Tractor to travel to Mordor
The face peering into Willis Schmitt's office was familiar. It was the question that caught him off-guard.
Not once in the 39 years as owner of Schmitt Implement has any employee asked Willis what son and co-owner Jack Schmitt inquired on Tuesday.
"Is that wire transfer going to come in as U.S. dollars, euros or British pounds?"
Everything about this particular business transaction defies the orthodox.
"I've seen a lot, but I've never seen this," Willis said.
His thumb jerks toward two men power-washing every nook and cranny of a 2005 John Deere 9560 Sidehill Combine.
The work ethic impresses, but that's not the jaw-dropper. What makes locals shake their heads in disbelief is that the men traveled more than 22 hours to scrub, disassemble and then ship the machine to their home in New Zealand.
Must be one heck of a combine.
Robert Fleming, the dad in the father-son duo, assures everybody it is.
"It's just what we wanted," he said.
And they found it on the Internet.
From his home in Manawatu, New Zealand, Robert went to the Web. Of all the places in the world, one match appeared - in Holy Cross, Iowa.
Salesman Ron Fuhr photographed the combine from every possible angle, e-mailed the pictures and then sealed the deal. The only thing left was to wait for the Flemings to arrive in America.
It helps to offer something competitors don't when enticing international buyers.
Production on this combine stopped three years ago. New models are impossible to get. Good used ones prove almost as elusive, except that Schmitt Implement happened to have one after a trade-in.
Only used for three seasons, this combine proved perfect for the hilly New Zealand landscape where Robert and his son, Jason, farm wheat, barley and corn.
"We have a lot of steep country, similar to this here in Iowa," he said. "In fact, it's very similar. It almost makes me feel like I'm at home."
Except that it's winter in New Zealand, so Robert and Jason had time for the trip that includes stops at Disney World, Chicago, Virginia and Hawaii - which Robert said doesn't count since it's on the way home. But the holiday wouldn't be complete without a trip to - where else? - the John Deere factory in Waterloo.
Traveling for tractors is no foreign concept to the Flemings. England has welcomed the family eight times for equipment shopping trips. Kansas even provided a piece of farming gear.
"I enjoy America very much," Robert said. "In fact, it is my second favorite country, next to New Zealand, of course."
What he doesn't love, however, is the work involved in exporting the thing.
New Zealand customs mandate strict laws about agriculture equipment. Not one speck of dirt can be found on the combine when it enters the country.
So, all this week, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Robert and Jason tackle the task of removing each piece, washing it, storing it and continuing on. Most pieces will be placed in the grain bin of the combine before the entire machine is loaded onto a flatbed trailer. Loose pieces also will have a place, strapped to another trailer. Both trucks are bound for a shipping port where the combine - and all its pieces - will be loaded on a barge and sent across the sea.
"It's nothing new for us," Robert said, "but it's been fun all the same."
(Picture from D&G Equipment)