Looking to do a bit of post-graduate work in antique iron? If you’re a fan of the John Deere line, your first stop should be the Gathering of the Green. Set for March 14-17, 2012 in Davenport, Iowa, the winter conference offers an impressive lineup of more than 60 workshops and related activities.
Open to anyone (the Gathering is not affiliated with any one club or organization), the event has been held every other year since 2000. From the beginning, the organizers put a high priority on education. “When we put together our mission statement, we had to really think about what it was we were trying to do,” explains Ken Reese, conference co-chairman. “Basically, we want to help people preserve old iron, and education is a big part of that.”
The workshops initially concentrated on basic technical topics for the restorer and collector. Over the years, the curriculum has expanded to include historical content. “That’s growing in popularity,” Ken says. And where discussion once focused on tractors only, this year’s workshops include implements, barns and snowmobiles, as well as Deere & Co. history.
This year’s offering covers engine heads and cooling systems, Powr-Trol systems, magnetos, LP valves, carburetors, distributor ignitions, electrical systems, sheet metal, power steering, adhesives and sealants, clutch repair, steering and hydraulics. Seminars on specific models run the gamut from the Waterloo Boy to New Generation 4- and 6-cylinder tractors. Other sessions focus on broad topics: 100 years of the full-line John Deere company, assessing a 2-cylinder tractor for restoration, plow bottom options, sickle mowers, toys, 2-cylinder crawlers, and lawn and garden tractors.
“The depth and breadth of the offering can be overwhelming,” admits Tony Knobbe, workshop committee chairman. Perennial favorites blend neatly with new topics, many of which are suggested by conference attendees. “We try to cover a lot of different abilities and areas of interest,” he says.
One of the most popular workshops is a demonstration of a tractor and plow set up for fieldwork. “We’ll have a tractor and a plow there, and a speaker with a wireless mic,” Tony says. “People stand right there and see how the tractor and plow should be set up. You can stand up in front of a group and tell people something, but when you show them, they remember it.”
Tony believes the workshops set the Gathering of the Green apart from other John Deere enthusiast events. “People come here to learn, to become better collectors and restorers, and to get better connected within this collector community,” he says. “They see old friends, make new friends and develop resources to help them enjoy their hobby. They learn about buying tractors, finding parts, what to look out for. And a lot of that is learned from chance conversations with people they’ve just met.”
The Gathering’s emphasis on education is not limited to workshops. Elaborate displays fill hallways and concourses, showcasing vintage tractors, implements and collectibles. The venue lends itself to such treatment, says Marvin Huber, who, with his father-in-law, Don McKinley, is a volunteer with the display program. “The displays give the River Center a real festive feel,” he says. “You’ll see people standing around, looking at the displays and it gets them talking; it spurs memories.”
Following the lead of the late Jackie Williams, who designed displays for the early Gatherings, Marvin and Don work with club members who design and build museum-quality displays. Past displays have showcased the season of harvest complete with sample plants such as cotton, rice and wheat, and carried out themes such as “Where Friends Meet” in meticulously created kitchen, dealership and hardware store scenes.
This year, illustrating the theme of “Generations of Power” and the sub-theme of the 100th anniversary of John Deere becoming a full-line company, committee members hope to display a piece from each of the 13 companies purchased by Deere & Co. in 1911-’12. Additionally, the four host clubs will create displays portraying John Deere dealerships in 25-year intervals since 1912.
“We want to tell the story of why John Deere wanted to have that full-line and why the company spent a lot of money to get it,” Don says. “People who come to the Gathering of the Green have a lot of green tractors back home, but there’s a heck of a lot more to John Deere than tractors. We just want to give them a little bit of that history.”
“It brings something to the conference that you don’t see anywhere else,” Marvin adds. “At each Gathering, people tell us the displays can’t be topped, but they just get better and better every year.”
Randy Hake, Villa Ridge, Mo., has attended every Gathering since the first one. “I just love the camaraderie,” he says. “You meet businessmen and farmers and all kinds of people; it’s such a diverse group. And I’ve learned so much; I’ve been introduced to some history I never would have known otherwise. It’s just unbelievable the things you learn.” He also likes the fact that the Gathering draws all ages. “My son has been to every one too,” he says, “and he’s 24 now. It doesn’t matter how old you are: There’s something for everybody.”
The Gathering of the Green is produced every other year by members of four clubs: Deer Valley, Illinois Valley, North Eastern Illinois and Northwest Illinois antique John Deere tractor clubs. “About 700 people attended the first one in 2000,” says Ken Reese, conference co-chairman. “We were just blown away by the response.” The event has grown rapidly since: The 2010 Gathering drew 2,000 attendees from 37 states and three foreign countries.
Although workshops make up much of the agenda, the event also includes elaborate displays, bus tours to area John Deere factories, an extensive vendor area (more than 70 vendors are expected), evening events with guest speakers, activities and tours for attendees’ wives, an auction, one-on-one sessions with technical experts, and a closing banquet on Saturday, March 17, 2012 (more than 700 attended the 2010 banquet). This year, the Plow City Toy Show also will take place in conjunction with the Gathering.
Held at the River Center in downtown Davenport, the Gathering eats up every last inch of the 33,000-square foot facility. Registration opens in November and closes Feb. 15 (attendees can register at the door but may find some tours have already filled). FC