Did you know that John Deere tractors weren’t always their iconic green and yellow?  Did you know that John Deere for a short time made bicycles? Or that John Deere also made snowmobiles?  And, in fact, it was the marketing campaign for those snowmobiles that actually spawned one of the company’s most recognizable slogans … Maybe you have heard it?

Nothing Runs Like a Deere

Patio Tractors

courtesy of John Deere

John Deere Bicycles

courtesy of John Deere

John Deere Snow Mobiles

courtesy of John Deere

Now, I won’t go too far into the short-lived line of tractors designed to match your patio furniture, nor will I delve into the company’s brief experiment with the electric riding mower (Really!) … instead I will tell you about the one common thread. That equipment, you see, was produced in the John Deere Horicon Works facility in Horicon, Wisconsin.

I had the opportunity for a brief visit and tour of Horicon Works last week. Located about 45 minutes northeast of Madison, on the edge of the Horicon Marsh, Horicon Works has been John Deere’s flagship factory for more than 100 years. Horicon Marsh, I’ll mention, is the largest freshwater cattail marsh in the US and the town of Horicon is smack dab in the center of Packers Land. (Maybe only a slight coincidence that these two organizations share the same iconic colors.)

Packers gear John Deere Horicon Works

While the plant itself has a long history, John Deere Horicon Works has been the home for John Deere Lawn Equipment since 1963.  And anyone quick with the math knows that that makes, yep, 50 years.  Fifty years since their first lawn tractor (tagged as the 110) rolled off the lines.

Introducing the 110

courtesy of John Deere

John Deere 1963 110 Tractor

John Deere 110; no. 60

The town will celebrate this summer a Weekend of Freedom Machines – the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Deere’s Lawn and Garden Tractors.

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Cheese? You might ask. … Well, I didn’t really see any.  Brats … yes! Cheese … No!

What I did see was a finely-tuned, wholly American manufacturing plant (1400 employees strong) in action.  And fighting back a spastic chant of “U.S.A. U.S.A….”, by 2012 – John Deere Horicon Works had produced some 9 million products, shipping and selling in all parts of the world.

Behind the Scene John Deere Horicon Works

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The Tour :: Stamping Steel

After we suited up, our tour started in the 201,000 sf Department 101 - the company’s world class stamping facility.  We saw bone shaking machines, hi-tech lasers and an almost inconceivable amount of cast and die sets – racks and aisles, one after another – around 4400 sets in total.

John Deere Horicon Works Personal Protection Equipment

cast and die sets John Deere Horicon Works

This plant handles needs throughout all of Deere, working some 50,000 tons of steel last year – resulting in 26 million individual pieces.  This high capacity operation can handle two-ton steel coil stock. But it is the stamping method, and their attention to steel chemistry, which allows for Deere’s signature “deep deck” – formed from steel … plates.

Coil Steel Fed into Stamping Machine John Deere Horicon Works

Stamped Decks John Deere Horicon Works

Robotics are used throughout.  Steel is bought mill direct and is used to make both production and services parts. The entire operation seems to remain true to the legacy of John Deere, the man himself – a New England Blacksmith with a “knack for solving problems.”

Robotics John Deere Horicon Works

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The Tour :: Powder Coat Paint  

Parts stamped in 101 (above) make their way to the “Paint Building,” technically part of the downtown 201 facility.  Some 9 miles of conveyor wind in and out of this space … parts of all kinds are painted in each available color (Black, Deere Green and Egg Yellow).  The word “ballet” comes to mind watching them all move.

Paint Conveyor Oven Baked Powder Coat John Deere Horicon Works

Deere incorporates a powder type coating method, similar to what you might find in the automotive industry – we witnessed this first hand.  All parts are prepped (and painted), before assembly, in a 4-part process.  The most intriguing step of which is a special E-Coat – a treatment applied to help inhibit rust.

John Deere Horicon Works Powder Coating Booth

John Deere 4 stage powder coat process
Paints are oven baked and electro-statically charged when applied (similar maybe to galvanizing) … each rack along the conveyor is bar coded, and using sensors throughout the chain – a computer is told what to paint … what.

Paint Conveyor John Deere Horicon Works

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The Tour :: Making Tractors and … Zs

* X300 and X500 Select Series Factory Line 
Continuing into the main portion of the 1.2 million sf Building 201, we witnessed the assembly of their x300 Select Series Lawn Tractor and the x500 Select Series Garden Tractor.  A floor-sensing, “smart car” conveyor system whips machines to different stations within the assembly process.

small parts assembly John Deere Horicon Works

* EZtrak Factory Line 
The EZTrak line stopped us shutter bugs in our tracks. It was at the end of this line that a chunk of Deere’s How We Run commercial was shot. Unlike the other equipment we saw – the EZTraks (or Zs as they are called) are designed with one purpose and only one purpose in mind … these are lawn cutting machines. Released by Deere initially in 2007, only after extensive trial and error used to minimize cost.

How We Run John Deere EZTrak Assembly

* X700 Signature Series Factory Line
The company’s pride and joy – x700 Signature Series … for those that want a luxury mow. We heard of some of the design considerations that went into this tractor mower (and I will get into these next time). The company designs all their machines to fit those from the 5% female @ 4’10” up to the 95% male @ 6’5”.

Air Tools Hung From Ceiling John Deere Horicon Works

A tractor is said to be loaded every 8 minutes.

tractors moved along floor conveyors John Deere Horicon Works

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Horicon’s riding equipment portfolio includes:

We had to opportunity to test them all, plus the D100 Series - made however in Greeneville,TN (as well as some top competitors’ equipment) at a “Ride and Drive Event” immediately after our tour.

But more on this next time.

John Deere US Locations

courtesy of John Deere

tractors lined up John Deere Ride and Drive

John Deere Media Event

John Deere Media Event Ride and Drive

John Deere Horicon Works Assembly

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For even more pictures from our tour please see my albums on:

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I’ll note that my expenses for this trip were covered but I was not compensated for this post. Thanks. ~jb