June 15-16, 2018, was time for a big celebration in Waterloo Iowa. Keith and I were in town to see John Deere celebrate 100 years of tractor production. Being John Deere collectors ourselves, we were excited to participate in the activities that took place at both the Waterloo Convention Center and Public Market Courtyard and the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum.
To understand the reason for the 100 year celebration, you have to go back to 1918 when the John Deere Company decided to get into the tractor business. When John Deere turned his eye to adding tractors to his production line, he looked at the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company. The Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company was started by a group of men along with John Froelich who invented the very first tractor. (After our visit to Cedar Falls and Waterloo, Keith and I stopped in Froelich Iowa, so like Paul Harvey used to say, “Stay tuned for the rest of the story!”)
When the tractors didn’t take off and the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company started manufacturing gas engines, John Froelich became disenchanted and left the company. Engine production flourished, but in 1913, the company revisited tractor production introducing a line of tractors and eventually producing the very popular Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company. In 1918, everyone was looking to the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company and for John Deere, they seemed the perfect choice to bring tractors to their company production line, so they came to an agreement, and the era of John Deere tractors began.
It didn’t take us long after arriving at the Waterloo Convention Center and Public Market Courtyard,to see people we knew. We soon ran into Todd Beisiegel , a collector and restorer from the Belleville, Illinois area, Todd brought a very special tractor to the event, he brought his dad’s John Deere 330 standard and the first John Deere styled L built. We also saw friend Bill Miller and Green Magazine’s editors Richard and Carol Hain, so we were in good company. We also saw Deere’s Brian Holst and a few other people we knew along the way, including family that works at Deere!
The event was a one of a kind. Along with events for the kids and music and collectibles for the adults, there were an array of John Deere tractors on display inside the Convention Center in the the “John Deere Through the Decades” display. These tractors inside were separated by decades and above the tractors were timelines with events that took place during that time period and popular icons of the time. One great quote by John Deere that they had on the 1918 – 1938 timeline was “We have got to change and make an improvement, or somebody else will beat us and we will lose our trade.”
One of my favorite pictures was of Elvis in a dance move right beside a Deere from that period in time, incongruous, but neat! I think I really liked this because at one time I got to write a story about a tractor that had belonged to Elvis that a group of students at a trade school restored. Keith had a grand time checking out all the tractors and trying to find just the right “100 year” collectibles to take home.
We spent the night at the beautiful Blackhawk Hotel downtown in Cedar Falls on a hosted visit so we were treated like royalty on this great trip!
Besides the Convention Center, 100 year celebrations were also taking place at the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum. In fact because parking downtown was limited, many came and parked at the museum, then boarded trolleys to the Convention Center. We did this on Saturday morning and it worked like clockwork. When visitors walked in the door of the museum, the first thing they saw was a beautiful Waterloo Boy with a banner above it that said, “John Deere Tractors at 100 Legend Runs on”.
There were activities both inside and outside the museum. I made Keith pose for pictures just like a little kid. We posed with a John Deere 620 and against a John Deere background. Despite the hot, hot, hot day, it was great fun. Keith tried some of the homemade ice cream made by hit and miss engines. We walked over and admired the very cool John Deere grain elevator and the new book Corn Pickers that Phyllis and Bob Johnson have written that they have already several printings made on!
The blacksmith from the John Deere Historic Site was on hand to share information about blacksmithing and kids had inflatables to play on. Inside, everyone was able to cool down and learn about the details of the Deere and Waterloo agreement and see some seriously beautiful Deere machinery.
The 100 Day Event I think will go down in history and will be one that collectors will be talking about in years to come. I think these pictures and these items will be something that collectors years from now will be pulling out and the lucky ones will be saying, “I remember, I was there…”
I will smile knowing what it was like and that I saw it all unfold with my own eyes!