On Tuesday, Philip, John, and I traveled to Des Moines, Iowa. We took a bit more scenic route, going through SE Illinois on two-lane roads to Arcola, before joining the interstate system from there to Galesburg. From there, we drove along US 34 and Iowa 163 to get to Des Moines. At Eldon, Iowa, a ‘touristy’ sign got our attention, so we took a short 6 or 7 mile diversion from our trip. We visited the actual house that was featured in American artist Grant Wood’s famous painting, American Gothic. We enjoyed our short visit there, and the young woman at the Visitor Center was quite friendly and helpful. The house was smaller than I expected.
On Wednesday morning, we arrived at the John Deere Des Moines Works (DMW), more specifically located in Ankeny, Iowa, just north of Des Moines.
Once we entered this massive facility, we were welcomed by our tour guide, Mr. Gayle Ouart, a retiree from JD with a 30-year history with the company. He worked in ‘suppy management’, or what I’d call ‘purchasing’. He was very warm and personable, a perfect host. He directed us to a conference room where we were shown a movie about the DMW’s history. It began as a munitions factory during WWII. John Deere Company bought the place in the late 40s and quickly converted its purpose to farm equipment. Many different machines have been produced here over the years, but currently it makes all John Deere’s tillage equipment, box grain drills, fertility application equipment, 4 models of self-propelled sprayers, and (the VERY expensive) cotton harvesting machines. One interesting thing that made us feel welcome was the ubiquitous video message boards, which displayed company news, but with a message scrolling across the bottom telling everyone that sprayer customers “Carnahan and Sons” were on-site that day! It let everyone know that we had purchased a 4730.
We were next fitted with safety equipment: hard hats, goggles, hearing protection, gloves, and special metal shoe covers. We looked rather like space aliens! As we toured the factory, we saw lasers cutting out parts from sheet steel, with robots that placed the steel in position and stacked the final product. We were amazed at the very sophisticated powder-coat system where the famous green paint is applied. Many parts are immersed in a black primer bath initially, so that even interior surfaces of the metal parts are coated with protective paint. Eventually we made it to the final assembly line, a series of 10-or-so stations where the machines go from a bare frame to a machine that is driven away. Along the way, components are added: transmissions, engines, cabs, wheel motor modules, and then the yellow wheels with their tires. There are lots and lots of wires, harnesses, and hydraulic hoses. After the assembly line, the sprayers go to a ‘pack out’ line where they receive an extensive touch-up to the paint, and then they are given their tanks, booms, hoods and decals. One final inspection, and out the back door they go to be delivered to the dealer. One sprayer fills a semi-truck when transported to the awaiting customer. We were not allowed to take any pictures in the assembly part of the factory. I wish I could show here some of what we saw.
When the factory part of the tour was complete, they took us to the comfortable cafeteria, where we could select the lunch of our choice, and then Gayle seated us at a special table, with white tablecloth! Warren, a specialist from the Marketing Department, joined us at lunch, and we had some questions and suggestions for him. John inquired about adding a rotating beacon light to our sprayer. It was not on the option list when we submitted our order, and we prefer to add this safety feature like we have on tractors and combines. He said he would study the question, and get back to us.
After a short look around the company store, we returned to the conference room where Gayle presented us with pictures, a special certificate, and finally the “Gold Key”.
We departed and began the trip back to southern Indiana. About an hour into the travel, I received a call from Warren, telling us it was indeed possible to add a beacon light, even though they are normally only offered on machines going to Europe. He will contact our dealer, and make the special arrangements. It will make our machine quite unique!
We arrived home about midnight, pretty tired, but very pleased with our experience with Gold Key!