is done. I made it back to the house this morning. Crawled my rear out of bed this morning and went to work. I wasn’t unproductive at all, but I’ve had more energy than what I had today.
The Waterloo tractor factory was everthing that I hoped it would be. You don’t have to be involved in agriculture to appreciate these factory tours. The efficiency. The technology. The pride in workmanship. The product. It was just a really cool deal.
Now, how did this adventure come to be? A Gold Key tour is for customers who order their tractor or combine. As part of the build codes, you can select a gold key tour. When that machine is within a week of being built, they contact you and say “Your combine will be done next Tuesday?” This happened to us last Wednesday.
Lance Rhodes is a former student of mine at Fairview. He is a really good kid with a great work ethic and a strong desire to make his dreams happen. He showed a lot of really good sheep as he won grand at Enid and a lot of premium sale lambs at Tulsa and OYE. His younger sister showed goats for us. Very successfully, I might add. Meagan had a res. grand at Tulsa, a Grand at Enid and numerous premium sales. The Rhodes family is a favorite of the Kelln’s. Lance is nearing the ripe old age of 24. He is involved in farming and custom cutting. In the past several years, his high school project has turned into a growing operation. This past fall, he and his parents made the decision that it is was better to go with new equipment–warranty, cost/hour, trade cycles, etc. So we ordered this stuff last October. And in the words of Lance, “Sign us up for the gold key tours because this might be the only time I get to order new equipment.” Former student, family friends, dealer, whew! Let’s just say that this wasn’t the easiest order of equipment that I have done. This one involves a WHOLE lot of hopes and prayers that it will work out. Obviously, I am betting that it will.
Fast forward to last week. Last wednesday, I got notification that his combine would be done. On Thursday, I got a call that his tractor would be done. This is rare to have them done on back-to-back days. The original plan involved Lance, his dad and myself going on the trip. Well, Big Jim had scheduling conflicts and couldn’t go. Lance said that he still wanted to go. I said, “A buddy of of mine and I have been trying to get to Illinois to look at some goats.” Being the ex-stock show kid that he is, Lance understood. His reply, “I’ll go look at a goat as long as I get to go to those factories.”
So I called Milligan. A grunt, growl, a schedule change, a RUSM–the John Deere factory–I’M IN!! and he was ready to head north. I tried to coordinate flights and rental cars. It just didn’t work. Look at the flight patterns from OK to IL or IA and back to OK. Not a regular travel plan. So, we decided to drive it. I was originally going to take my company pickup. Then I realized that the other two wouldn’t be covered by our insurance IF they drove. So, I pulled the Gray Goat out of the barn. This was a really wise decision since I drove from Fargo to St. Louis. From there to Cabery, IL. From there to Anawan, IL. From there to Moline. From Moline to Waterloo, Iowa. From Waterloo back to Fargo. Yes, I drove every mile. No complaints. I’m a way better driver than rider.
Now, myself and the rest of my family has a long history of using John Deere products. Lancer obviously has a committed relationship with John Deere products. Now, Milligan isn’t known for equipment but look at his house, ads, kids clothes, etc. They like the green paint and the Deere logo. Deere should use Elliott in a toy gator ad as he has literally worn the wheels off one. If Milligan’s gator, mower or tractor (all Deere) could talk, well, let’s just say that those are some well-built products.
That is how the big adventure came to be. Now, how did it turn out?
I have already mentioned a really cool stop at Hummel’s, saw some nice and weather-resistant bucks at Dereu’s, had a big time in Moline. The combine factory tour was out of this world, crazy good. Our two tour guides were retired factory workers. One had worked there since ’66 and the other since ’72. They were classic. You will have to get the stories in person from one of us. The thrill of seeing Lance see his combine in various stages of build was fun. The John Deere worldwide headquarters is a site to see.
The people at the factories, headquarters and museum are great. They all took great pride in their jobs. I enjoyed this aspect and it became a recurring theme to stop and talk to various workers and ask them how long they had worked there. Answers of 20, 25, 30, 35 and 41 years were very common. We even heard a story of 60 years. Obviously, Deere takes care of their people. Some smelled good. Some had cool t-shirts that started up other stories. Trust me. Tommy and I are loaded to the hilt with fresh, new stories from this trip. Lance was glad that we brought Tommy along. Lance knew who Milligan was, but he hadn’t got the full version until this trip.
Wednesday brought us to Waterloo. This deal ended up off the charts on the excitement level. I got to watch Lance fire the tractor up for the first time. Later, I watched him drive it off the assembly line. There might be a few signatures hidden on this tractor that will surely help re-sale value at a later date. Our tour guide at this factory was an ex-engineer. Therefore, not as much fun as the combine guys, but full of interesting info. The RUSM moment–with the use of the robot spray painters, it only takes 1 gallon of that John Deere green paint to cover the frame, front & rear end, engine & transmission of a 8335R tractor. Of course, watching Milligan explain why he felt like doing the YMCA to this guy was a classic.
More highlights–Seeing the last 4020 ever built. Seeing the last 4455 ever built. In goat comparisons, this was like seeing 900 and 191 standing in a pen ready to breed. Pretty cool. Oh, if there only would have been a 4440 sitting there with them. Watching a 4wd being assembled. Seeing pics of Lance, Tommy and I wearing safety shoes, gloves, reflective vests, safety glasses and bright yellow hard hats–think Bob the Builder. Throw in a cop and an Indian and you get Miligan doing the YMCA–HAA! Eating breakfast at 9:30 am and then lunch at 11:00 am. Lots and lots of art.
We also discovered why John Deere equipment costs more? They have to be in order to pay for all of the forklifts, gators and tuggers used in these factories. That and Deere equipment is better.
After going through these tours, I have a really healthy respect for top-shelf companies and the people that make them top-shelf. It was great to see the pride, work ethic, desire and ingenuity that built this country. I’m still a little humbled at how lucky I was to head out on an adventure like this with good friends. It was my honor to chaffeur this deal. If young people like Lance can make their dream come to realization, then it is to all of our benefit. Isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing?
I wish Big Jim could have gone. We had room. I’m pretty sure that Lance and Jim are going to do a gold key tour in the future.
Oh. Did I mention that there was a casino?
Favorite quotes heard on this trip:
“I don’t need anymore attitude out of you.”
“I don’t know what I was doing. I was just building cheeseburgers and it kept making noise so I cashed out.”
“Don’t be afraid to stop at that next bathroom.”
“Aren’t the dogs cold in that box?”
“Where in the hell is that map?”
“Google the directions.”
“There are two different levels of kept inside.”
“Did you ever….”