COEUR d’ALENE — Don Adams started Adams Tractor in Spokane in 1929 at the urging of Henry Ford.
His grandson, John Adams, today's company president, tells it this way:
Don Adams was loading apples onto a cart to sell, when Ford approached him.
"You’d made a lot more money and take care of family better if you'd sell my tractors," Ford told him.
"And you're not charging enough for your apples," he added.
Ford told Adams he would send him two tractors.
"Sell one and pay for it and I’ll send you another," he said.
"That’s how Adams Tractor started in Spokane," John Adams said.
Today, nearly 100 years later, it’s still going strong. Coeur d'Alene Tractor opened in 1948. It’s a growing empire, with Boundary Tractor in Bonners Ferry and Adams Tractor stores in Spokane, Lewiston and Colville.
Last year, the company sold early 1,000 tractors between those stores.
John Adams works out of a small office at the Appleway Avenue store that’s decorated with newspaper articles and tributes to family and farming.
John Adams and brother Wally Adams, on the board of directors, offer a few thoughts on the reasons for their success.
It starts with a great staff.
"Some people are threatened by people that are smarter than they are," John said. "We had to find people that are smarter than us."
And their customers.
“The people that buy tractors, the people that buy lawn mowers, even snow blowers, are good people," John Adams said. "You don’t buy a tractor unless you’re going to do something positive. You don't buy a lawnmower unless you're going to make your lawn look better."
To this day, it’s why the 84-year-old still enjoys working at Coeur d’Alene Tractor.
“They're just good people. And these people become our friends,” he said. “That’s really why I still come in.”
"Always, it's how you treat your customers," John Adams said.
"You've got to be humbled by the customers we have," Wally added.
The 82-year-old points to their family ties, with their dad Jack Adams a central figure. He took over from his dad, Don Adams, and passed it on to sons Wally and John.
"We've always been a close family, even when we competed with Adams Tractors in Spokane, which we now own." he said. "So we'd compete during the week and have dinner on the weekends."
Its reputation is one of excellence.
“Adams Tractor distinguished itself as a reputable business serving farmers and homeowners in Eastern Washington, and eventually expanded its operation with Coeur d’Alene Tractor in 1948 to accommodate the Northern Idaho market,” according to a historical account on its website.
There are five generations representing the Adams' family in one of the most iconic businesses in the Inland Northwest.
It is known for its generosity.
Last year, Coeur d’Alene Tractor presented Children’s Village with a new Kubota tractor. Valued at $16,500. It will allow Children’s Village staff to do their own maintenance in house, and their own snow removal.
They have supported local 4-H programs for decades and currently donate time, money and equipment to the Children’s Village, the Ronald McDonald House, CHS and NIC Booster Clubs, CHS Softball Team and CHS Basketball Program.
The company has been a member of the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce since 1948.
Jack Adams, the oldest son of Don Adams’ six sons, opened Coeur d’Alene Tractor in 1948 and was known for his philanthropy and work ethic, something he passed on to his sons.
The company thrived, maintaining customers for generations.
Jack Adams passed away Feb. 11, 2011, at the age of 100.
"He would answer the call of anybody, whether it was the city, a customer or a friend, with his time and his expertise," his son, Wally Adams told The Press in a previous interview.
Such is John's conviction farming is good that he likes to joke that tractors are a "mental health machines."
Both credit their parents for instilling a strong work ethic in them.
"We were busy all the time," Wally Adams said.
They attended Coeur d'Alene High, were involved in sports and band, with Wally in the class of '59 and John in the class of '58.
Jack Adams was owner, repairman and salesman in the early days of the business, while his wife was secretary and handled the finances.
"And there wasn't very much money," Wally said, laughing.
John and Wally were involved with Coeur d'Alene Tractor from their childhoods. They picked up and delivered equipment, sorted bolts, and carried out tasks assigned by their father.
"We put things together when we learned how to handle wrenches," John said.
Both went on to serve in the military, have been civically active and worked in other professions before joining management of Coeur d'Alene Tractor.
They have always gotten along well.
"I'm very fortunate to have a brother like John," Wally said.
"That doesn't mean we haven't had some shouting matches," John said, smiling. "And when we were kids we did a lot of wrestling. He was stronger but I was faster."
Coeur d'Alene Tractor Co. remains very much part of both of them.
"I think it is part of us, something we can't turn loose of," John said. "It just becomes a part of our being."
Brothers John Adams, left, and Wally Adams with Coeur d'Alene Tractor pose together at their Appleway Avenue store.