40+ Years of Tree Spades & Transplanting Equipment in the USA

BIG JOHN Manufacturing has a long history of innovation, starting with the first tree spade in 1975. Today, BIG JOHN is the leading manufacturer of tree spades in the United States, exporting tree spades to customers around the globe from Heber Springs, Arkansas.

Made in USA 40+ Years
Top-Quality Components
One Person Operable
All-Welded Construction

Made in USA 40+ Years

Top-Quality Components

One Person Operable

All-Welded Construction

History of BIG JOHN Spades


Young John May owner of Big John

Birth of BIG JOHN

John May approached the late Tucker Blankenship and his son the late Charles Blankenship in November 1975. He sold May Manufacturing to The Blankenships and BIG JOHN Tree Transplanter Manufacturing Inc. was formed January 21st, 1976. Many endeavors came from that November 1975 meeting. The first tree transplanter manufactured under the BIG JOHN banner was the Model 78. The Model 78’s nomenclature is derived from the diameter of its root ball and could dig up nine inch caliper trees. The Model 78 led BIG JOHN into the inspiration of manufacturing multiple models and sizes of tree transplanters.

John May’s enthusiasm led him to the creation of a working prototype of the Model 50 in less than four months. The Model 50 could dig up five inch caliper trees. The Model 50 is no longer manufactured at BIG JOHN, but its creation was the stepping stone to build the biggest machine of that time within legal requirements. Ninety days later John May presented a working prototype of the Model 88 to Mr. Blankenship. The Model 88 could dig up a twelve inch caliper tree.


60s Big John tree spade model

The Model 60 Tree Spade

John May then suggested BIG JOHN build a model between the Model 78 and 50. Mr. Blankenship approved his idea and ninety days later, John May accomplished, once again, another milestone for the company, named the Model 60. This machine could dig up to a six inch caliper tree. John May recommended trailer mounted machines be produced. This idea led to the production of trailer mounted machines still manufactured at BIG JOHN today. We sell trailer mounted machines frequently to government agencies, municipalities, and universities to allow them to operate a tree transplanter without needing a truck chassis.

In 1984, BIG JOHN assigned different model numbers to the early-day Models 50, 60, 78, and 88. A larger gate opening known at BIG JOHN as “The Wide Mouth” was designed. This new feature led to a name change for the models. This new attribute enabled a transplanter operator to position the unit around larger trees with full lower branches. This also improved the visibility for a transplanter operator and allowed for less pruning of branches during the transplanting process. The new models are Models 45D, 55D, 65D, 8OD, and 90D.


Big John 80s truck carrying a yellow tree spade

BIG JOHN in the 80’s

In the 80s, BIG JOHN designed small loader mounted transplanters. These transplanters mount on various types of skid steer loaders and BIG JOHN currently manufactures a full line of larger loader-mounted models. Also during this time, a customer presented an idea to build a version of the Model 90 to primarily transplant pecan trees. We redesigned the Model 90, mainly focusing on adding back the traditional gate-opening feature along with numerous other changes in the basic structure. Thus, the Model 90AG was born. The letters “AG”, the red color, and other features set this model apart from the yellow contractors Model 90. This particular transplanter is presently a popular unit used by pecan and several other nut tree growers.

In the late 80’s successful international expansion reigned for BIG JOHN. During this time, pod trailers and freestanding pods were at the beginning of their development. These machines transport multiple numbers of trees at the same time. The free-standing pods are very useful for temporary storage of rootballs and trees on the job site. Numerous other developments continued rapidly in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s to improve the transplanter as well. Over the years, Big John has sustained its position as the leading manufacturer of large tree transplanting and transporting equipment.


Modern Big John truck carrying a yellow tree spade

Big Changes at BIG JOHN

On April 1, 2015 The Blankenship family sold BIG JOHN to Stephen & Melissa Choate. New ideas, improvements and new equipment are underway! Stay tuned! The BIG JOHN Family is growing!


 lighter-weight skid steer-mounted to tractor

BIG JOHN Adds Skid Steer Spades

The new BIG JOHN team started producing a line of smaller & lighter-weight skid steer-mounted nursery production tree spades. Numerous requests from long-time and new customers wanting to be part of the BIG JOHN family led to the “baby diggers” or nursery tree spades designed in multiple configurations and tree sizes. Due to the challenges and adventures of developing, rigorously testing & satisfying customer’s applications, the BIG JOHN crew is focused on new developments and always improving products to meet the needs of customers. Stay tuned!