Showing posts with label John Deere. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Deere. Show all posts

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nothing Runs Like a Deere

The two-cylinder tractor that can cause
a Midwestern man to sigh with love
Years ago at my local Rotary club, an area doctor got up to give a speech not on his specialty, but his collection of vintage John Deere tractors. As soon as this was announced, you could practically feel the room vibrate and buzz, such was the enthusiasm of the men in my club for this subject. You would have thought the Ferrari dealer had shown up!

John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois

So it didn't surprise me to learn that the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois is the fifth most visited building in Illinois, hosting visitors from all over the world. John Deere has been rated one of the 100 most reputable and trusted brands in the world so this buzz must happen everywhere.

The famous leaping deer and an awesome dump truck

It was hard to find the Pavilion.  I only knew about it through word-of-mouth (obviously they are advertising somewhere) and there was no signage on Highway 88 telling me about it or where I should turn to get to downtown Moline to see it. I accidentally ended up at the John Deere World Headquarters because I missed my turn.

I would have deere-ly (yuk, yuk) loved to have seen the inside of that building because it was designed by world-class Finnish architect Eero Saarinen in the 1960s. It is supposed to have amazing art and murals inside and this giant wall of farm memorabilia from all over the world. The building is on the list of 150 most architecturally significant buildings in Illinois. Today though, we came to see tractors!

Daughter #1 admires a John Deere combine and attachment

Even at 5'10" there was still head room left in the combine tire

We got back on the highway and made our way to downtown Moline. Our first stop was the John Deere pavilion itself which has enough gigantic machinery out front to excite anyone's inner eight-year-old. My favorite was the dump truck. But there was also a giant combine (I think that's what it's called) with a retail value of $312,000. outfitted with a $37,000 attachment on the front. How farmers afford this, I don't know! Wouldn't it take a farm the size of a Soviet collective?

Insert the 'Green Acres' theme song here

Inside was a display on the future of agriculture focused on four different areas: population growth, sustainability, precision farming, and biotechnology (that last subject is probably for you Europeans - we know how it makes you go just a little bit over the edge, right?).

One kiosk showed the population growth rates for various areas of the world and the estimated amount of each type of food it will take to feed everyone. Three new mouths to feed are born every second. Here's the annual population growth rates for various locations:

The world +1.3 %
Italy -0.08
U.S. + 0.87
Brazil +1.24
Mexico +1.77
Iraq +3.20
Gaza +6.40

I also was able to compare my intake of each sort of food with U.S. averages.

Average annual amount of various foods eaten by U.S. Citizens individually:

Vegetables 173.5 lbs.
Fruit 126.0 lbs.
Coffee 6.1 lbs. (I am w-a-y over on this one)
Eggs 20.0 dozen per year
Sweeteners 150.0 lbs.
Red Meat 114.7 lbs.
Fish 14.9 lbs.
Flour 180.0 lbs.

I probably eat much less red meat and flour than the average, and hopefully less sweeteners; but who can tell with processed foods? The sweeteners are unexpected and hidden.

Learning that Americans usually eat only 14 pounds of fish a year seemed like such a market opportunity. I would eat LOTS more fish if I knew what had mercury and what didn't. I believe there are millions of dollars waiting to be made there.

The most fun part of the exhibit besides playing on the big machinery was trying out the planting simulator. Oh, did my lack of video game experience show. Every farm kid can now justify too many hours on the gaming console by yelling, "Mom, I'm learning how to plant!"

It's harder to drive those big rigs than it looks. On my first simulated planting I drove the machine into my neighbor's field. At harvest time, I drove it into the ditch! Luckily, John Deere equipment is outfitted with GPS systems that help farmers manage every inch of their field with auto-pilot. Every inch of the field is also coordinated with a satellite feed that creates yield management for each area. Only some corners of an acre get fertilizer and some herbicide. It's very cool and very high-tech. The simulator does not yet calculate who has the highest score or yield per acre. How could an important feature like that escape the male minds at John Deere?

The John Deere Collector's Center

Yes, you can get that old John Deere tractor rusting in the farm orchard restored in the paint and service department.
Then you can sell it on Ebay.

We then moseyed over to the John Deere Collector's Center, which is where collectors come to have their machinery lovingly restored. The two-cylinder engine is the one that creates all of the excitement. It has a sound that is very unique and beloved, just like a Harley. The day after we visited, John Deere announced they would close the Collector's Center and concentrate all of their tourism activities in the Pavilion. Gee, I hope it isn't because Americans aren't willing to walk the one block between buildings. The company is going to move the antiques to the Pavilion and show off more aspects of their business.

Waterloo Boy is an Iowa tractor company John Deere purchased

John Deere has used that leaping deer in it's logo since 1876. It's been a remarkably well-run company since it's inception, diversifying into tractors and then lawn equipment. It is now the largest agricultural machinery manufacturer in the world. Two of the most moving pictures in the Pavilion: a turn-of-the-century factory floor photo of the European immigrants who worked there, and then a present day team of Americans who had built the latest machine. If John Deere can keep all of this manufacturing in America, the Pavilion should teach how to do that too because they sure know something everyone in this country could learn from.

The product pride that the Pavilion celebrates made me tear up, and I'm not even a farmer! Daughter #1 visited the John Deere combine factory down the block from the Pavilion last Spring. She also was not raised on a farm, has no intention of living on a farm, but by the end of her combine factory tour she wanted to own one of the machines. Big colorful machinery is hard to resist, even for the ladies.

I can imagine the joy a farm wife gets from taking her
John Deere heritage picnic basket
out to the fields or to her church potluck.

A farm child's first John Deere

The gift shop was of course, an homage to all things Deere, with it's trademark green and yellow colors duplicated everywhere. I could see why John Deere souvenirs are all so popular. The brand and mood of the memorabilia is a celebration of rural happiness garnered from living a farming life with none of the feel of the farming's downsides. Having grown up in Iowa, I'm very familiar with the downsides. Those non-profitable days may be over due to high commodity prices.

Another expertise John Deere could share is it's branding expertise with the locals. What do you think of when you think of Moline, Illinois...? ____________________See? They need help.

You might also enjoy this other John Deere post: Nothing Plows Like a Deere

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Nothing Plows Like a Deere

Okay, so I'm not yet in the Czech Republic. I might as well play tourist a bit more in Illinois before I leave. Besides, I wanted to take advantage of the fact that daughter #1 was home and would appreciate this -- she's an agricultural economics major.

Thirty miles from my home, on one of the most beautiful highways in Illinois, Highway 2, which lovingly follows the bends and curves of the Rock River, is the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour, Illinois. It's a spot so pretty that the Indians who lived nearby said the river bent here so it could look back on itself in admiration.

This is the spot where a young John Deere invented his famous plow which enabled pioneer farmers to farm the rich, black dirt of the Midwest.

As one of a widowed seamstress's five children in Vermont, John Deere used to help his mom as a child by polishing her needles so they could easily and quickly go through cloth. He came here to Illinois after receiving a first-rate blacksmith apprenticeship as a young man.

How poor was John Deere when he arrived in 1836? So poor that he didn't even have his own horse. He had to borrow the neighbor's horse to power the cogs in his new blacksmith shop.

What he found though was tons of opportunity. Not only did the locals need a blacksmith, but they had a central problem that discouraged their farming. They couldn't plow easily because the soil kept sticking to the cast iron blades they were using and the iron blades were so soft they often nicked and broke from field debris.

John Deere used a broken steel saw mill blade given to him by the local saw mill owner to create a new plow polished to a high sheen (just like his mother's sewing needles) that easily cut through the 'gumbo' soil without sticking. He only made one plow the first year, two the second, but demand kept growing and a new industry was born. His third plow now sits in the Smithsonian Museum.

John Deere moved his business to Moline, Illinois so he could be closer to the Mississippi which was used to transport the fine steel made in Sheffield, England for his plows.

His original one-room house he built himself that housed his wife and five kids plus a live-in apprentice upstairs (more rooms were added as the other four children came along), the archaeological dig showing the site of his original blacksmith shop, a new blacksmith shop with working demonstrations (here's the blacksmith waiting for us to enter so he could make us grateful we were born in the modern age), and a gift shop are all on the site. The staff recommend an hour-and-a-half to see the site completely.

We marveled at the manual labor pioneers like John Deere did. No wonder they were never overweight! Next to his house is the 35-foot well he dug for his family and encased in limestone rock. You could see how rigid gender division of labor made a lot of sense back then. There was just so much physical work for both of them to do.

Afterwards we had a pretty picnic along the river at the picnic area immediately opposite the site before proceeding to Moline, Illinois to see the John Deere Pavilion. Visiting the John Deere Historic Site could easily be combined with seeing the Ronald Reagan boyhood home in Dixon, Illinois five miles away.
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