Starting in March of 2008, John Deere in Waterloo is celebrating its 90th year in that city. And recently, the company announced it will be spending 90 million dollars to expand capacity at its Waterloo facilities. About 5,000 people in Waterloo work for Deere in six different facilities. Deere and Waterloo are synonymous. This week our Out and About correspondent Dan Kaercher traveled to Waterloo to see how a tractor is made.
Dan Kaercher: I’m in the John Deere tractor assembly plant here in Waterloo. And this is a 1917 Waterloo Boy tractor, manufactured by the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company.
John Deere bought that company in 1918. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Deere’s facilities in Waterloo include a foundry ... the engine works ... and the tractor assembly plant.
In recognition of Deere’s 90 years in Waterloo, we’re going to see how a tractor comes together – as do 25 to 30,000 other visitors every year.
Cabs are made here from scratch for every tractor that comes out of Waterloo – as well as for sprayers built in Des Moines, and tractors in Augusta, Georgia.
Waterloo’s tractors include most of what are called the “large” seven thousands, and all of the eight-thousand and nine-thousand series tractors sold throughout the world.
None of them is made without an order – from a customer or a dealer. And there can be as many as 200 options, depending on the model.
Angela Johanningmeier, John Deere: We sell tractors into as many as 130 different countries and each customer and each different applications have different needs in order for those tractors to perform optimally. In order for us to meet all those expectations, we require orders and this allows us to do that, and in addition it lowers our inventory carrying costs.
Dan Kaercher: Since the 8000s are among the most popular models, we’re going to take a quick tour of that line, but we won’t be following one individual tractor.
What’s called the mid-frame starts down the chassis line where the axles, transmission, hydraulic components, and the engine come together. At the end of this line the chassis goes to get painted.
The painted chassis starts down the Green Line and the order goes for the correct cab to be sent over.
More components are put on and then at what is called station 5 – the cab arrives and it really begins to look like a tractor.
There’s more testing ...
Then close to done, it’s the finishing touches and the hood and last, the tires – or tracks on another side of the line.
At that point, a customer who has watched their tractor come together, as some choose to do, can drive it the few feet to its final check.
How does it feel to see that brand new tractor of yours?
Dwight Lenz: Great.
Dan Kaercher: Anything surprise you on the line today when you saw your tractor?
Dwight Lenz: Yes. The automation, everybody has a job to do and I was just impressed with the way they do things.
Dan Kaercher: You should know that, for safety reasons, the typical visitor won’t get as close to the line as we did. And given the way various lines are configured and where these trolleys can go, visitors don’t necessarily see the assembly in order. We did.
Dan Kaercher: However you see it, it’s all quite impressive. By the end of the line, about 17,000 parts have come together to complete a John Deere tractor – varying with the options.
Equally impressive is Deere’s longevity. It’s existed as John Deere since 1837 when it started making plows. It has ranked #1 in agricultural equipment sales sales since 1963.
And Deere has done a lot for the Waterloo community, including donating almost $18 million in cash and property to the Cedar Valley Tech Works project – a future bio-tech campus for education, research, business development and agri-tourism. It’s being built in two old Deere buildings – one going back to 1928.
Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley worked for Deere for 37 and a half years.
Tim Hurley, Mayor, Waterloo: Such a great corporate citizen, such a great citizen of the city. They do that obviously with their treasure but they do it also with their talent. I have folks who work at Deere on my city council. They’re on all kinds of boards and commissions. They share their ideas and they also kick us in the rear a little bit once in a while when we need it.
Dan Kaercher: Happy anniversary to Waterloo and John Deere.
For a Tour of the Waterloo John Deere Tractor Assembly Plant, phone 319-292-7668.