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Road trips, rare John Deeres, and a factory open-station 4440

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 was selling a few absolutely jaw-dropping tractors at an upcoming collector's auction in South Dakota. He had 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 information 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 alongside 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.

Auction Date: Nov. 26, 2022 – 10 a.m. MDT

Auctioneer: Westra Auction

Format: Live Auction with online bidding (Online bidding is open now.)

Location: 27711 SD-17, Lennox, South Dakota 57039 (The Lincoln County Fairgrounds) Auction Catalog on Tractor Zoom

Okay, back to playing hooky.

Gary is a John Deere guy through and through. He started farming on green tractors in 1976, and now collects them. In fact, the day I met him, he was buying an open-station 1972 John Deere 4020 HFWD at an auction for a close friend who was still in the field and couldn't get away for the sale.

A line up of John Deere tractors in front of grain bins.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

The day I met him, Gary took the second tractor in the row home with him. Pretty tractor.

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 that collection back in the day:

A panoramic photo of the Peterson family's lineup of John Deere tractors
Photo credit: The Peterson Family

Gary had an enviable collection of 10 and 20-Series John Deeres at one point.

However, in the last 10 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. When he had the opportunity, he started collecting a full set. Along the way, he's also been able to recreate a unicorn 4440 and build his dream 4450.

Gary's Collection: Details are everything

From the moment I walked in the shop, I was really impressed by 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.

Gary could've picked up a half dozen ether cans on the shelf at Pedersen Machine, which would have worked fine, but because they're all 80s tractors, it would've looked out of place. Instead, he sought out period-correct ether cans to install. (For those of you who are into that stuff, you know how hard it is to find some of them.) He found period-correct oil and fuel filters, too. What's more, he also added some convenient features. Each tractor is hard-wired for a battery tender, and a disconnect to minimize the risk of fire. Although 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.  

Right to left: A 4040 HFWD, a 4240, a 4440, a 4050, a 4250, and a 4450 MFWD.
Photo credit: Julie Peterson

Right to left: A 4040 HFWD, a 4240, a 4440, a 4050, a 4250, and a 4450 MFWD. 

1982 John Deere 4040P HFWD: The rarest of them all

John Deere 4040 HFWA. 1 of 1 built with the late-production operator's platform.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

John Deere 4040 HFWA - 1 of 1 built with the late-production operator's platform.

This is the only John Deere 4040 HFWD Powershift produced with late open-station fenders. The build date was April 30, 1982. Deere shipped it to Mohr Implement in Eldredge, Iowa, who sold it shortly thereafter. At some point, the engine failed, and was replaced by John Deere. Gary also believes that the tachometer was replaced at the same time. While it's not 100% original, almost everything about the tractor's life is pretty well documented (including the original engine's serial) in a folder of information that will 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, Iowa. Levi is unbelievably talented when it comes to restoring and repainting tractors. I've seen multiple examples of his work and it's beautiful.

John Deere 4040 tractor
Photo credit: Julie Peterson

It might be the baby of the family, but man alive, this is a pretty tractor. 

1982 John Deere 4240H: South Dakota by way of Iowa, then Michigan

John Deere 4240 tractor
Photo credit: Julie Peterson

This 4240 open-station went from Iowa to Michigan, until Gary found it.

This 1982 John Deere 4240 Quad Range was sold new in Kalona, Iowa, (likely at Ernie Ropp's dealership, for you pulling fans) and invoiced on Sept. 14, 1982. It's one of only 85 built with late open-station fenders. There are 4,285 hours on the original tachometer. 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. It wasn't ideal, but it was the best thing to do for the tractor. In any event, once the tractor was shipshape, Josh Berthelsen handled the restoration and repainting. It turned out beautifully, in my opinion. As I understand it, aside from the frame rails, everything else is original to the tractor.

1982 John Deere 4440P: The Tribute Tractor

John Deere open-station 4440 tractor.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

This is where things start getting interesting. Contrary to popular belief, you could get an open station 4440 — if you lived in Argentina. 

Yes, John Deere did build factory open-station 4440s.

For decades, it was believed that John Deere never built an open-station version of the 4440. This has been the subject of hot debate over the years when purported "factory open-station" tractors showed up on the markets here and there. Thus far, none of the sellers have ever produced proof that theirs was indeed a factory original.

Buddy Kavalier, a John Deere employee with occasional access to the company archives, and a mutual friend of ours, 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 them, and they weren't sold 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, and 55-Series tractors. 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.

Gary's 1982 4440 Open-Station

The tribute tractor to the Argentinian 4440 open-station.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

If it was a muscle car, it would be called a “tribute.” 

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 that originally came from Texas. Gary bought it with the intention of converting 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." 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" — a machine that was 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 to get it stateside without spending a boatload of money.)

So, he built one just like Deere built, but didn't sell here.

The view from the John Deere 4040 tractor.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

Gary's 4440 is a beautiful machine, and I was honored when he told me to climb on and fire it up. It's a pretty nice view from the platform, too.

1983 John Deere 4050H: The Effingham tractor

A John Deere 4050 in a machine shed.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

This is the only one of these tractors that hasn't been treated to a full-blown restoration because it really didn't need it.

Gary purchased this open-station 4050 a few years ago from the estate sale of the original owner near Effingham, Illinois. (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 tachometers, this one failed (at about 1,500 hours), and was replaced by the Deere dealer. The replacement shows 1,428 hours, and based on how it runs and drives, Gary's pretty sure the numbers add up. He told me, “This feels nice and tight like a 3,000-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 tachometer), it's about as original as you can get. It's a pretty rare one, too, one of only 106 built.

1983 John Deere 4250H: It's not a Southern Belle

The John Deere 4250, Southern Belle, in a machine shed.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

Don't let the North Carolina dealership decal fool you, this ain't no Southern Belle.

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 819 hours showing aren't original, 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 into 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 the tractors Gary's parting with on this sale, this one is the second rarest as it’s one of only 27 built.

A John Deere 4250 in front of an American flag.
Photo credit: Julie Peterson

The 50-Series doesn't get much better than this. 

Last, but certainly not least: the animal of the bunch.

1987 John Deere 4450P MFWD: The Animal

The John Deere 4050 tractor in a machine shed.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

As far as I'm concerned, this is probably the ultimate 50-Series Deere. Just imagine what this would look like with duals.

This is a tractor that Deere never built, but they should have.

Waterloo probably never considered building an open-station 4455 MFWD. But in Gary's mind, they should have. So he did.

Before anybody gets all up in arms, let me be clear. He didn't destroy a low-hour, single-owner barn find to do this. Granted, it wasn't a worn-out machine at all, but with roughly 8,000 hours on the meter, it had done some farming. Furthermore, it was injured.

It wasn't terminal, but it was going to be a rather costly repair bill.

I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but at some point in its life, the tractor had suffered a run-in with an overhead door. At the end of the day, a dealer in southern Illinois ended up with it. While the damage wasn't horrendous, Gary figured they would have to eat a $6,000-$7,000 bill before they could put it on the lot. 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 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!")

John Deere 4450 tractor
Photo credit: Julie Peterson

Seriously, this would be the coolest old-school planter tractor ever.

Why sell now?

Many of these tractors have been recent projects, so why sell them now?

There are a couple of reasons.

  1. Priorities change. “Ryan,” Gary said, “I’m at a point in my life where if it’s a tossup between playing with tractors or going to my grandson's flag football game, there's zero question which one I'm going to choose. Tractors will always be here, but my grandsons don't stay in flag football forever, you know?" I totally get that. If I were in Gary's position and it was a tossup between going tractor pulling or watching my niece cheer at her last Homecoming game, I'm going to the game, too. That's a no-brainer.
  2. In the end, it's all just stuff. They make more of it every day. The real joy in tractor collecting, for Gary, has always been the hunt, but more importantly than that, it's the friendships you build with people who appreciate the same stuff you do.

Plus, let's be 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 traveling, riding side by sides, and plenty of other things. 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, 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.

More beauties selling at this auction

A whole lineup of John Deere tractors in a machine shed.
Photo credit: Westra Auction

There's really something for everybody on this sale. Don't like open-stations? Westra has you covered.

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.

A semi truck with three John Deere tractors on its bed.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

Can you imagine the looks that this driver got while he was en route? You don't see loads like this very often.

1992 John Deere 4255 & 4455

This 4455 is kind of interesting in that it was ordered without a 3-point.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

Here's the last of the 4255s. As you can see, time has been pretty kind to this 3,500-hour tractor. 

This 4455 is kind of interesting in that it was ordered without a 3-point.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

This 4455 is kind of interesting in that it was ordered without a 3-point. 

One of the John Deere tractors on a trailer.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

What a gorgeous day to move some iron. 

The front ends of the 4255 and 4455 tractors. And a side by side.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

I should've moved the side by side before I took this photo. The things we think about after the shot. 

2003 John Deere 7810 MFWD

I'm a fairly confident driver, but I don't think I'd want to be the guy in charge of backing a dual'd-up 7810 off a step-deck.
Photo credit: Ryan Roossinck

I'm a fairly confident driver, but I don't think I'd want to be the guy in charge of backing a dual'd-up 7810 off of a step-deck.

1972 John Deere 4020 Diesel Powershift HFWDs

Remember the 4020 that Gary was picking up for a friend the day I met him back in 2019? This is that tractor.
Photo credit: Westra Auction

Remember the 4020 that Gary was picking up for a friend the day I met him back in 2019? This is that tractor. It's a documented factory-built PowerShift HFWD. 

Here's its twin, with a cab. Both are factory-built the way you see them here. Neat pieces of history, and rare, too.
Photo credit: Westra Auction

Here's its twin, with a cab. Both are factory-built the way you see them here. Neat pieces of history, and rare, too. 

1994 John Deere 4560 MFWD

This is one of two 4560s on the auction. This one has 9300 hours on it. The other is a 2WD with unknown hours.
Photo credit: Westra Auction

This is one of two 4560s on the auction. This one has 9,300 hours on it. The other is a 2WD with unknown hours, but every bit as clean. 

Folks, that's the thing. This is really the tip of the iceberg. Westra Auctions will sell 16 more low-hour, immaculately-kept machines on this sale.

Wrapping up

These tractors represent a bygone era of farming, and they represent it well.

Now, I know it's on Thanksgiving weekend, which is tough for some people. 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 besides 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:

Auction Date: November 26, 2022 – 10 a.m. MDT

Auctioneer: Westra Auction

Format: Live Auction with online bidding (Online bidding is open now.)

Location: 27711 SD-17, Lennox, South Dakota 57039 (The Lincoln County Fairgrounds) Auction Catalog on Tractor Zoom

Ryan Roossinck
Hi! I’m Ryan, and I love tractors. It doesn’t matter if it’s a showpiece, an oddball, or seen its share of life ... if it’s unique and it’s listed by one of our auctioneer partners at Tractor Zoom, I’m going to show it off a little bit! This equipment is all up for auction RIGHT NOW so you can bid on it. I think it’s cool, and I hope you will too! This is Interesting Iron!

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