John Deere 445
Houston, we have a problem.
My wife tells me that the John Deere garden tractor is performing less than superbly. Very unusual. She uses it for everything. I see it out in the field spraying weeds, driving by the house with a cart full of plants and oh ya, it and its pilot-in-command mow the lawn. This unit is the workhorse of the farm.
She tells me that when she goes to mow the grass it just seems to struggle. “No power” is the report. There is also a new vibration. Fearing a bill from the dealer that could be 4 figures I had thought I had better take a look.
I jump on and take it for a spin. It is running ok. I get to the grass and flip on the mower deck. The response I get is like telling a millennial to give up their cell phone. The engine balks, the deck shakes and the blades on the mower are slow to come up to speed. When they do get rotating, any attempt at mowing is pathetic. She tells me she mowed the grass this way which I find unbelievable.
Back to the shop for a look see. I pop off the deck and look it over. Everything appears to be okay except the belt is in very rough condition. There is rubber missing all over the place. It is cracked, there are fibers showing and it needs to go. I report to her, “ I have found a problem.” I am savvy enough to not say, “I’ve solved the probem!” Those words have haunted me in the past. I ask my wife to pick up a belt. She knows the dealer very well. We have many green products.
With a belt in hand, I disassemble the deck and with a bit of effort I have the new belt in place. Within the hour the deck is back on. Time for a test spin. Things have improved. The deck is much smoother. The power is not quite there but the belt seems tight and stiff. I ask her to give it a try the next day. The report is not good.
I start the tractor, engage the mower and back comes the hippy hippy shake.
Okay, for the record, the hook is set. I am not going to quit on this until the job is done. I’m in for the duration. I will not be beaten. For the time being Winston Churchill has nothing on me when it comes to resolve.
Off comes the mower deck. The 10 point inspection begins with greasing all the fittings and there are quite a few. With that done the deck goes back on the tractor and the test spin is no better. My wife stops by and tells me that the dealer says it is usually the bearings (for the blades) that go bad. I gave those a spin when I had the belt off and everything was solid and smooth…but this is a 20 year old machine that has been rode hard and put away wet. It was not the bearings.
With deck installed I am back to the lawn. The shake worsens. Back to the shop and off with the deck. One thing I can say, "The more I worked on the deck, the faster the removal became." The airline industry studies this kind of thing and they say every time you double production of a given aircraft, your process becomes 20% more efficient. After the sixth removal I know why the dealer thinks nothing of this process. Unfortunately unless you do it over and over, you don’t appreciate that fact.
I pull on this and push on that. I decide to check the oil level in the gear box. The whole gearbox moves when I put a wrech to it. That is not right. After a brief inspection I notice that four of the five bolts that hold the gearbox to the deck are missing. Wow!
Eurecka, I think I’ve got the problem. Unfortunately these are metric and I don’t have many metric bolts on hand but for some reason I had 4 short bolts. Yipee! I bolted up the deck and put it back on the tractor and reported to my wife I probably solved the problem of the shake. I would look at it again tomorrow.
Day 3 – the test run.
I hop on the John Deere and head for the grass. The shake is gone but the power issue is worse than ever. Man-o-man, finding such a significant problem with the missing bolts meant nothing. So back to the shop I go and off comes the deck. It is time to pull off the belt and remove a spindle for evaluation. These decks have three spindles and three blades. Off comes the blade and out comes the shaft. The bearings look good. Well now I have things so disassembled that I may as well replace the bearings. The bearings won't last forever and I have the thing totally ripped apart so I may as well replace them. So back to the house to give report. I ask my wife to pick up 3 sets of bearings the next day.
Day 4 – the bearings.
The bearings were expensive. The John Deere "discount" was applied. Maybe the JD bearings are cheap and the green boxes are expensive? I tear into the deck removing all the blades. I then sharpen all the blades – why not? The right set was first. With some trial and error I figure out how to get the bearings out. The left side goes well and now for the middle. When I remove the pulley see a problem. The pulley has a hex hole in it which is gone and the shaft has a hex shaft on it which is completely gone. Now I need a new shaft and a new pulley.
Day five – the new pulley is in hand - No shaft
Day six – the new shaft is in hand.
I replace the new shaft, bearings and pulley and put everything back together. I then greased the whole deck. I torqued the bolts on the gear box and reinstalled the deck. What I had accomplished at this point was the rebuilding of the entire deck. Take that Winston, I am no lightweight.
With the deck back on the tractor I go out to the yard and drop and engage the deck. No power. Well at least I know it is not the deck any more. I’ll let it go for tonight and revisit things in the morning. But I can’t let it go. Once, years ago, our motor home lost high gear. I thought about it as I rumbled down the road, the engine squealing. It dawned on me this was an old engine and transmission. Just maybe the transmission fluid was low. I stopped at the farm store and bought some transmission fluid. I left the lot with with a new gear: 3 high. So with great optimism I check the dip stick on the transmission. It’s normal. Off to the house to report we have a completely rebuilt mower deck with newly sharpened blades.
Day seven – the engine.
I pull off the hood and check all the fluids. Things are good. I look over the engine and consider removing the rocker arm covers. Then I notice one spark plug is not covered. One of the two spark plug wires is off, disconnected, hanging the breeze. The two cylinder 23HP motor is running on one cylinder.
Making half the power...
I guess …
it had nothing to do with the mower deck.