The Zen of John Deere :: A Look at John Deere Lawn Equipment
So when I left off I was you telling about my visit to John Deere‘s Horicon Works. I was a fortunate member of the media entourage that journeyed recently to Wisconsin. We went to see just what’s doing with John Deere, now, celebrating 50 years in lawn equipment (2013).
Our visit happened in two parts. First, we had a look at their manufacturing processes and later, we took some of the equipment made here for test drives. (For comparison, we also had the opportunity to spin around on equipment from leading rivals.)
John Deere’s Testing Facility :: Wisconsin
We headed out to the 400+ acre Swan Road Test site (a short bus ride from Horicon Works and a location the team from Deere also referred to as “the Farm”). Here, tractors, utility vehicles and implements get field and performance tests. Products graded on Blading, Mowing, Moving, Tilling, Plowing, Snow Blowing, and Brooming, among other things. Consumer pattern data – the rights and the lefts made in the course of cutting a lawn, is also utilized.
The equipment is exposed to varying conditions, including on Bump Tracks, Brake Ramps, Twist Ditches, up and down hillsides and over curb fixtures. (I got an albeit quick look at the back side of the facility here from the front seat of a fast-moving Gator prototype.)
At Swan Road, six full-time mechanics and up to 60 drivers at a time “eat, breathe and live turf.” Ryes, Fescues, Bluegrasses as well as European Grasses grows in test plots here and is mowed down.
Data gathered is used for tweaks in deck design – a clear focus in much of what Deere does. The goal – cut more grass, faster, without compromising cut quality. The highest cut quality, as Deere defines it, is a carpet-like result with zero visual defects.
I asked almost playfully, “When is Deere coming out with a self-sharpening lawn mower blade?” Cut Quality Engineer Brian Pearson answered pretty plainly, “We just haven’t found a design yet that is worthy of the Deere name.”
Swan Road is one of five test locations throughout the country, including sites in both Florida and North Carolina, where focus shifts to southern grasses.
Product Walkarounds and Ride & Drive
* D100 Series
I’ll admit it, I have spent very little time on lawn tractors, so … much of what I saw that day was new. And my intro, much like what I think most individuals would go through, started with the “mass channel” D100 Series. This is Deere’s entry level riding mower and I will call it that – a riding mower, because these do not offer the capacity (for tooling) that the tractors in the X300 and X500 Series do. Unlike most Deere lawn equipment, these mowers are made not here in Wisconsin, but rather in Deere’s Greeneville, TN facility.
While these mowers could be considered entry level, many of the features that we saw throughout each line are introduced. Features like wash-out inlets, gas gauges, ¼” deck adjustments, as well as the RIO (Reverse Implement Option) safety control can be found on the D100 Series. Even here, all Deere decks come prepped to facilitate bagging, mulching or side discharge.
* X300, X500, X700
As we moved into the X300 Series Lawn Tractor, features like 4-wheel steer, power steer, ExactAdjust and hydraulic lift begin to appear (though sometimes only on select models). With the x500 Series Garden Tractor, we see a wider range of implements accepted, the introduction of such features as traction assist as well as beefer warranties.
We continued this way all the way up through the X700 Signature Series. Several of these tractors offer diesel engines and some even offer 4-wheel drive. The biggest “wow” in this line – the revolutionary new 54” and 60” drive-on/drive off decks with an optional AutoConnect feature.
* The Ultimate Lawn Machine
The prize jewel of this group, the X758, held the spotlight several times. It was frequently referred to as “The Ultimate Lawn Machine” and a quick ride on it was enough to explain why. (I mean – Noooo *ahem* I didn’t think about making a break for it ….)
Real zen, though, may have been found in the X739, with 4WD, 4-wheel steer, plus cruise control. That … or in the sheer cutting power and maneuverability of the Z’s (as they were called) – EZTrak zero-turn mowers.
These machines are without a doubt durable and well-designed – especially in comparison to some of the competitors’ offerings. I couldn’t help but thinking – “Damn, a Deere sure is fun to drive.”
According to the team, consumers consider three factors when shopping for mowers: Horse Power, Speed/Width and Price. And yes, a John Deere can compete on any of these points. It seems, however, what really sets them apart is the noteworthy attention to feel. How does it feel to a new operator? What is the learning curve; how easy is it? They even ask … how much could you do blind? All these factors are considered, designed for and tested. The goal: to produce one sweet lawn cutting experience.
As Handy editor Dan Cary (in the video and photos above) aptly summed it up, “Cutting the lawn”, he said, “may be the only quality alone time us dads get all week.”
– To find out more about John Deere test drives, I’d recommend visiting a local dealer. For special offers, see their Green Tag Sales Event going on now.