Surely, I was aware of it. My dad assembled combines for thirty years at the Case IH factory in East Moline. But I was also a kid, mostly oblivious to the world around me, and not appreciative of the long history of the Illinois Quad Cities and its ties to the farm implement industry. Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I have a recollection of abandoned factory buildings in East Moline, Moline and Rock Island. It wasn’t until I was assigned the writing of an ethnography in high school that I discovered a tri-fold brochure at the East Moline Public Library touting the Tri-Cities (as it was then called) as the Farm Implement Capital of the World.
The names are familiar. John Deere, International Harvester, the Moline Plow Company (later Minneapolis-Moline). The Tri-Cities were perfectly located by rail and water, exactly the reason John Deere himself relocated to Moline in 1848. These companies ran a collective race to arm American farmers, and farmers around the world, with the latest plows, cultivators, wagons, binders, and threshing machines. Then came the tractor. The Moline Universal emerged from its Rock Island factory. When it failed, IH bought the plant and took the industry by storm with the Farmall. Down the road, at the Marseilles Works in East Moline, John Deere tested the Melvin, the Sklovsky, the Tractivator and Joseph Dain’s All-Wheel Drive. In many ways this era ended in 1985 when the last Farmall rolled off the line in Rock Island. I was only nine years old, but I sure do wish I could go back and see it all.