On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Tim Mullally was working in his John Deere dealership about 125 miles northwest of New York City near the small town of Jeffersonville, N.Y. He and his wife Helen started Mullally Tractor Sales, Inc. in 1984. His life, like many others on that day, would forever be changed by the horrific events that took place in New York City, Washington D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania.
That morning, Tim was meeting with Karl Pittz and Steve Wujcik, John Deere territory managers. They were making plans for an upcoming equipment order for his dealership, which sells commercial mowers, utility tractors, skid steer loaders, mini excavators, and John Deere Gator utility vehicles. Their meeting was unexpectedly cut short when Tim’s brother-in-law called to tell him a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York City.
“At first I thought it was a small Cessna or something,” Tim recalled. “When we did turn on the TV and we were watching it, I remember thinking I was watching a replay that they were showing. But then I realized it wasn’t a replay, it was a jet plane hitting the second tower.”
“We couldn’t fathom there was a plane crashing into the building and nobody thought [the buildings] would collapse,” Karl said. “Emotions began to fly. This thing was unfolding. We were very concerned for those in New York and we were worried about ourselves, as well. Bridges were being questioned. We were asking ourselves if there were bombs around the bridges.”
These were some of the same bridges located between Mullally’s dealership and their homes located north of New York City. Karl had two kids in school. His wife was a nurse. He went home to make sure they were safe.
Tim stayed up all night watching news coverage of what had taken place. Wanting to help, the next day he called Karl at John Deere. “I was determined to help with the rescue and recovery no matter how or what I had to do to get there,” Tim said.
The Journey to Ground Zero
John Deere started working on a plan that included sending Gator utility vehicles to New York City to lend to those helping with the rescue. One of Tim’s friends who worked for the New York City Police Department told him they were having difficulty getting around the area because it was blocked by all kinds of debris. Tim said golf carts that they were initially using couldn’t move the types of equipment and supplies that were needed and their tires were no match for the sharp debris that laid scattered for miles across city streets. He knew the Gators were more rugged and could carry more cargo.
A day after the 9/11 attacks, the first five Gators equipped with run-flat tires, brush guards, and heavy-duty air filters were on their way. However, there was no clear path by land to get the utility vehicles to Ground Zero. So, before sunrise on Wednesday morning, five Gators were placed on a barge in Staten Island, N.Y., and shipped across the river to lower Manhattan.
“That was the only way they could get there,” Tim explained. “As we were going over, it looked like a D-Day landing. Smoke and debris filled the air. It was very eerie.”
Tim, Karl and Steve had met along the interstate highway and then driven together in one vehicle to the marina to help redeploy the Gators. After making their way across the river to the World Trade Center Marina, a small crane on the barge offloaded the utility vehicles. Once they arrived, the trio had a tough time contacting anyone to give the Gators to.
“When we first touched down at the marina, we discovered it was very unorganized at that point. We could still see smoke and fire,” Karl explained.
To make matters worse it was raining. Eventually, a firefighter asked their group to move supplies for them.
“We started ferrying equipment into the area. I had one [Gator], Karl had one, and Steve had one. The first thing they wanted us to take in were acetylene bottles,” Tim said. These heavy bottles supplied fuel for the torches being used by rescuers to cut through steel and debris. “They saw we were able to get them in and out of there, so that’s what we did nonstop.”
Karl said, “It was a crisis. We felt like we were at war. We hauled everything in the back of those Gators.”
Those first utility vehicles quickly proved their worth by transporting emergency personnel, construction equipment, food, ice, water and whatever else was needed.
Three days later, more Gators arrived, this time from John Deere’s factory in Welland, Ontario, Canada. Employees at the factory worked overtime to quickly build a special allotment of John Deere Worksite Gators to send to New York City. However, the shipment still had to clear Customs and cross the U.S.-Canadian border. Fortunately, a rarely used exception for importing disaster relief supplies quickly eliminated any potential delays of long lines and inspections. The load of 14 yellow WorkSite Gators easily crossed the border. A police escort then led the auto transport carrying the Gators into the city.
"I was fortunate to be able to help and I was involved with a company that wanted to help. I felt like the [Gators] initially made a really big difference down there." - Tim Mullally
Versatility Proves Useful
“Karl asked if I would stay there to help manage [the Gators]. So, I began allocating them to police, the fire department, forensic people, FEMA, and Red Cross workers,” Tim said. For several weeks, Tim worked in and around Ground Zero, staying at his brother-in-law’s apartment, located nearby. “I was commuting, going in and out of there every day. After things became more organized, I was given a pass that allowed me to go anywhere I was needed.”
The work was difficult and emotional. “During the time of me initially arriving on the scene, and until I left, I saw some horrible things and I also saw how good people can be in a crisis like this,” Tim said. “It was soon evident, and we all realized, that there would be no rescue and hardly any recovery, but people, especially the fireman, were determined, and that is where the Gator’s were most helpful.” Unfortunately there were times when that help involved the heartbreaking task of carrying human remains to temporary morgues nearby.
The Evening Commute
In the evenings, after a shift change, firefighters would often walk to and from midtown, according to Tim, all the way to lower Manhattan carrying their heavy gear. The trip is about four miles each way. “When we would leave, we would pick them up and drop them off wherever they needed to go,” Tim explained. Once everyone was dropped off, Tim would drive back to his brother-in-law’s apartment.
During one of these initial trips, Tim said he noticed how the usually very busy Wall Street was completely empty. FDR Drive, normally one of the busiest highways in the world, was empty.
“We were the only ones driving on it at that time,” Tim said. Familiar landmarks were completely wiped out by the attacks. “I was very familiar with the area before, but after the attacks, it was difficult to identify what you were looking at and where you were at,” Karl said.
Tim described the initial rescue effort as being very chaotic, but that quickly changed. “It only took a few days to get really well organized. Then they were able to bring in heavy equipment to help. It was pretty impressive,” he said. As weeks went by, the city eventually purchased many more of the utility vehicles for their various departments to use.
By mid-November, Tim said his daily routine began shifting from supporting the Gators in and around Ground Zero back to his pre-9/11 responsibility as a business owner. “I really got a lot of satisfaction from helping. Of course, everybody wanted to help. I was fortunate to be able to help and I was involved with a company that wanted to help. I felt like the [Gators] initially made a really big difference down there,” Tim said. Before the heavy equipment arrived, rescue workers were removing debris by hand and buckets. “It was hot, dirty work. [The Gators] could get things like bottled water to them,” Tim said.
Fifteen years after 9/11, Karl continues working for John Deere and once again lives in New York. Recently, he’s returned to where the World Trade Center Towers once stood to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Tim and his wife still manage their John Deere dealership, but he says he hasn’t been back to Ground Zero since he left 15 years ago.
Help from Many Sources
Following 9/11, countless John Deere dealerships, employees, partners, and suppliers provided assistance. The company’s commitment to disaster response and rebuilding communities ravaged by disaster dates back to 1917 when William Butterworth, who was the son-in-law of Charles Deere and also a former Deere & Company President and Chairman, helped start a Red Cross chapter in Moline, Ill.
“John Deere and the John Deere Foundation play an important role in disaster relief and recovery” Mara Downing, Deere & Company Director, Global Brand Management & Corporate Citizenship said. “While corporate foundations do not have financial resources of the magnitude of government emergency relief agencies, they can address gaps in funding across parts of the disaster relief and recovery cycle.”
Mara noted that every disaster is unique. “We work to understand how the affected community is responding including actions from non-profits and local government agencies,” Mara said. “In some cases, a truckload of supplies direct from John Deere could overwhelm limited transportation and distribution systems in the area. That’s why we choose to partner with organizations like the American Red Cross to analyze the situation and ensure our support is part of a broader solution and not creating additional problems for first responders.”
Helping Dealers Quickly Respond
John Deere dealers also play an important role in disaster recovery. In 2014, the company created an internal council to help align its corporate citizenship disaster support efforts with its dealers.“This partnership allows us to collectively provide equipment to assist with the clean-up process after a disaster,” Geoff Andersen, John Deere Manager, Global Citizenship and Strategic Planning said.
Since forming, the council has approved funding requests from its agriculture and turf and construction and forestry dealers. These requests included responses for the earthquake in Ecuador, wildfires in Canada, and recently with flooding in Louisiana. John Deere often provides added assistance through its American Red Cross partnership, as it did with a supplemental $25,000 grant for Louisiana in August, 2016. This was in addition to its annual grant of $500,000 provided to the International Red Cross general disaster relief fund.
“One of the greatest values of this program is that it is dealer-led. Dealers locally manage it and they choose the partners they support and the equipment provided. This gives them the flexibility to quickly respond and to provide local assistance,” Geoff explained.