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Johnson herds Deere for 45 years

By Staff | Apr 14, 2011

George Johnson at the wheel of a JD Gator he’s finishing up — ideal for ranching, spraying or going out to fetch that trophy buck. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

George Johnson’s blood runs green.

In fact, it’s run green for just about 45 years now.

That’s how long ago it was when Johnson went to work for Ed Elwood’s John Deere dealership at 1020 Sixth Ave. S. Several owners later, and after moving to its present location at Ernie Williams Ltd. on East Highway 9, Johnson is getting ready to hang up the wrench – as far as making a living is concerned, anyway – after working continuously for 45 years for the same company. He turns 75 Saturday.

Anyone who wants to wish George well on his retirement can drop by 2-4 p.m. Friday for cake and coffee.

Originally from Graettinger, George grew up in the Ruthven and Graettinger area, spending his last three years of high school in Terril. After that, he served a two-year hitch in the Army then worked at the creamery in Graetttinger for four years before going to work for Ed Elwood in 1966, setting up machinery.

“I just kind of learned on my own,” Johnson said.

He attended several John Deere schools in East Moline, Ill.

“I’ve worked in everything except the big tractors for several years,” George.

One of the biggest changes he’s seen over the years has been horsepower. George remembers first working on eight-horse engines. Now they range anywhere from 17-27.

Another big change is the size of equipment. George first started working on four-row corn planters. Now they’re 24.

So how “green” is George, really?

“I have been on that stuff long enough that I know where the quality is at,” George said. “I don’t even like to see them other colors come in here . . . We work on them, though,” he said grudgingly.

So what’s the most unusual thing he’s worked on?

That would be a horse-drawn corn planter owed by Mike Jessen of Dolliver – a John Deere corn planter dating back to the 1930s.

George arrived to find the planter still hooked up to two Belgians. He fixed it up just as good as new.

George will likely pester his wife, Barb, a little more than normal. And when he’s not doing that, they’ll probably spend some time visiting their three daughters.

So is he going to miss working at the same place . . . for 45 years?

“It’s not going to be an easy thing to do,” George said about leaving. As far as hobbies are concerned, said George, “I like to butcher a little wood and play with a little iron. I’ve got a few lawn tractors stashed. I think I’ve got nine of them.”

George has completely restored three law tractors already – ranging from 1968 to 1972. One, a JD Model 120, he assembled right out of the crate new. After a couple owners had it for 30 years, George decided to buy it for himself.

“They only made it for two years,” George said proudly.