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Nothing runs like a Deere

Nothing runs like a Deere

The birth of a legend

John Deere was born in 1804 in Rutland, Vermont.

Tragedy struck early for Deere when he lost his father in a maritime incident when he was just four years old.

Raised by his mother, Deere took up a career as a young man as a blacksmith and soon gained a reputation for his quality of workmanship.

He moved to Illinois in the Midwest in the late 1830s after the collapse of the New England economy and started a blacksmith business in Grand Detour.

The business soon became an empire because of his innovative solution to farmers' difficulties ploughing the sticky Mid-Western soil.

Farmers were using cast iron ploughs, and the rough surface of the implement meant that soil would stick to the bottom of the plough, meaning farmers had to stop to clear the blades frequently.

Deere developed a 'self-scouring' plough fashioned from steel with a smooth surface that shed the soil as it moved through the ground.

The plough was an instant success, and Deere upscaled his operation, moving the business to Moline.

The new factory was on the East bank of the Mississippi River, allowing the factory to be hydro-powered and providing an efficient way to ship supplies and move stock.

John Deere went on to become the mayor of Moline before he died in 1886.

The company was continued and expanded by his heirs.

In 1912, John Deere introduced planters, buggies and grain drills to its line-up of agricultural machinery.

Tractors were added to the mix when John Deere purchased the Waterloo Gasoline Engine Company in 1918 and produced the Waterloo Boy N.

In 1924, the John Deere tractor got its iconic green body, yellow wheels and the leaping deer logo when the company produced the Model D.

Peter Etheridge

John Deere in New Zealand: the Drummond and Etheridge story.

No one knows John Deere tractors better than Peter Etheridge.

The son of Drummond and Etheridge founder Arthur Etheridge, Peter has been immersed in the world of John Deere since he was a boy.

John Deere had already gained a reputation as a robust alternative to the British tractors on the New Zealand market when Drummond and Etheridge took over the franchise in 1973.

"Deere were reliable, and they were well priced, they didn't break down," Peter Etheridge says.

"We wouldn't have an ag business today if it wasn't for John Deere."

The Drummond and Etheridge story began with cars, not tractors when the business was formed in 1933 as a partnership between Bob Drummond and Arthur Etheridge.

The pair set up shop, initially selling and servicing cars in the agricultural service town of Ashburton, in the heart of New Zealand's grain bowl, Mid Canterbury.

In 1937, the business opened "Servrite" on the main street, which became the official AA service station.

In 1939, WWII saw the temporary closure of the station as staff were enlisted for the war effort.

With farming at the region's heart, Drummond and Etheridge branched out into agricultural machinery after the war, obtaining first the Nuffield tractor franchise in 1949, followed by New Holland in 1951.

When the company added the John Deere brand to their stables in 1973, Drummond and Etheridge became almost as iconic in Canterbury as the John Deere brand itself.

John Deere had already dipped its toes in New Zealand soil, being sold by Goffs and later Cable Price before Drummond and Etheridge obtained the John Deere franchise.

Etheridge, now a sprightly 79-year-old, began as an apprentice mechanic in his father's business in 1959, but found fixing machinery was not his forte.

"I was the most useless bugger they employed.

"My father said you're bloody hopeless.

"You'd better see if you can sell a tractor."

As it turned out, Etheridge was a natural salesman, and his career selling John Deer tractors spanned forty years until his retirement in 2003 when his son Mark and son-in-law Ashley Gordon took over the business.

Tragically, Gordon died less than a month later, leaving Mark the business's sole owner.

Although technically retired, Etheridge is still a familiar face at the Drummond and Etheridge branch on East Street in Ashburton.

"I still go to work just about every day, have a yarn and wind the staff up and make sure they are working hard," Etheridge said.

The John Deere 4040

Etheridge's favourite tractor from his decades selling the John Deer brand is still the JD4040.

"It was the second one to come out with a cab, which kept the farmers lovely and dry.

"It was reliable, with not too much technology.

"I'm no good with technology."

The JD4040 was produced in John Deere's Waterloo factory in Iowa in the American midwest from 1978-1982.

Equipped with a 6.6 litre, six-cylinder diesel engine, power steering and available in either two or four-wheel drive, the 4040 was from John Deere's Iron Horses Series.

Andrew Fry

Passing on a legacy

Nelson farmer and contractor Andrew Fry has 20 John Deere tractors, which showcase the brand's evolution.

Five tractors are newer models, which Fry uses in his contracting business; the rest are vintage two cylinders, some of which have been in his family since new.

"One of the tractors was my Grandfathers that he used on his tobacco farm.

"My dad remembers picking that up when he was 16."

The oldest tractor in Fry's fleet is a 1936.

He favours the older tractors for their simplicity, if not for their good looks.

"They're quite ugly, but I like them old and ugly.

"They don't have bonnets or cabs; they are basically just a raw tractor."

Fry has a new John Deere, a 6230R, arriving later in the year.

"It's arriving in December, which is a bit late, but that's just how things are at the moment."

Fry's love affair with John Deere began whilst working on a friend's farm as a teenager.

"I was probably in my early-mid teens, and they had brought a new 6110, and I just fell in love with it.

"We never had a cab tractor on our farm, and I used to love going to the neighbours and driving theirs."

Fry is looking forward to passing the tractors down to his own sons.

"I have two little boys, and they are mad about tractors.

"I'm looking forward to being able to pass their great-grandfathers' tractor to them."

by Claire Inkson