John Deere workers learned something interesting Monday about the company's namesake as part of a 15th anniversary celebration for the Grovetown plant.
They learned that John Deere, who founded Deere and Co., never had the chance to see one of the tractors that he is renowned for.
"If John Deere were run over by a tractor, he'd say, 'What's that sound?'" said Rick Trahan, a blacksmith for the John Deere Historic Site, to employees of the Grovetown plant on Monday during a blacksmith demonstration that was part of the celebration.
Deere, a blacksmith, forged the first successful steel plow in 1837. Deere's manufacturing and distribution of that plow is often credited with opening the prairies to modern agriculture by allowing farmers to till the rich but untamed Midwestern soils, according to the John Deere Historic Site. Deere died in 1886, and his company did not begin developing tractors until the 1900s, Trahan said.
"What a lot of folks associate as his greatest accomplishment, he never saw," Trahan said.
Since Deere's death, his company has become one of the largest manufacturers of agricultural and construction equipment in the world. Company officials said Monday that the Grovetown plant has been instrumental in that success.
"You've certainly accomplished great things in 15 years," said Luther Schwalbauch, a plant employee and president of the International Association of Machinists Local Lodge No. 2789, to employees Monday as they enjoyed a barbecue lunch in honor of the milestone. "Things that made us successful in the past will make us successful in the future ... Keep up the hard work, and remember, the best is yet to come."
Alvin Dickson, the plant's resident historian and one of the seven original employees, said he remembers when the handful of employees watched the plant being built and saw the first 855 series tractor roll off the assembly line in early 1991 and the first 5000 series tractor be manufactured in early 1992.
"We learned the value of diversity and the power of teamwork," Dickson said. "There was a pride building in us, and it was something we'd never experienced in our other professions."
In 15 years, the plant has generated more than a billion dollars in sales and more than 500,000 tractors. The plant has grown to more than 750 employees at its peak, factory manager Richard Czarnecki said.
The first two tractors off the lines were on display at Monday's celebration, which included speakers from throughout the John Deere company, the barbecue and a half-day off for employees to enjoy a movie, games and the blacksmith demonstration.
Adel Zakaria, senior vice president for the John Deere Agricultural Division, said the Grovetown plant is the highest producing factory and is so successful because of the commitment and values of its employees.
"I see nothing but success and expansion," Zakaria said.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
Rick Trahan, a blacksmith for the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour, Ill., performs a demonstration for employees of the John Deere plant in Grovetown as part of a celebration of the plant's 15th anniversary.
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