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John Deere

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

I wonder what John Deere would think if he could return to Moline for just a day and visit the site of the original plow factory he built back in 1848.

What would he think of John Deere Commons and the great showcase pavilion that has become one of the major tourist destinations in Illinois?

He would even be more astounded by the farm implements exhibited inside. He would hardly recognize the descendants of his original self-scouring steel plow, let alone the huge planters, tractors and combines with air conditioning and GPS units.

And then, in the time remaining of that day, what if he were taken to visit the international headquarters of the corporation, nestled in the rolling hills along John Deere road south of Moline? That complex amazes even today's visitors, with its pond full of swans surrounded by old oaks that were already growing when Deere arrived in 1848. Every grass blade seems manicured; even the cornfields across the road seem tidy and straight, every ditch mowed.

But I do think that John Deere would recall where all of this came from, not only from that simple plow that conquered the tall grass prairie and turned it into America's breadbasket, but from a promise he made back in 1850.

By then, Deere's factory was turning out 1000s of plows a year, plows that were the best available at the time. John Deere was not content with that. He continually made small improvements to the plow, often listening to suggestions farmers made. Retooling the assembly line was expensive and time consuming, and it annoyed his financial partner Robert Tate. Tate did not see a need to improve. "If ours is the best plow available, farmers will have to buy it without all the improvements," he told Deere. Deere's response took the form of a promise. "I will not put my name on a plow," he told Tate, "that does not have in the best I can do."

Robert Tate soon left the company. Deere's promise became a part of Deere's annual catalog. Today it has been replaced by another phrase, "Nothing runs like a deer." But even a brief return to Moline would convince John Deere that his promise has not been forgotten.

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.