The Amazing Farm Equipment Life/Journey of Uncle Jim

My Uncle R.J. “Jim” Peterson passed away quietly yesterday morning at the age of 91.

One month shy of turning 92. He led an amazing life, retiring May 1, 1991 after a 37 year career with John Deere. Last night I re-read the book he self published a decade later in 2001, “The Life and Times of a Plow Salesman”

I had read and referred back to Uncle Jim’s book numerous times over the years. Last night’s read felt like the first time. Different eyes I was looking through I suppose. He was a very talented writer. As I writer myself now for 32 years and also someone not professionally trained, I’ve long thought to myself the key to effective writing is when you can actually hear the writer’s voice as you are reading.


Uncle Jim’s deep voice rattled through me last night.

I couldn’t understand why we had to leave Tolley (ND). I watched out the rear window of the Dodge as the telephone poles on the sides of the road disappeared in a V pointing to where we left Vernie and Grandma When the last grain elevator dropped out of sight, I pulled down the googles on my aviator helmet so they couldn’t see the tears.”

Tolley, ND was where my family history with farm equipment began. In 1920 Jim’s grandpa, my great-grandfather George Peterson bought the local John Deere dealership on Main Street in Tolley from his wife’s half brother Rasmus Miller. A picture of the Tolley, ND store hangs today on a dealer exhibit wall at the John Deere Museum in Waterloo, IA.

Of course my grandparents and their 3 kids had to leave Tolley due to the pressures of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression days. The dealership just wasn’t big enough to support 2 young families, my grandparents and grandpa’s brother Dave. My grandfather Comart Peterson went to work for North Dakota Governor John Moses as his personal secretary.

But Deere didn’t want to lose my grandfather.

They quickly offered him a job as territory manager. So he faced a fork in the road after only a short time in Bismarck. He chose the path back to the business he knew like the back of his hand, betting on a company rather than a single man.”

That choice worked out pretty well. My grandfather worked for Deere until 1970 and wound up on the Board of Directors. My Uncle Jim graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1954 and set sail on his career patterned after his hero. His father.

No easy task.

But a very distinguished career he built with Deere. Territory Mgr. in Chillicothe, MO. Manager of company owned retail store in Denver, CO. Division Sales Mgr. for Intermountain Area of UT, western WY, eastern ID and part of NV.

One of the first things I had to do was host an event for dealers at the Hotel Utah in Salt Lake City. In those days finding entertainment in Salt Lake City was difficult and someone referred me to a music teacher for help. She said she had just the thing for a rural audience, a comedian and a group of singers.”

The comedian was just plain awful. But then out came the Osmond Brothers in white pants and shoes, red and white stripped blazers, and straw boaters. Donny (Osmond) was so young he sang in only the last number and they brought down the house. We visited with their parents who played instruments in their performance and they told us the boys would soon appear on Andy Williams TV show. They did, gained national fame and I was surely the last person to hire them for $100.”

General Sales Mgr. of the San Francisco Branch. August 1967 back to Kansas City as General Sales Mgr. 1976 off to Moline, IL – Director of Sales Branches. 3 years later off to Germany as Managing Director of European Operations. President of John Deere Limited in Canada. Towards the end of his career with Deere he was instrumental in starting their huge Parts Expo event.

Quite the journey from little Tolley, ND.

My grandfather Comart Peterson passed away August 1, 1980 at the age of 73. “He was a wonderful husband and father and a legendary Deere man. He remains my hero for life and the best man I will ever know. I think of him every day.”

My grandma Vivian Peterson passed 16 years later, on June 15, 1996. In the book Jim share’s his message at her funeral (Click Image to Enlarge View).

Yes, quite an American Story. Like so many of your farm family stories you have so graciously shared with me over the past 34 years building our Machinery Pete biz. Thank You. My Uncle Jim’s amazing American success story came to an end yesterday….but does a story really ever end when your loved ones and friends carry it forward with them forever?

I think not.

Jim had been in failing health since his beloved wife Jan passed 2 years ago, May ’22. They were ALWAYS “Jim and Jan”. Team Deal. Always. Now they’re reunited. And their wonderful family of 2 sons, Don and Jim, and their 4 grandchildren, Jamie, Matt, Carly and Casey will carry them forward. Always.

2 last things to share as I read through Uncle Jim’s book last night….Page 151 – the importance of “Persistence”

And also the last page of Uncle Jim’s book. He penned it September 11, 2001. An Addendum.

Last Summer I was home visiting my folks, now age 86 and 85 in my hometown of Benson, MN. We sat out back on the porch of the house they’ve lived in since 1970 and talked. Conversation turned to Uncle Jim, my dad’s big brother. 5 years his elder.

Dad said…“He was my hero.”

Rest In Peace Uncle Jim. Till we talk again.

Machinery Pete

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