Johnny Zeman: Long on Loyalty, Know-how, and Getting Things Done


In this 1961 photo, Johnny prepared the seedbed with John Deere 730 tandem tractors pulling two 14-foot tandem discs and a 30-foot harrow. This configuration was designed by my dad, Deane Gunderson, who in the early 1940s was an engineer for the John Deere Tractor Company in Waterloo, Iowa. The tractors could also be used separately for lighter fieldwork during the summer. (Click on photo to enlarge.)


Bubbles in the Wine (A Rolfe [Iowa] Arrow weekly column)

March 20, 1975

by Deane Gunderson

Johnny Zeman, long on loyalty, know-how, and getting things done, a 145 pound bundle of tough muscle and porcelain innards. The muscle is just about as good as it was 19 years ago when he started to work at Gunderland, and his know-how and a few other things have improved a good bit in the last few years.

No longer will Johnny be slowly turning Irving Cornwell’s corner at 7:59 a.m. (winter hours) with his six-soother at his side. We’ll miss the convenience to us in the little things as well as his sincere desire to get the crops in and out properly and quickly.

Johnny...and Johnny. (Year unknown. Click on photo to enlarge.)

Johnny had his funny side. One night he was relaxing in the old tavern (now extinct) near the coin laundry. A friend along the bar said he was going up to the (old) Midway to see what was going on there, and friend left. Johnny thought, “I’ll just duck out the back door and slip up to the Midway and be nonchalantly at the bar when friend comes in the front door of the Midway.”  Johnny was scurrying back behind the buildings in pretty good darkness with a smile on his face, no doubt, when he unexpectedly found himself scrambled with sandburs, broken shipping crates, and cinders in the bottom of an abandoned basement drive-in entrance to one of the buildings.

Johnny and Daddy at Gunderland. (Year unknown. Click on photo to enlarge.)

On another occasion, Johnny called up about 9:00 p.m. on a Sunday evening and suggested that he go up to Les Allen’s to pick up some equipment so that we’d be ready to charge into our work more quickly Monday morning. I told Johnny, “No, just let it go — we’ll take care of it in the morning.” Nevertheless, half an hour later, Johnny called from Allen’s to say he had encountered a couple of horses in the middle of the road and his car was over in Martin DeWall’s field. “I’ll come to get you,” I said. We looked for the horses, [but] didn’t find them although we could see where they had been. Later I took Johnny home and by then Johnny was concerned about what discipline he was going to get, because he had outright disobeyed me. “No, Johnny,” I said, “it’s just that at certain times you ought to keep away from that car.” “You mean to say that I’m not going to get laid off, or have my wages docked or anything like that?” Answer: “That’s right.” Whereupon Johnny said, “O.K., then, give me some more ell.”

Once when visiting in California, I was regaling my dentist uncle with some of Johnny’s antics, telling about  how Johnny liked to get to the tavern after work and tell his buddies about how we (or he) did this today, and we did this much this week, etc. My uncle said, “Yep, that’s his fraternity.”

Best regards Johnny, LaVonne and the kids, and fond memories from Gunderland.

* * * * * * * *

Johnny passed away in 1989.

Click here to read a few more of Daddy’s “Bubbles in the Wine” columns, including his story about how he began his BITW column. I’ll be sure to post more of them in the future. I have his permission, and the Pocahontas Record-Democrat‘s, which now owns the Rolfe newspapers.

If you want to learn more about the John Deere configuration and didn’t already see it when I posted my dad’s obituary, click here for a 1964 Fort Dodge Messenger article about it. The article also includes another photo of Johnny.

Click here to go to Louise Gunderson Shimon’s blog’s home page.


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