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Carl V. Borg

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

In 1881, 20-year-old Carl Viktor Borg arrived in the United States, following the American Dream that had drawn so many of his fellow Swedish countrymen. The dream soon turned into a nightmare. His first job was making railroad boxcars in Burlington, Iowa. Even working 12-hour days and saving every nickel, it took Borg three years to save the hundred dollars needed to bring his wife-to-be from Sweden. He took a job as superintendent of a furniture factory in Rockford, Illinois, but soon learned that his salary could not support a growing family. He moved to the Moline Furniture Company, but it went bankrupt in the panic of 1893. Skill, hard work, and thrift had all failed.

Just at this time, Deere and Company had been commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution to make a Columbian Peace Plow out of historical relics. The wooden parts of the plow were to be made of similar wooden relics. When that job proved too intricate for Deere's own woodworkers, the company turned to Carl Borg.

There were no blueprints or sketches of the woodwork, just thousands of scraps of wood—a piece of the elm tree under which William Penn had signed the treaty with the Indians, a piece of the floor of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, decking from the steamer Kearsarge, pieces of famous flagpoles and historic buildings, wood from the Johnstown Flood. A jigsaw puzzle of scraps.

For more than a year, Carl Borg escaped into his workshop amid these pieces, hiding out from the American nightmare outside, sketching, making patterns, testing out ideas. The nightmare was slowly replaced by the dream the plow represented: the dream of peace, a dream that kept Borg in his workshop late into the night giving shape to the dream.

When all the pieces of wood were finally assembled into a plow handle, the results astonished visitors everywhere the plow went. Here were intricate rosettes in inlaid woods, deer, birds, trees, flowers. And the great American Eagle.

Deere and Company was so impressed they hired Borg to work at the Deere and Mansur plant. Borg went on to found his own successful manufacturing company in 1903, his faith in the American dream restored.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.