July 21, 2024

A lifetime of collecting tractors

Tractors that were up for auction at the farm equipment sale of Paul F. Johnson's lifetime of collecting.

For most farmers, it’s not unusual for them to have a few different tractors on hand. For some, however, a few tractors turns into many tractors, resulting in a large collection. One such farmer this was true for was the late Paul F. Johnson of Murray, who at the time of his passing had over 40 tractors that he had spent years collecting. Prior to a farm equipment estate auction on May 18, Paul’s wife, Joan, spoke about Paul’s love of tractors and life of farming.

On the farm

In 1953 after returning home from the Korean War, Paul and Joan moved to Paul’s family farm just northwest of Murray, a farm purchased in 1856 by Paul’s great-grandfather Thomas Johnson. Paul’s parents had farmed using horses, so one of Paul’s first acts as a new, fourth-generation farmer was to buy a tractor - a John Deere.

As a young farmer, Paul’s grandfather, Frank Johnson, was out just about every morning to check in on Paul and to make sure that he was doing okay. Joan shared that one November day, Paul said to his grandfather,

“Grandpa, I need a heat-houser for the tractor.”

Frank asked how much it cost, and Paul told him it would be $40. After a minute of thought, Frank replied,

“You know, you can put on a lot of clothes for $40.”

Paul later purchased a heat houser as the cold Iowa winter months went on.

Tractors

Over the years, Paul attended many auctions, buying tractors of different makes and models, or sometimes buying straight from an owner. He had John Deeres, Farmalls, Allis Chalmbers, Massey Harris, Minneapolis-Moline and Fords. Paul drove all of the tractors at one point or another, and while Joan wasn’t sure which was his favorite, she said that he was always partial to John Deeres.

“When you collect, you just hope for one of every kind I guess,” said Joan.

Paul was active with the Clarke County Old Iron Club, and enjoyed going on tractor rides with them. The O’Hair Plow Day in Weldon was an event that Paul always looked forward to attending and participating in. He also participated in the WHO Tractor Ride, and the tractor ride in Creston. He took whichever tractor he felt like, though Joan said it was probably most often a John Deere 720 diesel. The rides were a great way to meet new people and see old friends, and a chance to see all the tractors.

As Paul got older, Joan said he often remarked that he didn’t want to see his tractors sell. He had their three boys - Joel, Mark and Jay - choose whatever tractors they wanted to take home for themselves. Paul passed in March of 2023, and after a year, it was time to move the tractors on to new homes. Putney Auction Services of Indianola was enlisted to help with the auction, and thus began the process of getting everything ready.

Auction

In preparation for the sale, the tractors were brought out of storage from two of Paul’s barns. They were cleaned up, most got new batteries and it was determined which ones still ran and which were going to require a bit of TLC. While most were still in good shape, there were a few that would just be for parts, and “yard ornaments,” as Joan smiled.

In addition to the tractors, a McCormick Deering wooden thrasher that had once been drawn by horses was auctioned off, as was an old sleigh, high-wheel wagon, an old Murray volunteer fire department truck that had been used to haul extra water, a cider press and other small implements and parts. The auction began online ahead of the in-person sale, and Joan reported that they had had several interested lookers out to the farm to see the tractors that were lined up in rows.

On the day of the sale, the weather held out for a nice morning, and people came from several states to pick up tractors that they had seen and bid on online. The furthest buyer drove over 1,200 miles from Maryland to pick up a tractor. Others came from Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, with some people buying more than one tractor.

While it was hard to see a lifetime of collecting go, it was time for the tractors to find new homes, and new owners to enjoy them as Paul had.

A wooden, horse-drawn threshing machine at the Paul F. Johnson equipment sale.

Candra Brooks

A native of rural Union County, Candra holds a Bachelor's Degree in English from Simpson College and an Associate's Degree in Accounting from SWCC. She has been at the Osceola newspaper since October 2013, working as office manager before transitioning to the newsroom in spring 2022.