Like his father before him, Dwayne Sunberg has always farmed with John Deere equipment on his 3,000 acres in Audubon County, Iowa. “I grew up on two cylinder tractors. It’s in my blood, there really is no other brand.”
But after surviving a triple bypass surgery in 1998, Dwayne’s devotion to the color green rose to a whole new level when he started collecting antique John Deere tractors as a form of therapy. “You could say the green bug hit me,” Dwayne says, explaining how a 530 Model tractor was his first acquisition.
Nearly 20 years later, Dwayne’s collection had grown to 26 refurbished tractors and 220 memorabilia items, including vintage dealer signs, custom toys and pedal tractors. The collection grew so large, Dwayne had to build, then enlarge, a special shed to house the equipment. Dwayne and his wife Pat quickly built a reputation for their impressive collection throughout central Iowa. “We just love sharing our collection. We’ve had visitors come from all over for tractor rides at the farm and have shown them in dozens of parades.” Dwayne said. In 2006, they showed 19 of their refurbished tractors in the Exira Fourth of July parade and won Best Collection Award.
And just as a major life event inspired Dwayne to start collecting, a tragic accident in 2014 that took the life of his 19-year-old grandson, Matt Sunberg, led the 78-year-old farmer to consider letting it all go. From the time he was eight years old, Matt spent every spare moment helping on the family farm, from baling hay to harvesting soybeans. “Things haven’t been the same since I lost my farming partner,” Dwayne said with a catch in his voice. “It’s going to be really tough, but we’ll get through it.”
Dwayne and Pat made the difficult decision to sell the collection. In the days leading up to the sale, the couple experienced many mixed emotions, but tried to focus on the good times. That included a Gold Key Tour at John Deere Harvester Works in 2010. “They do such a nice job there, we were treated like royalty when we visited the factory,” Pat recalled. “Matt even got to get on the line and start our 9770 combine for the very first time!”
Earlier this month, on a hot, humid weekend, nearly 1,000 John Deere fans, some from as far away as Oregon, gathered on the Sunberg farm to take home pieces of Dwayne’s beloved tractor collection. “The auction was excellent. I am 100% confident that the equipment went to great homes,” Dwayne reflected on the experience. “I don’t know if I’ll buy more tractors, we’ll see how long I last,” Dwayne responded amidst the buzz of the weekend excitement. “One thing I’ve learned over the past 55 years is that you have to farm with green and yellow. There is no other brand.”
While the collection is now gone, there is one thing that will never be sold – their love for John Deere. “We’re going to continue on with our farm, its baling season now and we still have the 4320 to take people on tractor rides. We won’t quit until we can’t! I just hope that the new owners will cherish the equipment as much as we have.”
Dwayne Sunberg began collecting and restoring antique tractors as a form of therapy after undergoing triple-bypass heart surgery in 1998. His collection grew larger over time and expanded to include other John Deere-related memorabilia through the years.