Robert Roswick is a grey-haired tinkerer born, raised and living in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Houston, We Have a Problem
My wife tells me that our John Deere garden tractor is performing less than superbly. This is very unusual. She uses it for everything, like spraying weeds and driving around with a cart full of plants.
John Deere Garden Tractor Engine Problem?
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 four figures, I had thought I had better take a look.
Day 1: Troubleshooting
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.
Tractor Belt Trouble
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 problem!” 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.
Day 2: The Mower Deck
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 ridden hard and put away wet. It was not the bearings.
With the 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 decided to check the oil level in the gearbox. The whole gearbox moves when I put a wrench 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!
I think I’ve found the problem. Unfortunately, these are metric and I don’t have many metric bolts on hand but for some reason, I had four short bolts. 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 I go back to the house to give a report. I ask my wife to pick up three 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 5: The New Pully Is in Hand (But No Shaft)
I have to wait until the next day to really make any progress. But, hey—things are looking up!
Day 6: Putting the Shaft, Bearings, and Pully Back Together
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 gearbox 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 anymore. 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 a new gear: 3 high. So with great optimism, I check the dipstick on the transmission. It’s normal. Off to the house to report we have a completely rebuilt mower deck with newly sharpened blades.
Day 7: 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 it run at only half power. Well, I guess it has nothing to do with the mower deck.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Tom hartman on June 01, 2019:
I bought a 425 deer two years later it wouldn’t start. Called my John Deere dealer and he tells me every time you shut the motor off it will backfire. This John Deere had 150 hours on it and I always keep it in top condition. Well I took it to the dealer and three days later he tells me to come out. When I got there he showed me four little white and two yellow gears. John Deere knew this was a problem with these Japanese motors but wouldn’t do nothing about. Needless to say $1,100.00 later to get my 425 back I told the mechanic this will be my last green machine. That’s why there green it means MONEY.
I Will Fix It LLC on May 25, 2019:
Soon as you said no power mowing I knew it was gonna be a dead cylinder lol.
Rick on December 20, 2017:
Dave nelson on July 07, 2017:
Wonderful story detailing the classic IRAN concept. Inspect and Repair As Needed!