Harold Langbehn lives and breathes John Deere two-cylinder tractors. Thirty-eight years ago, he bought a 1936 John Deere A tractor and so began his extensive collection of John Deere two-cylinder tractors, plows, parts, and memorabilia. But the time has come that he has to part with his collection at an auction.
Today, his collection has grown to 31 tractors (18 of which are restored), 12 restored plows, a large assortment of collectible magazines (Two Cylinder Magazine, Green Magazine, and Gas Engine Magazine), collectible parts, owner's manuals, Farmer's Pocket Ledgers, and so much more. He has enough parts and memorabilia to fill three hay racks. All of his tractors have come from about a 100 mile radius of Dysart, with the exception of the 820, which he bought in Illinois.
Langbehn grew up in Green Mountain, Iowa where his love for farming began. "I was raised on the farm and I worked with these tractors. I have the first tractor that I drove. I grew up on John Deere but I left at 18 because farming wasn't too good those days. One day, I got a wild hair and bought a tractor and from then on it just kind of mushroomed," said Langbehn.
Above, Harold Langbehn tells a story about his 1947 GM tractor, which was the last year they were built. At left, Langbehn shows off his collection of Farmer’s Pocket Ledgers.
In his younger years, Langbehn worked as a mechanic for a Chevrolet dealer and an International Harvester dealer. For 30 years, he ran the Dysart Laundorama and his profits often went towards his tractors. The majority of his career was spent as the Superintendent of Utilities in Dysart. 20 years ago he retired after 40 years of service, and has spent much of his time since then working on his tractors in his shop next to the Dysart Community Building. With hands on experience, he self taught himself about working on and restoring tractors.
"I like to bring an old tractor back to life and make them look like when they are new. I do everything. I start out by taking them apart, put in rings, grind the valves, go through them and see what else they need. I do the painting, repair the mags, and carburetors. I do it from start to finish," said Langbehn.
His wife, Cleo, can only laugh about her husband's love for tractors as she thinks back about all of the times he brought a new tractor home. "I was never a farm girl and I always lived in town so it didn't really interest me, but we always had food on the table," said Cleo.
Cleo and Harold have six children and 17 grandchildren between the two of them. Cleo's daughters are the most interested in his tractors and one of the daughters has driven a tractor in the Old Iron Days tractorcade with Harold many times. In addition to tractor rides, he has a wall full of plaques in his home from power shows in the surrounding area that he has participated in. Sometimes his family helps out at the shop, but Harold prides himself on being a "one man operation".
Some of his tractors have memories and stories behind them including the John Deere A that his dad bought in 1937, sold in 1968 and Harold found and bought it in 1990. He restored the tractor back to how it looked when his dad bought it in 1937, complete on full steel. He also has wheels that were on one of his dad's tractors. The oldest tractor in his collection is a 1930 GP and the newest is the 1958 820.
Out of all of his tractors, the 1950 John Deere R is his favorite. "The best times I've had were running the trash machine with that old R. I've run the saw mill with it, I've plowed with it, and I've done a tractor pull. I hate to see that one go. I hope some of them stay in the area so I can see them once in a while," said Langbehn.
Langbehn has been busily preparing for the auction by washing, cleaning and sorting through his collection. He's not happy about having to part with it, but the time has come. "I kind of hate it. I don't know what's going to happen afterwards, but I'm going to miss them, I know that. There are a few that are going to kind of hurt. But they've got to go," said Langbehn.
Calls are coming in from around the country from places like Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Michigan, New York and all over Iowa. Avid tractor collectors from near and far are interested in his collection.
"The way it talks, we're going to have a crowd here in Dysart," said Cleo. They don't know how many people to expect, but are confident there will be a lot of people. Harold says he has been to auctions like this in the past and has seen people from as far away as Canada. Nixon Auctioneers, from Wakefield, Nebraska, who is conducting the auction, will also have bids from those who will be buying sight unseen.
"He knows what he spent on every tractor. He kept every bill. He has boxes of receipts," said Cleo. After the auction, Harold will know where he stands and after all of his hard work, he will certainly be ahead.
"I didn't do it for the money. I just enjoyed working on them and bringing tractors back to looking like they were new. They all run. I can crank every one of them," said Langbehn.
The Dysart Development Corporation will be helping wherever they are needed, including offering rides to people who may have to park blocks away. The Dysart Lyons will be serving hotdogs, burgers, brats, chips and beverages.
Harold has a box of pictures to remember his beloved tractors by but he will miss them. "I just don't know what I'm going to do, but I'll think of something. I was the same way when I retired, but then I got busy," said Langbehn.
He hopes to go on a fishing trip to Northern Minnesota, where he used to go with his fishing buddy, his son, who passed away four years ago.
Even at 83 years old, Langbehn is still active in the Dysart community. He has served as a volunteer firefighter for 62 years, 35 years of that as the fire chief. He even recently donated his 21st gallon of blood. He helped start the tree board and the Dysart Ambulance Service and served on both. He also served on city council and the planning and zoning board.
The auction will be held at 9 a.m. September 8 at the Dysart City Park. Everyone is invited and encouraged to attend.