116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MOLINE, Ill. — As the ground begins to rouse from its winter slumber, it’s time for farmers to climb onto — or into — their tractors to pull plows, planters, sprayers and other tools of their farm-to-market trade.
But every day is prime weather for climbing on equipment gargantuan and garden-sized, housed in the John Deere Pavilion, 1400 River Dr. It anchors the John Deere Commons in the heart of historic downtown Moline, Ill. It’s open Monday through Saturday, and admission is free.
What: John Deere Pavilion
Where: 1400 River Dr., Moline, Ill.
Hours: 1 to 5 p.m. Monday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; closed Sunday and major holidays
Details: John Deere Pavilion website
Getting there: 85.6 miles south and east of Cedar Rapids and 60.5 miles east of Iowa City via Interstate 80
More than 1.5 million visitors have flocked to the site since it opened in 1997, coming from more than 50 countries and all 50 states. Ourquadcities.com calls it “one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions — and one of Illinois’ top five visitor destinations.”
The Commons complex lies near the site of inventor John Deere’s first factory designed to manufacture his revolutionary sod-busting plows. He used water from the nearby Mississippi River to generate power for this factory, built in 1848.
Across the street from the TaxSlayer entertainment and sports venue, the Commons lies about 6 miles from Deere’s world headquarters, where my aunt worked as a secretary 50-plus years ago. That’s also where my brothers and I created many happy childhood memories climbing on equipment that seemed as big as a house and cost more than any abode in which I’ve lived.
So when my youngest brother said he wanted to go to Davenport on March 19, I said OK, as long as we can spend the afternoon checking out the John Deere Pavilion across the river.
This massive 14,000-square-foot structure is equipped with soaring floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the room with sunlight, all the better to see the vintage and cutting-edge equipment. Across the breezeway is what’s touted as the largest retail store for John Deere-branded clothing, toys, merchandise and memorabilia, all dressed in the familiar green and yellow colors and logos.
Jerry Pronschinske, 71, from Caledonia, Minn., was sitting on a bench in the breezeway, waiting for his wife to finish shopping. Born on a farm near Caledonia, about 32.5 miles northeast of Decorah, he said he’s been away from the home place since he was 19 years old. But he still has two-cylinder vintage John Deere tractors, known as Johnny Poppers for the pop-pop-sound.
“I got two tractors from when I was a boy,” he said.
He and his wife were in the Quad Cities for the annual Gathering of the Green conference, said to be “the biggest John Deere enthusiast reunion,” held March 16 to 19 in Davenport. A trip across river was a must for the couple.
“It’s beautiful,” he said of the Pavilion. “We love coming down here about every year. My wife loves the clothing store and toys.”
In the Pavilion
We parked behind the building and entered through the breezeway, but be sure to walk around front to the brick plaza, lined with flagpoles flying the John Deere name. It’s also home to a large tractor and a leaping deer statue, replicating a logo created more than a century ago. According to the company’s online history site, it represents “the longest continuously used corporate logo of any Fortune 500 company.”
Step through either set of doors, and you’ll enter a wonderland capturing the imagination of all ages. We saw young families with babies in strollers, children, college-age students, grandparents with their generations in tow, and some older folks checking out the equipment from days gone by and taking photos near the newest and biggest grown-up toys.
If you enter from the breezeway, front and center is a riding mower, reminding homeowners of what they’ll soon be doing — if it ever warms up enough for the grass to grow. On the right is a huge, folded video screen with ever-changing landscapes. On the left is a huge 1949 self-propelled combine with wooden paddles for threshing wheat.
Other equipment ranges from a 1918 tractor with a bright green body, yellow wheels and pops of red, to an 8RX four-track tractor with tires that look like they belong on a tank. Lots of yellow earth-moving equipment also mingles with its green relatives, many of which have steps visitors can climb on to get birds-eye views of the pavilion and an idea of the modern electronic gadgetry inside the cabs.
The centerpiece is a two-story sprayer with arms that seem to span the length of the building. Behind it are kiosks and panels explaining the importance of pest control — as well as one kiosk with a foot-activated pad that changes a video screen full of information combining education with the fun of jumping on the pads.
A walk-through theater with touch-activated screens tells the farm to market story, and lots of other touch-panels near specific pieces of equipment tell the history of Deere & Co.
Masked staff members are johnny-on-the-spot to wipe down the interactive surfaces in this playground for the ages.
The John Deere Commons complex lies about 85.6 miles south and east of Cedar Rapids and 60.5 miles east of Iowa City via Interstate 80. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see the giant leaping deer statue facing River Drive. Turn onto 15th Street to park either behind the building or in a much larger lot directly across 15th Street.
If you work up an appetite after all that indoor field work, dancing to activate floor pads and climbing all those equipment stairs, Johnny's Italian Steakhouse lies just beyond the retail store, and plenty of other eateries and breweries are within walking distance.
As long as we were so close, we decided to drive on over to the John Deere Headquarters, hoping to explore what I remember as a huge central showcase of gigantic field equipment. Alas, the display floor is only open during business hours Monday through Friday.
Plowing through history
John Deere, born in 1804 in Rutland, Vt., was just 4 years old when his father was lost at sea. Raised by his mother, he became an award-winning blacksmith, and when the New England economy collapsed in 1836, he made his way west to Illinois, where he forged a blacksmith shop in Grand Detour (Dixon), Ill.
An innovator, hearing from his customers that prairie soil stuck to the cast-iron plows, slowing down field work when the farmers had to stop and scrape off the dirt every few feet. That sparked an idea that would revolutionize the industry. Using a broken steel saw blade to fashion a highly polished, self-scouring plow, Deere’s invention was an instant hit at its 1837 test run.
As demand grew, he moved his base of operation 70 miles southwest to Moline in 1848. The Mississippi River would not only supply water power for his factory, but also riverboat traffic to bring in raw materials and transport his plows to buyers. Business was booming, and soon he was making 1,000 plows a year. In 1868, the business was incorporated as Deere & Co.
Deere took an active role in civic affairs, as well, and in 1873, became Moline’s second mayor. He died in 1886, and his heirs assumed leadership roles for the next century.
For more, go to deere.com/en/our-company/history/john-deere.
More agri fun awaits in other directions for more A Day Away adventures.
The three main facilities are the John Deere Pavilion in Moline; the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum in Waterloo; and the John Deere Historic Site in Grand Detour (Dixon), Ill. Before the pandemic, factory tours were offered in Waterloo, Des Moines, Ottumwa and Horicon, Wis., but those have been put on hold.
Moline, Ill.: John Deere Pavilion, Deere Family Homes, Deere & Co. World Headquarters.
Waterloo: John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum, 500 Westfield Ave., open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Featuring machines, artifacts and exhibits.
Dixon, Ill.: The Historic Site, open April to October, features blacksmith demonstrations in a replica of John Deere’s original smithy shop. Visitors also can stand in the spot where he forged the first self-scouring steel plow; listen to him describe how he built his business; and tour the original John Deere family home to walk through pioneer life.
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