WATERLOO — Many passionate John Deere fans and community members came together this weekend in a sea of green and yellow to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of John Deere building tractors in Waterloo.
The Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center, RiverLoop Expo courtyard and surrounding streets were awash in green as people took in the sights and pageantry of tractors large and small. People could then take a trolley ride to the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum for more history of the company in Waterloo.
Despite high humidity and hot temperatures, people came out. There were food trucks, inflatables and face painting for kids, as well as live music throughout the entire celebration. Country music star Joe Diffie — singer of “John Deere Green” — closed the weekend Saturday night.
Rob Heinrich of Wellsburg came with his family, unfazed by the heat. He is a salesman for Van Wall Equipment out of Grundy Center.
“I love John Deere — born and raised with it,” Heinrich said. He originally worked for a John Deere dealership in Wellsburg, beginning in 1980, and owns a few John Deere tractors himself that he shows in parades.
Festival-goers were able to escape the heat by visiting a large exhibit in Sullivan Brothers Convention Center featuring colorful, circular timelines suspended from the ceiling, green and yellow lights, videos and more than 20 tractors.
More than 100 tractors were displayed overall at the event. One tractor owner, Charles Thompson of Scandinavia, Wis., spent five years restoring the only tractor left of its kind — a John Deere 1946 XM, an experimental prototype.
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“I was invited to bring it by John Deere,” Thompson said. “The production tractors were made in Dubuque, Iowa, and these prototypes were made a year earlier at the Wagon Works in Moline, Ill. They made about 23 of them. They sent them out and tested them. They were all supposed to be torn apart to check for wear and what was going to work and not work for production. For some reason, this one never got back to the factory.”
A gallery of photos from the John Deere 100th anniversary event in downtown Waterloo.
To the company’s knowledge, all of the other 22 models were destroyed except for this one, XM 14.
“I spent five years meticulously restoring this tractor to get it as original as I possibly could. I had to make the muffler the correct size, the intake exhaust manifold had a hole in it and I hired a pattern maker to actually make me a pattern of the experimental manifold and had a foundry recast it and they machined it, and that is how far I went to make everything just right, like it would’ve been,” Thompson said.
Bill Chmelar visited the celebration from Washington, Iowa, alongside family members. He was admiring the tractors and films in the exhibit. He is a retired farmer who drove a Deere tractor. He marveled at the size of some of them now.
“These films are really interesting,” he said. “They show how it used to be.”
Thompson was very impressed with the celebration.
“It’s just an honor to come down here and be a part of this,” he said. “It’s just terrific. The John Deere people have been outstanding and I’m really excited to be a part of this.”