CERESCO – When Dennis Johnson purchased his first tractor decades ago, he developed a sort of addiction to finding new machines to add to his collection.
“You get the bug,” the 80-year-old Ceresco man said. “It gets to be a little bit of a disease; it’s the hunt of a new item.”
In the years since, Johnson has dedicated his life to collecting rare steam engines and tractors, becoming well known in the steam-engine community and accumulating one of the most expansive private collections in the world.
On Saturday, that work paid off in a big way as he auctioned off his renowned lot to a group of buyers from over 30 states and 15 countries.
The auction featured hundreds of items – antique tractors, corn shellers, sawmills, high wheel wagons, traction engines, wheat binders and early and rare gas tractors.
Nixon Auctioneers showcased over 240 items during the almost seven-hour sale, with the entire collection selling for $408,420. Individual items ranged from $10 to $46,000.
“I might use some of the money to donate to church, pay bills,” Johnson said. “I guess we will see.”
A vintage 22-44 Minneapolis tractor with red, green and black detail built in the 1920s in Hopkins, Minnesota, sold for $46,000.
“Some didn’t bring what I thought they would, but some brought more than I thought,” Johnson said. “It went well overall.”
Johnson realized as he approached his 80s that it was time for him to consider unloading his steam engines, which covered a large parking lot on Elm and First streets in Ceresco across from his home.
Over 130 bidders were present when the auction started at 9 a.m. Saturday, as the sale kicked off with of dozens of small parts like fuel injectors and drip oilers. The American Legion sold food and drinks to buyers and observers in a neighboring park.
More buyers continued to arrive as the auction went on, and an online auction was held in tandem allowing people outside of Ceresco to join in.
Many friends and family members stopped by to congratulate Johnson on his big day.
Although Johnson was selling all but one of his steam engines, he said his love for collecting will never retire.
“I’ll still play around,” he said. “I might even buy one back.”