Oh, Deere! And, A Buttery Roadside Attraction!
We appreciate the beauty of a rural Midwest landscape as we travel. Gosh, it's wonderful to roll down the windows to enjoy the fresh air along the open road. In farming communities, rows of colorful crops line up perfectly against the giant blue skies. And, if you're lucky, you'll hear the occasional rumbling of the Deere stirring in the fields. Oh, yeah, those green and yellow John Deere tractors working the land.
Now, my first John Deere was not so big, but it was picked out by my dad and it was awesome! It was a riding mower that easily manicured my lawn spring, summer and fall. Come winter, I attached a bright yellow plow to the front of my little green machine and was ready to take on some serious suburban driveway snow. Yeah, baby!
On the other hand, my husband, John, grew up in a farming community where a spin in the field on a Deere was a livelihood for many residents. Year round, tractors of all sorts, including John Deere tractors, were put to good use on the farm. So, as we approached the town of Waterloo located northwest of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, there was no question that we both had an interest in stopping at the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum. The museum has cool tractors on display and it's free! Sounded like a good way to spend the morning, and... it was.
As with most museums, our pup wasn't allowed to go inside to check out the cool tractor equipment. This is when pup gets to spend quality time with one of us as the other person explores. Then we switch. It's just what we do traveling with our furry best friend.
The John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum is housed in the site of the first Deere tractor factory. Upon arrival, staff greet visitors with a ticket in the form of an employee "Time Card" and send you on your way into the museum. Halfway through the museum is an old-fashioned employee punch clock exhibit. Insert your ticket into the machine and it'll be punched with the date and time of your visit. Instant souvenir! Neat idea!
We learned a bit about John Deere, both the man and the company, on our trip to Waterloo. John Deere, the man, was born in Vermont and eventually became a blacksmith. After moving to the Midwest, we learned Deere came up with an innovative walking-plow design, allowing for the plow to clean itself of sticky soil as it was moved through the field. This design meant farmers didn't have to continually stop every few yards to clean the plow. A replica of the 1837 walking plow is on display. If you're a hands-on kind of person, there's an exhibit that allows folks to grip the handles of a steel walking plow. There were several folks tinkering with that particular display.
Follow the long green line on the floor to other exhibits and you'll learn how the company moved to motorized tractors and how they came to exist in Waterloo. There are exhibits about other companies Deere acquired through the years, production, and a bit about the engineering and design of tractors and engines. Being an engineer himself, my husband, John, found some of the engineering displays of interest. Hmmm... a tractor-riding engineer. Yes, this was definitely a good stop for him on our road trip.
The museum also shines a spotlight on John Deere's contribution to the World War II efforts. During that time the company was involved in the production of ammunition, aircraft parts, tractors, and tank transmissions to name just a few. The museum also pays tribute to the factory men and women who served in various roles as part of the war effort.
Highlights of the museum include the history of John Deere's products. And, of course, those tractors, tractors, tractors! There are a lot of cool tractors to view. Staff request that visitors not touch or sit on most of them. However, they do have a couple of tractors they allow guests to get an up-close and personal experience with including a John Deere 8RX 370, 2020. There's a set of stairs to allow folks to climb up into the cab of that big guy. I had to come back to this one several times because someone was always sitting at the controls in the cab and imagining themselves doing the big work. Finally... it was vacant and I scurried up the staircase to take a look! Excellent!
Another tractor with a set of steps to the seat was a 1951 Model B. This particular tractor is now living out its life as a "show tractor" according to the description plaque near it. It previously worked hard serving three generations of a local Iowa family. Nice tractor! My husband, John, took particular interest in this little beauty, as he had used one farming his uncle's land when he was younger.
At the end of your visit, don't forget to stop in the gift shop for John Deere trinkets and treasures. I actually left with a pretty neat John Deere journal/sketchbook for collecting my travel thoughts.
The John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum is located at 500 Westfield Avenue in Waterloo. Our visit to the museum was a self-guided tour, but you can request a guided tour in advance. Check the museum hours online before you go. At this writing, the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., excluding major holidays. There's a Visit John Deere Mobile Guide, too. You can download it on Google Play or the Apple App Store. It's free and features accompanying audio tours, interactive activities, and information.
After our visit to the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum we found a fun place to stay at the Lost Island KOA Resort in Waterloo. The campground gave us that end-of-summer vibe with its lake, beach, strategically placed faux palms, cabins painted in fun tropical colors, and roomy RV sites. Nice stay.
Road trips are always an adventure if you're willing to travel with an open mind. You just never know what you might find out there. After driving for a few hours the next day, we pulled over for lunch at a roadside spot along U.S. 63 near the junction of U.S. 30. While chewing on turkey and cheese sandwiches we noticed something on the hillside just in front of us. Sandwiches in hand, we went for a closer look.
We discovered we had stopped in Toledo, Iowa (population 2,336), which is apparently the home of the Butter Cow Lady! Norma "Duffy" Stong Lyon (1929-2011) was known for sculpting "The Butter Cow" for a number of years at the Iowa State Fair we learned. And, up on that hill, we had spied one of her works of art called "Cow and Calf." The art piece originally placed on the hill in fiberglass, was later cast into a lasting bronze sculpture and stands in her honor.
Near the sculpture was a single Burr Oak tree. Aside from the neighboring sculpture, the tree stood purposefully alone on the hill. At closer inspection, we found a sign at the bottom of the hill that included a poem about that oak tree. Written by a local resident, the poem called, "Salute to the Old Oak Tree," described the history of that particular tree. Verse after verse it detailed how the farm that once occupied the land was relocated for a highway, but the tree remained. The poem goes on to describe the community pride for their local artist, as well as the tree's neighboring bronze art. The poem's author, Richard Cooper, is said to have grown up nearby. According to the sign, it's Cooper's hope that Toledo's "salute" to the old Bur Oak tree, the local farming community and a talented local artist will make travelers happy. Well, it did. We enjoyed your sparkle, Iowa.
Thanks for checking out our blog. We hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to tap the heart icon at the bottom of the page and forward it to a friend if you think they'd enjoy it. You can read about some of our past adventures at RubysWindingRoad.com. We've been out on several new adventures recently and will be posting again soon. Take care.