A SoundGard auction they’ll be talking about for years to come…

Nov. 30, 2022 • Interesting Iron

Interesting Iron 1201

About a month ago, I wrote about a John Deere SoundGard-era tractor auction in South Dakota over the Thanksgiving weekend, and I said that I was going to try to sell my wife on letting me out of the house to attend it.

Well, I’m apparently a better sales guy than I thought, because she let me! It was either that, or I was getting in the way and she wanted me out of her hair. Either way, I went to South Dakota last weekend…and boy, I’m glad I did.

What. A. Sale.

It was one for the record books, friends, and SoundGard fans will talk about it for years to come. There were multiple records shattered that day, at least one of which may never be broken.

I’d just watched Gary Peterson’s 4440 sell for $71,000 – the second-highest auction price on record, and although I didn’t have much service, I was able to post this on our Facebook page.

4440 FB Post

It went viral pretty much as soon as I hit the button, and over the past few days it’s sparked a lot of fairly heated debate as to what SoundGard tractors are worth these days.

So let’s talk about that auction for a few minutes, why it was so massively successful, and what this may or may not mean for the value of your trusty SoundGard! There are lessons to be learned from this auction that could put more money in your pocket when you send that next piece of equipment down the road.

Spoiler alert: Your 4440 probably isn’t worth $71,000 now, and your 4255 definitely isn’t worth $142,500, either. Sorry.

Why was this auction such a big success?

I thought about this as I was driving home on Saturday afternoon, and I think it boils down to six major points. Let’s dig in.

1. Really clean equipment (and/or high-quality restorations).

Every piece of equipment on this auction was surgically clean. Like, you could eat your lunch on the floor of any of the cabs or platforms. That clean. Attention was paid to the details. Every tractor had fresh rubber, fluids, filters – the works. These weren’t DuPont overhauls, either. Most of these tractors had original paint!

4255 SoundGard cab
Believe it or not, this is the cab of a 16,000-hour 4255 MFWD! (Photo: Westra Auction)

Here’s the exterior of that tractor.

John Deere SoundGard 4255MFWD
This wasn’t your everyday 16,000-hour SoundGard. This one was very well-cared-for, and it made all the difference in the world when the hammer dropped. It sold for $51,000 – the 5th-highest auction price we’ve seen all year on a 4255! (Photo: Westra Auction)

Furthermore, for those tractors that were restored, the restoration was of the highest level. I told one of my buddies, “If the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance had a class for tractors, the open stations would’ve won Best In Show every time Gary entered them.”

Iron Horse open stations
Levi Schug (Ida Grove, IA) handled the restorations of most all of these tractors; his work is absolutely second-to-none! (Photo: Julie Peterson)

Like I said earlier in the first article I wrote about this sale, Gary was meticulous about the details with the restorations of these tractors. He even went so far as to source period-correct fuel filters and ether cans. His intent was to make each of these tractors as close to showroom-fresh as was humanly possible, if not better! I can honestly say that these are the nicest tractor restorations that I’ve ever laid eyes on.

What can be learned from this?

Clean equipment goes a long way towards bringing better sales numbers.

Now, I’m not naive to the fact that most of these SoundGards had been retired, and I know that makes it easier to keep things clean. However, that doesn’t change the fact that equipment – no matter what it is – sells better when it’s clean.

My advice: If you’re selling equipment, break out the power washer and put some elbow grease into making it as clean as possible. Put some wax on it. Get all the garbage out of the cab and vacuum it. If you can’t (or don’t want to) invest the time in that, hire somebody to do it. It’ll pay big dividends – a lot bigger than you think!

At the end of the day, be real with your expectations when you sell your equipment. If your 16,000-hour 4255 is dented, has a torn seat, and a dash that only lights up half the time, you’re probably not going to get top dollar for it. HOWEVER…you’ll get more for it if you’ve cleaned it up as best as you can!

2. Rare tractors.

There were some very rare tractors on this sale. John Deere didn’t make many open-station 40-series machines, and they made even less of the 50-series machines. Gary had a six-pack of ’em. It’s not surprising that they brought big money and went home to collections. Furthermore, the rest of the lineup of tractors was equally impressive, including the last 4255 ever built and a trio of 1972 Powershift 4020s (2 of which were factory-built FWA tractors)!

SoundGard-era production numbers for open station tractors
As you can see, Gary had some pretty rare machines! (Photos: Julie Peterson)

3. Terrific presentation

Soundgard cab John Deere tractors
In the age of online equipment auctions, presentation is everything. (Photo: Westra Auction)

In a day and age where so much equipment is sold online, it’s not good enough to have equipment cleaned up for “sale day” because when you’re selling it online, every day is sale day. So-so photos and hastily-written descriptions don’t cut it.

Joel Westra and his team really did a nice job of presenting the equipment. Each tractor had lots of crystal-clear photos and video of it in action. Furthermore, they used a fairly clean backdrop for the photos, and each tractor had the same basic photos. For the open stations, Gary’s wife Julie (who is an aspiring amateur photographer) took the photos.

4560
See how the 4960 is the focus of the photo, and there’s nothing to distract us from the machine? That’s the kind of photography that sells equipment – in this case, for $54,000, the highest price on a 2WD 4960 in over 8 years! (Photo: Westra Auction)
John Deere Iron Horse open station 4240
Julie Peterson did an excellent job with the photos of their open station tractors. It set a record, too, hammering home for $59,000! (Photo: Julie Peterson)

Video & Drone Footage

One thing that I particularly liked was that Westra used a drone and got some in-action videos. Everybody loves drone footage, and that really helps add to the appeal of an auction listing. It shows that you’re putting in the time and effort for the buyers.

Here’s the one they shot for the 4250, which ended up going to a collection in New York for $79,000!

It’s not a long video, but it shows an aerial view of the tractor in an open setting, and shows it rolling down the lane. If you clicked the video and watched it all, I’ll bet there was a little part of you that put yourself in that seat for a second. That’s because it’s relatable and we connect with it!

What can be learned from this? 

At the end of the day, if you’re selling a piece of equipment, you’ve got one shot to get your buyer’s attention. That’s not an easy thing to do. As a species, our attention span has decreased to just 8 seconds (researchers have studied this). People don’t take time to read, so you’ve got to do it visually. If you’re selling equipment and not presenting it in the best possible manner, I will guarantee that you leave money on the table when it sells.

So, how do you get a buyer’s attention? Lots of clear, well-lit, uncluttered photos and videos – in landscape mode. I’ll illustrate using some bad photos I took a couple of years ago with the 4440 that we gave away.

Blurry photos don’t sell equipment.

People pass up great equipment every day because the photos are blurry. Make sure your photos are in focus!

4440badphoto
If this were the photo on the front of a 4440 listing, would you give it a second look? I sure wouldn’t. It’s blurry! I can’t see any details! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

This is much better.

Clearphoto
That’s better. I’d give that tractor a second look, wouldn’t you? (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Dark photos don’t help buyers see details.

If they can’t see details, they fear the worst.

Badlighting
Sure, it’s a cool photo, but how many front weights does this tractor come with? It’s so dark, you can’t tell! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Instead, take photos just as the sun is starting to set. It’s called Golden Hour, and it’s when colors naturally get a little more vivid. It’s basically the best time of day to take pictures of just about anything.

Goodlighting
Golden Hour is awesome for photos. Everything just looks better. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Cluttered photos are confusing.

Get the equipment out of the barn and into an open background with nothing else around it. Anything else in the photo distracts a buyer.

Cluttered
This is an okay photo, but with the overhead door open and the vent and the windows, it takes away the focus of the 4440. It clutters everything up! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Instead, go for a clean background that allows the equipment to be the natural focus.

Uncluttered
Much better. Now the buyer can see the equipment without wondering what’s in the overhead door! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Portrait-mode photos look great for portraits…not equipment.

Equipment is usually fairly large, and shooting it up-and-down usually guarantees that you don’t get the whole piece of equipment in the picture. Buyers hate that.

Noportraitmode
How does this tiny sliver of a 4440 help a buyer decide they want to buy it? It doesn’t! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

Instead, use landscape mode and show me the whole machine (or as much of it as you can)!

SoundGard 4440 on the move in downtown Des Moines
Landscape always looks better for equipment photos. (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

It doesn’t matter who’s selling the equipment – a farmer, a dealer, an auctioneer, or whoever else. These rules apply universally. If you’re selling equipment, you need to be following these practices. If you’re not, you’re doing yourself or your sellers a disservice!

4. Great promotion.

SoundGard tractor auction advertising
Here’s a few of the Facebook posts that Westra made about this auction to help get people engaged. Based on the standing room only crowd, I’d say that the posts definitely attracted the SoundGard fans!

The team at Westra Auction promoted the sale really well. They used every available method of advertising, and they did it early. If I remember right, they had photos of the tractors and details about the auction posted a full two months before the sale actually happened. Heck, I found out about it because somebody shared the sale into a John Deere SoundGard group I was following on Facebook!

I know there were YouTube videos previewing the sale as well at least one podcast, and I know I wasn’t the only guy who wrote a blog post about it. Westra Auction made sure that the right people knew about the sale, and promoted it properly!

What can be learned from this?

Most of this is for auctioneers, but it also applies to sellers as well.

Auctioneers, the days of hanging 50 auction posters two weeks before a sale are long gone. In a world where most auctions have online bidding, the market is global, not local. Therefore, you’ve got to get the word out to a global marketplace. The best way to do that? Social media. Put it on Facebook. Put it on Instagram. Make a TikTok video in front of the equipment.

Here’s why it works.

If you put something about a sale out there on your social platforms, people share it on their own social media pages so that others can see it. Once that happens a few times, word starts to travel…and it travels fast.

Case in point: Tractors from Westra’s auction for Gary Peterson went as far away as New York, North Carolina, and Texas – and the people who bought them had flown in for the sale. I will guarantee you that they didn’t find out about it from a bulletin board…

Sellers, you have a responsibility here, too. It doesn’t matter if you’re listing a piece of equipment on a FB swap group, an online auction, or with an auctioneer. Put it up on your personal social media pages and promote it yourself, and ask your family to do the same! It’s one of the easiest things you can do to set yourself up for success!

5. Timing is everything.

The last two months of the year will always be the best time of year to sell machinery. Specifically, mid-November through the week of Christmas. It doesn’t matter if you’re having a retirement sale or just offloading a couple of things. We’ve got well over a half-million auction results in our Iron Comps database, and the highest prices we see every year are almost always in November and December. Harvest is usually over by then, and farmers know what they can afford to spend on equipment for next year.

What can be learned from this?

If you can, sell equipment in mid-November or early December.

auction crowd
Initially, I thought that it might be tough to get a crowd over Thanksgiving weekend. Boy, was I wrong! It was standing room only! There were at least four rows of people behind me! (Photo: Ryan Roossinck)

6. Good grain markets = Good auction prices.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Farmers buy more equipment at $7 corn than they do at $3.50!

What this means for the value of SoundGard tractors…

Westra’s auction posted some big numbers for sure, but will it move the needle for the value of your SoundGard? Maybe a little, but not much.

Yes, we’ve had two record auction prices in the past two weeks on 4440s. Joel Everitt sold one for $72,000, and Joel Westra sold Gary’s for $71,000. That automagically means that you can sell your 9,000-hour machine for $48K on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, right?

No, no it doesn’t.

See, the two tractors that set those records? They were in pretty rare air. One was a very low-houred tractor that was all-original. The other was an open-station tribute tractor using all factory-correct parts that was built to the highest level of quality. Garden-variety SoundGard tractors aren’t going to measure up.

HOWEVER…

I crunched some numbers yesterday, specific to 9,000-hour 4440s, just because there are a lot of them out there in this range.

Check this out.

4440 Numbers
(Source: Iron Comps)

As you can see, the average price is climbing. For lower-hour tractors, the value is appreciating even faster.

Is the 4440 indicative of all SoundGard models? Probably not. Large-frame tractors were never as popular as the small-frame tractors. However, as hard as it is for some farmers to believe this, the SoundGards are becoming collectible, and they are increasing in value even when you factor inflation into the mix.

I think that it’s safe to say that if you have a nice original tractor…hang on to it. Don’t let it sleep outside, and keep it nice. I don’t think we’ve seen the top side of the SoundGard market yet. Mark my words, there will be a 4440 that brings six figures within the next five years.

Wrapping up…

Some of the most heated negativity came from farmers who all had one particular mentality. Lots of them spouted off, “This is all overpriced nonsense, and people are stupid for paying that much for a 4440. I’ve got one that’s every bit as nice that I bought for $XYZ.”

One thing that’s hard to remember – and this trips lots of people up – is that five or six or ten years ago, you probably could buy a nice SoundGard for less money. But that having been said, a lot has changed in the past six years. Machines have gone up in price quite a bit, even on the used market! Secondly, there are a lot of farmers who still farm with these tractors, and have a real hard time seeing them as anything other than a working tractor.

I get both of those perspectives, I really do, and I can be sympathetic to them. What I don’t get is calling fellow farmers stupid or judging how another man spends his money. Perhaps there are certain things in life that I’m not meant to understand.

At any rate, I’m not going to go down that road…

Hats off to Joel Westra and his team for a phenomenal sale. I knew they wanted to make a big splash with this one, and they darn sure did. I talked to Joel Jr. for a few minutes before I hit the road on Saturday afternoon, and I know he was happy with the way it turned out, and the sellers were too! That’s usually what happens when all the right elements come together like they did this past Saturday!

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