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For some farmers, the only thing better than owning a John Deere 60 Series Combine is visiting the world-class facility where these machines are built and literally driving their brand-new harvester right off the assembly line.

John Deere offers this opportunity through the company's Gold Key Program. Guided by retired factory employees, customers, family and friends are invited to the facility in East Moline, Ill., to get a firsthand view of the hard work and innovation that come together to create these machines. And although visitors will not deny the excitement of being the first to start their very own 60 Series combine, it's the John Deere spirit that makes first-time buyers and lifetime buyers return time and again.

A Gold Key and certificate are awarded to Garvin and Bonnie Vis of Leota, Minn., in front of their new 60 Series Combine after completing the Gold Key Program.
"My initial purpose for attending the tour was to see for myself all of the costs involved with producing this combine and to witness how a factory of this magnitude operates," says Robert Lucas of Irene, S.D. "It was during my second visit that the people really made a lasting impression by going above and beyond what was expected of them. My combine was completed and ready to ship, but the staff made an effort to pull my combine from the line, so I could look at it, ask questions and take pictures."

For Ron Wilson of Decker, Ind., visiting the facility was one of his lifelong dreams. Although John Deere equipment has been used for generations on the family's 90-year-old farm, it wasn't until recently that Wilson became a first-time buyer of a brand new 60 Series Combine. He was thrilled to participate in the Gold Key Program. Ailed by Lou Gehrig's disease and wheelchair assisted, Wilson said John Deere employees went out of their way to get him into the cab of the combine to make sure he was the very first to turn the key.

Garvin Vis of Leota, Minn., says, "I was impressed to see how computers and robots are part of the process in bringing the right parts to the right combine on the assembly line. I also was surprised at the cleanliness of the facility, the friendliness of the tour guides and the overall hospitality my wife and I received."

Similar stories from Gold Key participants have helped raise awareness of the Gold Key Program. In fact, the percentage of combine buyers who go through the Gold Key Program has doubled since last year.

Mitch Hobby, senior sales and service representative for John Deere Harvester Works, says letters of thanks and kind words from Gold Key participants remind him what the program is all about.

"The Gold Key Program helps our customers build an appreciation for what it takes to build these machines," says Hobby. "But it also gives John Deere an opportunity to show how much we value and appreciate our customers."

Now that his eighth combine is off the assembly line and into the fields, Lucas has an even greater appreciation for his equipment and the people who build them.

"John Deere puts forth the effort, which makes it worth the effort for anyone to go through the Gold Key Program. I highly recommend it to anyone." AM

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