to fall.
As one final check on this pro-ProDrive conclusion, I like to filter down by auction type. Retirement auctions tend to bring higher premiums. Consignment sales tend to be lower and represent the market value floor. The unexpected challenge I discovered was that few S670 3-speed combines hit the retirement market. Conversely, we haven’t seen a lot of ProDrives selling at consignment sales. I’m still working on determining why this happens.
I showed these numbers to Dustin the other day over a beer, and it pretty well confirmed what I think he needed to hear. When I left the shop, he was on his tablet browsing combines at Tractor Zoom, and I’m sure he’ll find a nice ProDrive S670 at a retirement sale somewhere.
A modified version of this article originally appeared on the Iron Comps blog a few weeks ago.
America’s farming landscape exploded in the late ’60s, and drove the demand for more capable equipment. Every tractor manufacturer in the country was scrambling to build bigger, heavier-duty machines. Farmers needed tractors that could efficiently hustle through heavy tillage with a 7 or 8-bottom plow…and they didn’t want to have their eardrums blown out in the process. In short, they needed innovation in machinery to support the continuing innovation of modern farming practices.
The customer had spoken, and the folks in Charles City listened.
The result was the Oliver 2150, released in 1968. It was the big horse in the 50-series lineup, and it had all the right stuff, too. Big power and torque from a turbocharged Hercules 478, an 18-speed Hydraul-Shift transmission, and a beefy, overbuilt chassis so operators didn’t lose traction in the field! The icing on the cake? According to Oliver, these new tractors were “whisper quiet”! (Whether they were or not is up for debate; I mean, after testing a 1950 with a 2-stroke Detroit, I’m pretty sure everybody who worked for Oliver was in the process of going deaf by then, right?) 😂
The Oliver 2150 was only in production for parts of two years (14 months if we’re being picky), but it led the horsepower race for both of ’em! They didn’t make a ton of these tractors, either; finding one is fairly rare.
Here’s how the numbers break out for the 2150’s total production (Oliver models and Cockshutt).
Total built: 1018 (373 FWA)
19 Oliver/White 4-144 (and 4-144 Extra Heavy Duty variants)
This is definitely one of the rarer Olivers out there, but for quite a while the 2150 has flown under the collector crowd’s radar. It’s picked up a little over the past few years, but I think this one could still be purchased fairly reasonably (as you’ll see when you look at the listing, it’ll need some TLC). Underneath the surface rust and broken glass, though, there’s lots of potential! I’ll be excited to see what happens with this tractor!
The auction doesn’t happen until September 12, but the online bidding is live right now. Thus far the bidding sits at a whopping $55. I doubt it’ll stay that way for long, though.
If you’re bidding on it, good luck! If you end up buying it, drop me a line!
There have been a couple of fairly notable Oliver 2150 tractors that have been featured on Tractor Zoom over the past year or two. Here are a few photos.
Finally, here are a couple of Oliver 2150 ads that I’ve found here and there. Evidently, Oliver definitely wasn’t shy about what their horse was capable of!
*Shoutout to my good friends Sherry Schaefer and the team over at Oliver Heritage magazine for a little help on the production numbers breakdown. If you’re a fan of Tractor Zoom’s Interesting Iron, you’ll love Oliver Heritage! Give ’em a shout!
The 9600 is probably my favorite Ford tractor of all time. There’s something about these things that just looks right. A 9600 open station with a narrow front on a set of 20.8 Firestone Deep Treads, the white fenders with the lights in ’em, and a ROPS bar? That just screams muscle tractor to me.
The 9600 was the top dog in Ford’s lineup in 1975. It made just over 135 PTO horse from a turbocharged 401, which was one of the smallest motors of the era (I think the only one to make similar horsepower with a smaller motor was Massey Ferguson). This particular tractor also features Dual-Power, Ford’s version of a torque amplifier, which effectively allowed the operator to split the dual-range 4-speed into a 16-speed transmission. This one works, too!
The 9600 had a reputation for being a really torque-y tractor with lots of low-end grunt. It’s also known to be pretty fuel-efficient, too. I know a guy from Missouri who still farms with one today; even though he’s turned it up a little, he swears it only burns about 6.5 gallons/hour!
This particular 9600 is in BEAUTIFUL shape! It’s a one-owner tractor with good rubber all the way around, straight tin, and it’s absurdly clean both inside and out! Here’s the best part, though…it’s only got 3033 hours on it! It’s barely broken in! It lives in Minnesota until next week when our friends at Zielsdorf Auction & Real Estate send it home with a new owner!
If you want to see some video of a nicely-restored Ford 9600, our friends at Successful Farming interviewed a farmer in Grinnell, IA not too long ago for their Ageless Iron segment. Watch it here!
How do you tell the difference between an 8000-series and a 9000-series Ford without looking under the hood? Look at the grill. On the 8000-series tractors, the rectangles are vertical. On the 9000-series, they’re horizontal!
In the late 70s, Steiger built some pretty unbelievable machines. This Tiger III was one of them.
Steiger built the Tiger III ST450 from 1977-1982, but actually encompassed two different models. They built the first 173 tractors with a Cummins KTA-1150 rated at 470 horse (this tractor is number 158). For the 1980 model year, they changed motors on the ST450 to a 450-horse Cat 3408. The Cummins-powered version remained at 470 horse and was rebadged as the ST470. At the end of the day, I suspect it was a sales move, but it’s historically notable.
Any way you slice it, they’re big honkin’ tractors and they’re probably perfect for nearly any big job you would want to undertake. Want to move a mountain? Hook it to one of these. Need to flatten a dozen cars in about five minutes? The ST450 can do it (especially this one – dual 30.5s all the way around).
This particular ST450 probably never crushed cars or moved mountains, but it did do something very important. It laid miles and miles of drainage tile across thousands of acres of wet fields, and helped many farmers become a lot more productive. It’ll sell with a ZOR double-link tile plow that’s set up for 6″ tile, and there are several other boots available at this auction (I think 8- and 10-inch?).
I’ve heard rumors that Steiger built tractors specifically for tiling in the late 70s; and honestly I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that this was one of them. This tractor is definitely built for it; it sells with 4900 pounds of extra weight on the nose, as well as dual 30.5×32 Firestone Forestry Specials all the way around. It’s got to tip the scales at close to 60,000 pounds as-is!
The last time we saw a Tiger III like this one sell at an auction, it went for just under $44K, but it didn’t have a tile plow setup with it, and the tires weren’t quite as new. This one should bring a fair bit more. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t come close to $50K by the time the hammer drops. The market for tractors like this is fairly small, but the right buyer will love it!
Yep. When Mother Deere set her sights on the ‘burbs in the late 60s with their line of garden tractors, you could buy a 110, 112, 120, or 140 in the traditional green and yellow, or in any of 4 different special colors. It was a marketing ploy that only lasted for a couple of years because they didn’t sell very well. To collectors right now, they’re pretty hot!
They were actually called the Custom Color series, but these days everybody just calls them The Patio Series tractors. They were mechanically identical to their green counterparts, but they were painted Dogwood White from the factory (sans hood), and the customer was given the choice of matching hood and seat. Available colors were Patio Red, Sunset Orange, Spruce Blue, and April Yellow.
The advertising for the Patio Series was interesting. Deere played with different concepts appealing to upper middle class life like letting your wife pick out her favorite color (I’m not touching that with a ten foot pole…) or matching the color of your mower to the color of your boat/car/lawn furniture. Obviously, it didn’t work because they didn’t sell a ton of them, but I will say that the Spruce Blue bears a reasonably close resemblance to Mulsanne Blue (one of the more popular colors for the Camaro).
This Spruce Blue 112 lives in Reedsburg, WI for now, but I’m pretty sure that there’ll be a lot of action on the bidding before it’s all said and done. A buddy of mine who’s knowledgeable on these tractors is pretty sure it’s all-original, and the Spruce Blue is one of the rarer of the colors (the rarest is April Yellow). It’ll be fun to see where the bidding ends up on this one! While it’s by no means “comprehensive” in Patio Series tractor auction results, our Iron Comps Insights data suggests that it’ll sell for somewhere in the $1000-1200 neighborhood.
By the way, the folks at Green Magazine published a great article about the history of the Patio Series tractors. Read it here!
If you’re shopping for a Patio Series tractor, try to find one with an original seat in decent shape. Unfortunately, there aren’t many NOS seats available these days, and as far as I know, nobody makes a reproduction. Consequently, when NOS originals show up on eBay, the bidding quickly goes bonkers!
This one is for my buddy Nellson. He likes Case’s crab-walking tractors because they had the oomph for heavy tillage, but didn’t sacrifice the maneuverability of a smaller tractor. He also thinks the 2670 stretched the 504 a little too far even with the intercooler, but that’s a discussion for another beer. 😁
In the mid-70s, J.I. Case was a pretty well-established player in the game with their rigid-frame 4WD tractors. Farmers loved the 2470 for its ability to handle like a 2WD but with the grunt to run heavy implements…but they needed more capability. Farming was growing at unprecedented levels, and farmers were planting more ground than ever before.
So…Case turned up the wick on the 2470, and brought out the 2670. It was everything that the 2470 was, but with about 50 extra horse. It took a lot more than simply turning the pump screw to get there, though. To make all that extra power, it took a different injector design, a bigger pump, and an intercooler!
This particular 2670 Traction King lives about 45 minutes north of Sedalia, MO until the end of August. It’s got just under 8000 hours on it, and it’s in surprisingly good shape for its age. It’s not a museum piece per se – the new owner is going to need to address some hydraulic issues. Still, the tin work is fairly clean, it’s got reasonably good rubber, and it’s in good running condition as far as I can tell!
I’m a Michigan apple grower’s son, so orchard tractors will always have a special place in my heart. Rare(ish) ones like this 1956 John Deere 60 Orchard with the fancy fenders are cooler still!
Orchard tractors became a thing in the early part of the 20th century. The swoopy sheet metal fenders, however, didn’t come into their own until the mid-30s. Coincidentally, this is also about the time that we started to see it in high-end luxury cars like Delahaye. I’m sure that an engineer or a designer saw this and realized, “Hey, we can turn those rear fenders backwards and put ’em on tractor wheels and they’ll get under tree branches a lot better!”
The swoopy sheet metal over the wheels and fairing over the dash were the most obvious differences. They were only one part of it, though. Orchards have low-hanging branches in the rows. Consequently, growers couldn’t afford to use a traditional Farmall with a high seating position because they’d sacrifice too much fruit! Hence, most orchard tractors had a lower, skinnier profile so they could navigate rows of trees or vines. Farmers wanted them as low and sleek as possible with nothing sticking up out of the hood. Manufacturers listened, and brought as much as they could under the windshield fairing, and made the controls accessible from lower-positioned seats. Hand clutches replaced foot clutches, exhausts re-routed out the back under the frame, and headlights were built in or made to retract.
This particular John Deere is a gasser, built in 1956. The general consensus seems to be that Deere only built 297 John Deere 60 Orchard tractors. Is it the rarest Deere in the world? Nope…but I’ll bet you can’t find another one in South Dakota, though! It definitely presents pretty nicely! The only thing it’s missing are the mesh side panels over the motor!
If I ever start collecting tractors, I can tell you that orchard models are the ones I’ll be looking for. I doubt I’ll ever find the ones my family owned when they started growing apples in the 30s. I can dream, though, right?
The team over at Hagerty Insurance (a collector vehicle insurance company) wrote a terrific piece about the development of orchard tractors.
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