Although it’s just a hobby, Howard Axelson has plenty to show for what he does in his free time — a 150- by 50-foot shed “squeezed” full of antique tractors, some of which date back to the 1920s, and all of which he still has up and running.
He also has a simple explanation as to why he’s now throwing in the towel on his pastime.
“Dad’s not around anymore,” said the 60-year-old Weld County, Colo., farmer, who for decades spent much of his free time traveling the region with his father, John, collecting antique tractors. He now has 26 of them.
“It’s just not as much fun without him. I guess everything comes to an end at some point,” Axelson said.
While sentiment makes it difficult for Axelson to part ways with his unique and now large collection, the event that will officially mark the end of the tractor-collecting era will be a spectacular one, according to those who are organizing it.
On Nov. 30, Axelson will auction off all 26 of his antique tractors along with about a dozen other tractors.
Organizers of the upcoming event — Kreps Wiedeman Auctioneers and Real Estate Inc., based in Greeley, Colo. — say the auction will be biggest of its kind in recent memory.
“We’ve never heard of an antique tractor auction quite like this anywhere in the area ... not this big, and not in the 30 years we’ve been in business,” said Bob Kreps. “There’s often one or two antique tractors sold here and there at regular auctions ... but nothing like this.”
This week, Axelson reflected fondly of times when he and his father would hit the road in search of the antique machines — like when they brought home “an extremely rare” 1928 Rumely Do-All, with all steel wheels, that had been tucked away in the trees behind a convenience store in unincorporated Orchard, Colo.
“He loved the hunt,” Axelson said of his father.
John Axelson, who died five years ago at the age of 89, had been a lover of tractors since he was a child, Howard explained.
“It’s because he absolutely hated horses,” Axelson said of his father with a laugh. “He spent his childhood having to break them in. So when the family got its first tractor, some time during the Depression, he thought that was the coolest thing ever. He was hooked on tractors from then on.”
John started his antique tractor collection in the late 1970s, and Howard began helping his father around 1990.
Today, the family has a collection that includes a 1928 McCormick-Deering 15-30, and — the oldest in the bunch — a 1926 Fordson.
Axelson said another reason he’s selling off the tractors is because he and his wife, Jenny, who’s a teacher in Briggsdale, Colo., are retiring and planning to settle on land they own in Montana.
“Like I said before, everything comes to an end at some point,” said Axelson, who is also retiring from farming and from raising Holstein replacement heifers for local dairies.
“We just sold the last of our animals. It’s the first time since 1904 that the Axelsons haven’t had Holsteins on their land.”
He added, “But we’re looking forward to everything ahead. The upcoming auction ... retirement. It’ll all be good.” ❖