Editor's Note: This story on the Loeb family's fleet of vintage John Deere tractors was one of our most popular stories of 2020. It was originally posted on Dec. 24, 2020. We're reposting it here for the many fans and collectors of vintage farm equipment. For more stories about vintage machinery -- and to share your own stories -- see Russ' Vintage Iron column at https://www.dtnpf.com/….
LA PORTE CITY, Iowa (DTN) -- Few things make Jim Loeb happier than the roar of a John Deere 5020 and the subsequent belch of black exhaust as the small-but-mighty diesel tractor lunges forward with a full grain cart in tow.
The jubilant feelings intensify when Loeb's grandson, Clayton Loeb, is behind the wheel. It encapsulates everything the La Porte City, Iowa, farmer holds dear: family, farming and vintage John Deere tractors.
"My grandson was trying to get up a hill with the 1967 5020 pulling a 900-bushel grain cart and he didn't make it," Jim recalled during the past harvest. "He backs her down. I said, 'The old girl is pissed off; she can do it.' It started barking as he went up the hill (again)," he continued. "He had her revved up this time (and made it). That's good for a little bitty [engine] block pulling 50,000 pounds (of corn) and the tractor and grain cart weighing another 30,000 pounds."
It didn't shock Loeb the tractor conquered the hill. He and his family restored the vintage green tractor years before to have beauty and power. They installed a turbo to crank out about 170 horsepower, which is about 50 hp more than when it rolled off the assembly line in nearby Waterloo, Iowa.
"She will pull anything," boasted Clayton Loeb, then a senior at Union High School. "She surprises me every day."
Loeb Farms has 15 vintage John Deere tractors -- two 3010s, a 4010, a 4020 powershift, two 4320s, three 5020s and six 6030s -- in its stable of tractors. Most are fully restored.
The Loebs predominantly use John Deere tractors built in the 1960s and 1970s, which lack the creature comforts and technology of modern machines, to grow about 1,000 acres of corn.
The family's newest tractor, a 1995 John Deere 8400 with front-wheel assist, is considered the ugly stepsister of the fleet.
Jim Loeb farms with his son, Clint, and his wife, Seraysa, and two of their six children. Even though the 8400 has an air-ride seat, GPS guidance and auto steer, they all prefer the older tractors. They primarily use the 8400 out of necessity to plant, where technology is needed.
"You would think you would want to drive the newer tractor, but in reality, it's not nearly as comfortable compared to the old 6030," Clint Loeb said. "It rides so smooth and it turns great. You hit the inside brake and she goes right around."
BUCKING THE TREND
It's not uncommon on farmsteads today to see an older tractor or two power an auger or pull a wagon. However, it is unusual in an era of precision agriculture for an operation that isn't a hobby farm to shun tractors with roomy, luxurious cabs, push-button controls and filled with technology.
It isn't that the Loebs aren't good farmers. Their corn yields typically exceed the county average, which was 183.4 bushels per acre from 2010-2019.
Jim Loeb says there's a reason behind his use of and obsession with older green iron. In the early 1990s, he decided to invest in land instead of machinery to grow his operation. And older equipment is easier for the family to repair themselves.
"We had better luck with older stuff anyway, so we got rid of the newer machinery and bought land," Jim Loeb explained. "Older, well-maintained tractors retain their value while newer machinery does not.
"Land values have gone up from about $1,100 per acre (when Loeb started buying) to well over $10,000 per acre now," he continued. "That was the best decision I made."
Clint and the rest of the Loeb clan never questioned Jim's choice. They embrace it.
Without hefty equipment payments, Loeb Farms has been able to buy 400 acres since the early 1990s, which means more security to continue the family operation well into the future. No machinery payments also lowers their corn production costs to sub-$3.50 per bushel.
"This might be the year (2020) the tractors (financially) save the day," Clint Loeb said, noting a midsummer drought reduced yields and revenue.
MORE THAN MONEY
The financial benefits of older equipment are nice, but the joy that accompanies the time spent together to find, fix and operate vintage tractors is what the family truly cherishes.
In a way, the tractors cultivate a bond like no other. That happens when family members travel to Louisiana to buy a rusty John Deere 6030 tractor for $1,500 -- which the family aptly named after the state. In fact, they have named several tractors after the state where the equipment was purchased.
The Loebs spent about $20,000 and several months to tear it down to the frame, rebuild the engine and transmission, change castings and tires and paint "Louisiana" to look and work like new.
Jim Loeb said the time spent traveling to find tractors, searching junkyards for parts and turning wrenches together is priceless.
"Family time is what it's all about," he exclaimed.
Clint Loeb added the tractors are family. Using manuals and trial and error at times, the Loebs -- all self-taught mechanics -- keep the machines in the field. Clint said they know almost every bolt, gasket and torque spec by heart.
"It has got to the point that Seraysa can put one of these tractors back together herself," he proudly bragged.
"I didn't grow up farming, but I love it and the old tractors," she added. "The 6030s are my favorite."
That sentiment rings true for a lot of farmers, according to Kyle McMahon, CEO and founder of Tractor Zoom. The company connects farmers and auctioneers to facilitate the sale of used farm equipment. Iron Comps, powered by Tractor Zoom, tracks sales.
Recent auction data shows 6030s in reasonable condition sell for about $21,000. Restored, meticulously maintained versions bring in the high- to mid-$30,000 range. A new 1977 6030 cost $29,000.
"The older John Deere tractors built in the 1960s and '70s, like the 6030s, definitely hold their value," McMahon said. "There's farmers that love and are willing to overpay for them for sentimental reasons."
Clint Loeb believes "Louisiana" alone is worth $40,000 "all day long." He believes all the family's vintage tractors, though it takes time and money to keep them in the field, far exceed what's invested in them. But don't expect a Loeb tractor sale any time soon. The implements still have a lot of grain to haul and fields to till and spray.
"They perform remarkably well for their age," Clint Loeb said. "I love the tractors. It would be hard to get rid of them."
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