An antique machinery show and a Kansas City Barbeque Society competition were among the festivities to celebrate the 65th year of Keating Tractor in Liberal, Kansas.
Keating Tractor was founded by the late Jim Keating and his wife Marlene when they purchased the John Deere dealership from Symons Motors in December 1957. The dealership soon relocated from downtown to its current location at 7422 County Road 3. Today it employs about 50 people at its state-of-the-art facility that has been added on to several times and designed to meet customers’ needs.
Jim Keating’s daughter, Julie (Keating) Parsons and his son, owner Russ Keating, reminisced about all their years in a dealership so important to the Liberal community and its regular customers in southwest Kansas and neighboring states.
Russ said at one time his family also had a dealership in Beaver, Oklahoma, but it was closed in the 1980s as Deere asked the Keatings to focus on the Liberal location.
Russ and Julie smiled when asked what their dad might have thought about an antique tractor show and activities marking such a special anniversary.
“My dad would roll over if he saw all that was going on,” Russ said, then reiterated his dad was a big fan of promoting his hometown.
Jim Keating also instilled the importance of service and parts availability to customers, Russ said, and that has stayed with him.
“We’ll loan out machinery to help a customer who might have a piece of equipment down during harvest or another critical time for him,” he said.
Julie said parts men are available to answer questions and help customers beyond regular store hours. That commitment was not lost in the transition from Jim to his children and later grandchildren who are also actively involved in the business.
“You have to have good service,” Russ said to earn repeat business. “Dad told us to focus on service.”
That focus has kept Keith Giesbrecht, of Lakin, Kansas, a loyal Keating customer. Giesbrecht is a custom cutter and when his 17-year-old son wanted to buy a combine to start his own operation, there was hesitancy from financiers. Giesbrecht said Russ personally vouched for his son and that allowed him to purchase a new machine. Giesbrecht’s son is a successful custom harvester himself and like his dad is loyal to the John Deere brand and the Keatings.
“Thank you both for your commitment,” he told Julie and Russ. “It has made a difference to me and my family.”
Jim Keating died in 1997 but he is commemorated inside the dealership through photos with fellow dealers and awards he received over the years, Julie said.
His legacy remains. Russ said in May 2024 he will have been involved in the dealership for 50 years. “It is the only job I ever had,” he quipped.
His nephew, Alex Parsons, and other family members are the third generation actively involved with day-to-day operations. Russ said it was Alex’s idea to host an antique tractor show. Russ admitted that he was not sure it was the right fit, but he credited Alex for his foresight. This serves as a reminder to Russ about the importance of listening to the next generation. Each year the antique tractor show along with the addition of other activities has made the event an anticipated one each year. The tractor show is in its sixth year.
“It’s been great for our family,” Russ said.
Julie remembered her dad going to great lengths with John Deere Day, which was a day when new equipment was introduced and farmers would come for an open house. She and her brother had many fond memories of it from a family perspective.
A corn-hole tournament was also a part of the day’s fun and community booths were made available for local businesses and non-profits to meet the public. A concert near the Keating Tractor facility finished the day’s action.
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Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].