(Or, as I like to call it, “open-station therapy”…)
Last week was a doozy. I’d been cooped up in the office burning the candle at both ends, and by Thursday, I was over it. I needed to clear my head.
Coincidentally, my friend Gary is selling a few absolutely jaw-dropping tractors at an upcoming collector’s auction in South Dakota. He’d invited me out to see them, but honestly, I hadn’t planned on going out there until the auction date was a little bit closer. Still, I needed a break from the computer, so I called him. As it turned out, Gary wasn’t doing anything on Friday! So, I moved a few things around on my calendar, and played hooky.
It was just what I needed! A perfect fall day, some windshield time, and even better – tractor time!
Before I forget, I want to share the auction info with you – mainly because I think this will be a sale that they talk about for a LONG time to come. What a neat lineup – there are 28 tractors on this sale – and only six belong to Gary! This will be a sale with something for everyone. If small-frame open-station isn’t your thing, there are a bunch of large-frame Sound-Gards selling beside some Powershift New Gens (HFWD, no less), and some small-frame Sound-Gards too (including the last 4255 ever built)! Joel Westra and his team really want to make this an exciting, fun event! Believe me, there’s a LOT of electricity around this sale now, and I’m sure it’ll only grow as we get closer to the sale.
Okay, back to playin’ hooky.
Gary is a John Deere guy through and through. He started farming on green tractors in 1976, and now he collects them. In fact, the day I met him, he was buying an open-station 1972 4020 HFWD at auction for a close friend who was still in the field and couldn’t get away for the sale.
As a collector, Gary’s focus has changed a little over the years. Like many guys who collect green, it started with New Generation tractors – 4010s and 4020s and the like. He had some really nice ones, too – small ones, big ones, and just about everything in between. Here’s a photo of the that collection back in the day.
However, in the last ten years or so, small-frame open-station tractors – specifically the 40- and 50-Series – have become the focus. Gary spent a lot of hours in cabbed 55-Series Deeres. So, when he had the opportunity, he started collecting a full set. Along the way, he’s also been able to re-create a unicorn 4440 and build his dream 4450!
From the moment I walked in the shop, one thing really impressed me; the level of detail to which these tractors have been prepared. They’re about as period-correct as you can get! From the fender radios to the knob on the wheel, the details are spot-on.
Ether cans, for instance. Gary could’ve picked up a half dozen cans on the shelf at Pedersen Machine. They would’ve worked fine, but being that they’re all 80s tractors, they would’ve looked out of place. Instead, he sought out period-correct ether cans to install (and for those of you who are into that stuff, you know how hard it is to find some of them). Period-correct oil and fuel filters, too! What’s more, he also added some nice-to-have conveniences. Each tractor is hard-wired for a battery tender and a disconnect to minimize the risk of fire. Though little details like this aren’t necessary, they’re super-useful!
That’s the level of detail Gary went to when restoring these tractors. To me, that speaks volumes about Gary as a person, and as a collector.
Anyway, enough of me yammering. Let’s take a look at the tractors!
This is the only John Deere 4040 HFWD Powershift produced with late open-station fenders. The build date was April 30, 1982, and Deere shipped it to Mohr Implement in Eldredge, IA, who sold it shortly thereafter. At some point, the engine failed and was replaced by John Deere. Gary also believes that the tach was replaced at the same time. So, while it’s not 100% original, most everything about the tractor’s life is pretty well documented (including the original engine’s serial) in a folder of information that’ll sell with the tractor.
He believes that he’s the fourth owner of the tractor, and when he bought it, it got a first-class restoration by Levi Schug in Ida Grove, IA. Levi is unbelievably talented when it comes to restoring and repainting tractors. I’ve seen multiple examples of his work and it’s beautiful!
This 1982 John Deere 4240 Quad Range was sold new in Kalona, IA (quite likely at Ernie Ropp’s dealership, for you pulling fans) and invoiced on September 14, 1982. It’s one of only 85 built with late open-station fenders. 4285 hours on the original tach. It’s a nice, tight tractor, according to Gary.
When he found the tractor, there were a couple of issues with one of the frame rails and they didn’t look quite right, so the decision was made to simply swap them out with fresh ones. Not ideal, but it was really the best thing to do for the tractor, y’know? In any event, once the tractor was shipshape, Josh Berthelsen handled the restoration and repainting, and it turned out beautifully, in my opinion! As I understand it, aside from the frame rails, everything else is original to the tractor.
For decades, tribal knowledge around 4440s has held the belief that John Deere never built an open-station version. It’s been the subject of hot debate over the years when purported “factory open-station” tractors show up on the market here and there. Thus far, none of the sellers have ever produced proof that theirs was indeed a factory original.
However, very recently, a mutual friend of ours – Buddy Kavalier, a John Deere employee with occasional access to the company archives – made a very surprising discovery, which he wrote about in this month’s issue of Green Magazine.
John Deere did, in fact, build open-station 4440s!
They just didn’t build very many of ’em. And they didn’t sell ’em here.
As it turns out, they were export-only tractors, and most of them ended up in Argentina. Sadly, they were never seen again, as far as I know.
Buddy has devoted a ton of hours into this side-project, and he’s still working on it today. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool Deere guy who loves the 30/40/50/55-series tractors, and his goal is to fully document the production breakdowns to the best of his ability. It’s a huge investment of time, and one that I really appreciate. If you ever meet him in person, give him an “Attaboy!” for all the hard work!
So now that all the 4440 guys are furiously Googling “4440 Argentina”, let’s talk about this one. It’s a 1982 model with a Powershift, and it originally came from Texas. Gary bought it with the intent to convert it to an open-station using a platform from a 4240 that he’d acquired. Once the conversion was finished and some farmer-engineered solutions from its past life were addressed, it went over to Levi Schug in the fall of 2021. He told Levi, “Before you tear it down and start blasting and cleaning it up, put it on your auger during harvest and run it hard. Stress-test it a little.” And that’s exactly what Levi did. It was his primary auger tractor for last year’s harvest, and he racked up about 100 hours on it with zero issue.
Over the winter, Levi worked his magic on the tractor, creating what you see here now. It was delivered to Gary’s shop in January, and boy, it’s a beautiful machine!
If it was a muscle car, the 4440 would be called a “tribute” – i.e., a machine that has been built to replicate a model that wasn’t within the owner’s reach for one reason or another. In this case, Gary wasn’t flying to Argentina to traipse through the countryside hunting for an original (even if he found one, it would have been a miracle if he could’ve gotten it Stateside without spending a boatload of money).
So, he built one just like Deere built, but didn’t sell here.
Gary purchased this open-station 4050 a few years ago from the estate sale of the original owner near Effingham, IL (for those of you 6030 nuts who know Brad Walk – it was just down the road from his farm). As is common with the small round tachs, this one failed (at about 1500 hours) and was replaced by the Deere dealer. The replacement shows 1428 hours, and based on the way that it runs and drives, Gary’s pretty sure the numbers add up. He told me, “This feels nice and tight like a 3000-hour tractor should.”
When he got it home, he cleaned and detailed it, but it really didn’t need anything more than that. The paint is super-clean, and aside from mild wear on the step (and the replacement tach), it’s about as original as you can get!
It’s a pretty rare one, too. One of 106 built!
This 4250 is originally a North Carolina tractor that somehow or another found its way to Iowa, and then Minnesota…which is where Gary found it. It had faded paint, and it needed some minor engine work (setting valves and such). However, once it had been gone through and done some time on the auger, this Quad Range turned out to be quite a nice tractor. The hours showing aren’t original (it shows 819), but the tractor itself feels like new when you drive it. Like several others in Gary’s collection, Levi Schug has put in a lot of time on the cosmetic restoration. In fact, I think this one was one of his favorites. It’s a sharp tractor, and I can totally understand why he took a liking to it! It’s a lot of fun to drive!
John Deere built it on April 13, 1983 and sold about five weeks later. Of all of the tractors Gary’s parting with on this sale, this one is the second rarest. One of 27 built!
Last, but certainly not least…the animal of the bunch.
Waterloo probably never considered building an open-station 4455 MFWD. But in Gary’s mind, they should’ve. So he did.
And before anybody gets all up in arms, let me be clear. He didn’t destroy a low-houred one-owner barn find to do this. Granted, it wasn’t a worn-out machine at all, but with 8000-some hours on the meter, it had done some farming. Furthermore, it was injured.
It wasn’t terminal, but it was going to be a pretty spendy repair bill.
I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but at some point in its life, it had suffered a run-in with an overhead door. And at the end of the day, a dealer in Southern Illinois ended up with it. While the damage wasn’t horrendous, Gary figured they were going to have to eat a $6-7K bill before they could put it on the lot. So he called and made an as-is offer. Initially, the dealer didn’t want to take the offer, but I have a feeling that the used equipment manager probably stewed on it overnight and realized that it was a lot less hassle to let Gary have it.
Little did he know the open-station plans in store for this tractor once it got to South Dakota…
The build was like most of the others. He tore it down and swapped over the platforms in his shop. Once that part was done, it was off to Levi to beat on for a bit to make sure there weren’t any powertrain issues. When they were both happy, Levi made it look factory-fresh, and sent it back to Gary in January of 2021.
(Side note: I asked Gary if he’d sent the dealer a photo of the finished product. He said, “Nope, but I’ll bet they’ve seen it by now!”)
Many of these tractors have been fairly recent projects, honestly. So why sell them now?
There’s a couple of reasons.
Plus, let’s be real honest here…it’s been a pretty good harvest, and Iron Horses are hotter than they’ve ever been before. From a purely fiscal perspective, it’s a GREAT time to offload clean machines like these. Furthermore, Gary’s got no shortage of hobbies. He and his wife love to travel, ride side by sides, and lots of other stuff. Trust me, he won’t twiddle his thumbs much.
He’s not alone in this, either. One of his best friends is selling off part of his collection as well, and there are some absolute show-stopping Sound-Gards, New Gens, and 7000-series tractors on his side of the sale! I won’t go through them all, but check out some of these beauties below!
Just after lunch, a driver rolled in with a few more machines selling at this auction. The one on the back is the last 4255!
Folks, that’s the thing. This is really the tip of the iceberg. Westra Auctions will sell 16 more low-houred, immaculately-kept machines on this sale!
These tractors represent a bygone era of farming, and they represent it really well.
Now, I know it’s on Thanksgiving weekend, which is tough for some people. And at first, I thought to myself, “Thanksgiving? That’s a horrible weekend for an auction!”
But after thinking about it a little more, it does make sense. It’s when we all slow down a little and take a break; why not throw a little electricity into the mix and give tractor collectors something to do other than eat leftovers and watch football? I mean, when’s the last time you’ve seen this many Sound-Gard era open-station tractors sell at the same auction?
Will I be able to be there? I’m not sure yet. It looks like we’ve got family in town, but if I can sell Kara on the idea, I absolutely will. Wish me luck…
Here are the auction details one more time.