MOLINE — John Deere packed a lot of living into his 82 years, and Neil Dahlstrom will share some little-known facts and artifacts about the farming pioneer at the John Deere Pavilion this Saturday.
As part of the annual Heritage Tractor Parade and Show, based at the pavilion (1500 River Drive), you can meet with Dahlstrom – Deere & Co. manager of John Deere Archives and History – from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. He will discuss Deere’s arrival in Moline in 1848 and what the area was like at the time.
He will also bring several items from the company archives for a one-day-only exhibit at the pavilion, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The items are from the company’s first decades and have not previously been out of the archives (which include millions of pieces, such as three million photos) for public viewing.
“His knowledge of our company history is certain to strike up great conversations and the items he’ll share and display will make this an extremely unique opportunity,” Brigitte Tapscott, manager of John Deere Attractions, said of Dahlstrom.
An East Moline native, Dahlstrom is the author of “The John Deere Story: A Biography of Plowmakers John and Charles Deere,” and “Lincoln's Wrath: Fierce Mobs, Brilliant Scoundrels and a President's Mission to Destroy the Press.” He has made guest appearances on the National Geographic Channel, PBS and C-SPAN's BookTV.
“John Deere is a topic that there's a lot of knowledge, and people know bits and pieces,” Dahlstrom said Wednesday. “Instead of giving a lecture, I'll talk about John Deere's arrival in Moline, his life here, activities on the grounds, but a lively question-and-answer session is the centerpiece of it. I really hope to learn some things from the community.”
The items he'll display from the archives are:
- Photo of John Deere, 1885. The last known photo taken before Deere’s death in May 1886. This was published in the Portrait and Biographical Album of Rock Island County, in 1885. The photo was taken in Chicago at the Brandt Studio.
- Mary Little Deere's Bible, 1863. Owned by Mary Little Deere. Mary Little Dickenson married Charles Deere (one of John Deere's nine children) in the midst of the American Civil War. This Bible includes a record of family births and deaths, as well as photos of several members of the Deere family.
- John Deere bank register and personal check. Deere was the co-founder of the first bank in Moline (First National Bank in 1863) and spent one year as its teller.
- Robert Tate Journal, 1830s-1850s. Tate, an English immigrant, began working for Deere as a mechanic in Grand Detour, later becoming a partner in the firm Deere, Tate and Gould and moving to Moline in 1848. His journals provide a first-hand account of the operations of the plow company, as well as daily life from the 1830s through the 1870s.
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Deere was also Moline's second mayor, serving 1873-75, and he was a proponent of infrastructure improvement, Dahlstrom said. That included improving roads, installing gas lighting downtown, and the construction of Riverside Cemetery.
Despite the voluminous company archives, Deere left little personal correspondence, so other items are used to glean his personality, Dahlstrom said.
“There are only a few letters written in his hand,” he said. “It's account books — ledgers, checks, accounting, outstanding bills...We have hundreds of checks. It's always fascinating what that says about a person."
Fortunately, Robert Tate recorded just about everything about his partnership with Deere, and John Gould also documented much of their time in Grand Detour, where developed his world-changing steel plow.
We also know Deere was a fierce abolitionist in the 1850s (before President Lincoln freed the slaves), Dahlstrom said. The Rock Island Argus publisher at the time railed against Deere, he noted, as Rock Island was populated by many Southerners and Moline was settled by easterners (like Deere, who was from Vermont).
Deere also ran a farm east of Riverside Cemetery, as well as other farms in Iowa and Nebraska, but didn't seek any other political office, Dahlstrom said.
Once a year, the Deere Pavilion invites owners of heritage tractors to ride through the streets of Moline, display outside the facility, and share unique collecting and restoration stories with guests. The parade will begin at 10 a.m. in front of the pavilion, going down 19th Street, then on to 5th Avenue, and down 12th Street. The tractors will return to the pavilion, where they'll be on display until 5 p.m.