Mark Reading drives a 1963 John Deere 110 model at the Dodge County Fairgrounds. Thousands of people are expected to gather this weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the John Deere lawn-and-garden tractor. | AP Photo
MILWAUKEE — Thousands of people are expected to gather in Wisconsin this weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of John Deere Corp.’s lawn-and-garden tractor.
The celebration will be held at the Horicon Works factory, where the model 110 was produced in 1963. The small tractors were known as “freedom machines” because they enabled people to do lawn work in less time. They resembled full-size tractors, with attachments that included a plow for planting.
Scott Wooldridge, of Galesburg, Ill., owns five of the model 110s produced in 1963, a prototype made the year before and a rare 1965 attachment that turns a garden tractor into a golf cart.
“I was on the hunt for that attachment for about 15 years. Not every collector is going to get one because there weren’t that many of them made,” said Wooldridge, who plans to bring 20 tractors from his collection to the anniversary event.
The celebration will include factory tours, garden tractor displays, a daily tractor parade at noon and a swap meet. There also will be a reunion for people involved in making the original model 110 tractor.
John Deere made only 1,000 of the small tractors the first year as a way to test the market. Managers were nervous about its prospects in part because John Deere dealerships were already selling other garden tractor brands, said Don Miescke, who was part of the original sales team. Manufacturing workers were still nervous a few years later, when the Horicon Works plant looked to switch completely from farm equipment to lawn-and-garden tractors.
“People wondered whether this little tractor would give us enough employment. But it just took off and flourished beyond our wildest dreams,” Miescke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/17ELfVZ ).
The plant made its 5 millionth garden tractor in 2010.
The model 110’s success was due in part to the timing of its launch. John Deere introduced it as suburbs were growing and more people had large lawns to cut, bigger gardens to till and longer driveways to clear of snow.
“I am sure it was very exciting for people to have a little tractor that could do everything they wanted,” said Kate Goetzhauser, managing editor of Lawn & Garden Tractor magazine.
Goetzhauser said the original tractors held up well and many are still around. Collectors who could once pick up one for $250 now pay several thousand for them. More than 100 will be on display this weekend.
Wooldridge bought his first John Deere garden tractor for $240 in 1991, when he was in high school. He now owns dozens and said he enjoys bringing them to rallies so people can see them in action.
“If they get scratched up a little, it’s no big deal,” he said. “They’re pretty stout machines.”