Before moving out into the “village,” we spent a fair amount of time wandering amid the wonders of the sprawling, indoor museum. One can watch the progression of technology over more than 100 years, in fields as disparate as art, transportation, farming, and food preparation. It’s truly a remarkable collection. There are wagons and coaches, more than 350 antique cars, more than a dozen airplanes, and 100 antique tractors, plus toys, sculpture, and machines for every possible task. Fabulous.
One fact I found fascinating was the extent of operations for moving freight. Before Henry and Clem Studebaker made cars, they made huge Freight Wagons, and these wagons moved a tremendous amount of goods (from trade goods to simply people moving households) along the Oregon Trail. The operation of one freight company alone — Bussell, Major, and Waddell — required 6,000 wagons and 75,000 oxen to move freight over the trail. Remarkable. And not the sort of thing one ever sees in schoolbooks.
There was a sign that explained that the buckboard wagon paralleled today’s station wagon or mini van. It could accommodate a family, but the seats could be removed to make room for grain bags or other supplies.
Having already done enough research on popcorn to know that C.C. Cretors would be a major part of my chapter on popcorn, I was delighted to see one of the early Cretors popcorn machines/wagons, with the little Tosty Rosty Man looking a bit the worse for wear, but still at his station, ready to turn the crank if the steam got turned on again.
Early Cretors Popcorn wagon
After the tractor, the next big advance was the self-propelled combine—a harvesting machine that you drove, rather than dragging it behind a tractor. The modern combine looks more like a space station than a piece of farm equipment. The combine on display at the Pavilion is fitted with a wheat head—a front end that harvests wheat. In 1954, John Deere introduced the first corn head—though combines then looked more like golf carts, and the corn head only harvested two rows at a time. Things have definitely changed since 1954.
And just so you know what a corn head looks like, here’s a photo I took from the cabin of an International Harvester combine during harvest time in Ohio. You’ll note that it’s quite a bit different from the wheat head, and is clearly designed for row crops. (I think this photo also shows why being in the middle of a cornfield is sometimes compared to being at sea.)
Traveling around the Midwest, one learns that color matters. There are a number of manufacturers of harvesting equipment, but the two “species” one encounters most commonly in the Heartland are made by John Deere or Case/International Harvester. Green with yellow means John Deere farm equipment. (There are other green combines in the world, but one quickly learns the precise shade of green that means John Deere for farmers.) Red usually means International Harvester (and the combine in the second photo is IH red). It can also mean Massey Ferguson, but I never saw one of their combines on a corn farm. People are as divided and as loyal as any car owner you’ve ever met. Yellow is pretty much reserved for earth-moving equipment, even when it’s made by John Deere. (Hence, a book on the history of the earth-moving equipment industry is titled Yellow Steel.)
From central Illinois, I headed northeast to Moline, headquarters of the John Deere Company. It’s impossible to talk about farming in the Midwest without talking about John Deere, man and company, so of course I had to visit.
In addition to John Deere corporate headquarters, Moline offers the John Deere Pavilion, where one can witness the history of the tools and machines that transformed farming in the Heartland and around the world. Many of those who are docents at the pavilion are former John Deere employees, so they know the equipment extremely well. It makes for a great day.
But John Deere creates more than just farm equipment these days, and it was the big earthmovers that were parked outside the pavilion. (It was, in fact, from the farm equipment industry that earthmoving equipment emerged.) Some of the non-farm equipment inside is worth noting, as well.
I definitely recommend visiting, if you want to see some remarkable machines: John Deere Pavilion.