Thousands will gather at Fonner Park through Saturday for the biggest John Deere show in America. And for the thousands of John Deere enthusiasts, the show is a “green come true.”
According to Steve Plambeck, chairman of the Classic Green Reunion for 2019, there are hundreds of John Deere tractors on display, from models dating back to 1917 to modern-day equipment.
The tractors and exhibits are in the Pinnacle Bank Expo Center, the Heartland Events Center and several outdoor venues at Fonner Park.
There are more than 60 vendors and 600 exhibits that include more than 400 tractors and several hundred exhibits of various John Deere products.
If it involves John Deere, it is more than likely here in Grand Island on display at the Classic Green Reunion as people from all over the U.S. and foreign visitors, including people from Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands, have come for the show.
Plambeck said the idea for the Classic Green Reunion took root about a year ago. It was a revitalization of a similar event that was discontinued several years ago.
“Every other brand has a national gathering every year, but we (John Deere enthusiasts) haven’t had one for four or five years now,” Plambeck said. “There are more people interested in collecting and restoring John Deere items than ever before.”
For Richard Hain of Green Magazine, a monthly publication for John Deere lovers, the enthusiasm for John Deere comes from its strong connection to the heritage of this country.
For many of the collectors and exhibitors, the love of John Deere is an inherited trait. It was either a grandfather or a father who used a John Deere on the farm and became wedded to the brand. Even family members who are not farming still have a strong love of all things green. It is part nostalgia and part appreciation of something genuinely American that helped shape the history of the nation and the world.
For thousands of years, agriculture was basically the same process up until 1837, when a blacksmith in Illinois named John Deere created the steel moldboard plow that made farming just a little bit easier. That was the beginning of modern agriculture that changed the world and made it possible for a handful of people to feed billions. Advanced technology, such as GPS and onboard computers and lasers, is also on display along with the old John Deere plow at this week’s event. A lot has changed in 182 years.
Now, in 2019, at Fonner Park, the history of John Deere is on display. One of the oldest tractors is a 1917 Experimental Waterloo tractor, which is famously known as the “Bathtub D.”
Along with equipment, there is plenty of other items for the collector, from toys and clothing to old instruction manuals.
Each exhibit has a story and a memory to share.
There is also a novelty exhibit of an old John Deere tractor that was rescued from a shelter belt where a tree had grown through the tractor.
Plambeck said when they began talking about holding the show a year ago, organizers didn’t have an idea what to expect. But like the old movie adage, “if you build it, they will come,” once news of the show began surfacing, people began planning to come and exhibit in Grand Island.
Along with the Classic Green Reunion, Fonner Park is also hosting the American Boer Goat Association’s national show.
“We didn’t know if we could pull it off here, but we did,” Plambeck said.
The organizers of the event gave credit to Fonner Park officials and the Grand Island Visitors and Convention Bureau for helping them stage and organize the event.
“One reason we chose to hold the event here was the facilities,” Hain said. “They are absolutely fantastic.”
Among those displaying at the show are father and son Andy and Austen Schoof, from Cuba, Ill.
“We knew there was going to be a pretty big show here this week,” Austen Schoof said. “We have been waiting for it and anticipating it now for nearly a year. So we decided to load up a tractor and drive 500 miles here and come to the show.”
The Schoofs brought their 1939 John Deere BR.
“It was our pride and joy,” Schoof said.
They have owned the tractor for nearly 40 years.
Austen inherited his love of green from his dad, Andy, who said John Deere was something he grew up with on the family farm.
That “growing up with it” is a prominent theme that runs throughout the show. One of the reasons they called the event Classic Green Reunion is that people at the event think of each other like family and it was like having a family reunion bringing all the relatives together from across the country.
“My grandpa farmed with John Deere,” Andy said. “I still have one of his tractors that he bought brand-new.”
And his son, Austen, works at a John Deere plant near his hometown in Waterloo, Iowa.
Chris Boyens of the Classic Green Club Inc., who helped put the show together, said that “from a year ago being a theory to now have it come to fruition in Grand Island is fantastic.”
“It is just a fantastic event, and it has exceeded our expectations,” Boyens said.
He said it is easy to define what the show is about — “anything and everything that has something to do with John Deere.”
Along with collectors, the show has also brought John Deere employees, from dealerships to the manufacturing plants, adding to the family atmosphere.
Whether it is the sound of the old two-cylinder engines or the shine of the new generation of John Deere equipment, Boyens said the name and what it represents has endeared many of generations to this American company.
For example, in the Boyens family, there are more than 132 years of service to the John Deere company.
“The show is amazing, and all areas of this company’s history are represented here,” Boyens said.
For more information, visit www.classicgreen.org.
A tractor parade will take place each day of the show at 1:30 p.m. Admission is $10 per day for adults (15 and under are free) or $25 for all three days. Gates open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m.