A couple of days ago, I had the great privilege of touring the John Deere Horicon Works factory in Horicon, WI. It was truly an amazing tour, and I loved getting an inside look at why “nothing runs like a deere.”
The tour started with an overview of their company history, and in 1963 Horicon Works started building riding lawn equipment. Pictured below is a 1963 mower, and it was #60 off the assembly line. This year John Deere is celebrating half a century of quality lawn equipment.
On the factory floor, we got a look at the tool room where they service and maintain the factory equipment.
These are coils of rolled steel waiting to go through the huge die-presses to be stamped into various parts.
John Deere is proud to be able to stamp parts like the mower deck because it’s more durable than a fabricated deck (like many of their competitors’ products).
They also have the capability to laser cut parts with all the waste being recycled.
After the parts are made, they go to the painting department.
Parts are grouped on a hanger with a metal “bar code” to identify them, and the hangers travel through about 7 miles of conveyor.
Each piece is first treated with a corrosion inhibitor so that if the paint is chipped or scratched, the metal is still protected. Next, the parts go through the e-coat process. The paint is electrostatically charged and the part is grounded to attract the powder primer. The primer is baked on and the process is repeated for the final coat of paint. Powder paint has the advantage that whatever is unused can be checked for contaminates and resprayed.
After paint, the parts are assembled. As the lawn equipment is assembled, it’s transported on automatic vehicles, and the height is automatically adjusted for the next station.
There’s a common misconception that stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s carry different (inferior) versions of the same model as dealers. John Deere assured me that is not true, and all the mowers are assembled the same way regardless of distributor. In fact, they’ve tried to combat the rumor by labeling where in the USA the mower was made.
Watching and speaking with factory workers, I was struck with the sense of pride they take in each and every product that comes off the line. These workers believe in John Deere, and it’s what they use at their own home. Furthermore, each worker is empowered to pull a unit from production if they find any imperfection.
After the factory we headed out to a testing facility where we drove John Deere equipment and their competitors’ products. It was great to be able to try out the different mowers in rapid succession because it made the differences so much more apparent. One thing that impressed me on all the models (except zero-turn mowers) was how much easier it was to steer and control the JD mowers even without power-assist. I spoke with several product managers, and they explained the importance of weight-distribution not only for control but also to prevent the wheels from tearing the grass.
One feature I really liked was the four-wheel turning which enabled even big riding mowers to make tight corners. Below you can see the “slalom” course setup to demonstrate.
We also went through the bump course where all the riding lawn equipment is vigorously tested for durability. In this video you can see Timothy from Charles & Hudson taking an X700 through the course.
It wasn’t really a part of the schedule but they let me drive one of the four-passenger Gator utility vehicles. It was a blast!
I want to say a big thanks to John Deere for having me out. It was great to see the factory and production process, and I hope I’ve captured some of that in today’s article.
Oh my god I am not kidding that is literally my dream vacation. I’m sad to admit that I DVR How It’s Made. Tell me I’m not the only one.
What a cool tour thanks so much for sharing. I loved all the videos!
I would DVR it if I had a DVR… but I watch it all the time anyways, even if I have seen it already.
Love How It’s Made too!
Yeah how its made is a great show. It’s produced here in Canada in the province of Quebec so thats why the lady has a bit of an accent and sometimes mispronounces words. Theres also a UK version but I never seen that.
You are definitely not the only one! I thought of the same thing right away, I love the show.
Great job on the article, Ethan. You can tell the JD is a project worth standing behind
I watched this video a week or two ago and I was instantly jealous when I heard you and Timothy were going up to the Horicon factory. They take a lot of pride in what they build there. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eqxv233lBS4
Dang! you got to drive the Gator…?! Great job of capturing everything Ethan. I’ll be sure to link over.
This is my 3 year old son’s dream vacation. It’s good to know that the ones in the big box stores are of the same quality.
Cool. It looks like it’s a pretty high tech operation!
Had a humble friend who worked as a computer programmer for the John Deere plant at Waterloo, IA. When people asked him what he did, he’d always tell them he painted tractors green at John Deere. Nice article!
I work at the Ford plant in Louisville and they are about ready to start up tours again, if you are ever in the area. Heck one of the managers left our plant to go to John Deer
That is awesome, awesome, awesome! Slightly jealous you got the behind-the-scenes tour!! I am encouraged to hear about how much pride their employees take in their work – that can make a huge difference in the final product!
Ethan, Thanks for sharing your recap of your visit to the plant! I’ve always heard the rumbles about companies manufacturing a “lesser” product for big box stores, so I’m glad to find that for John Deere, it’s not the case!
Ethan, I started driving a JD Lawn Tractor when I was 11. Now 40 years later I am still riding one. I really enjoyed the videos and the pictures. I don’t think there is a better lawn mower on the market. Currently I am mowing about 5 acres. I take care of my mower and it takes care of my lawn. I appreciate your time that you took to share your experience. Thanks again, JD.
We are coming to the Horicon area and would love a tour of your plant. Could you please give us your schedule of tours and times.