Ever wonder where your beloved Harley Big Twin came from? What went into its creation and assembly? How it's QCed? Think Pilgrim.
When we stepped inside the hallowed halls of Harley-Davidson's 849,000 square-foot Pilgrim Road Powertrain Operations factory in suburban Milwaukee (Menomonee Falls, to be exact) last year, turns out we had entered the "Home of the Big Twin." Pilgrim Road cranks out engines and transmissions for the final assembly plants in York and Kansas City, for Touring, Softail, Dyna and Sportster models; yep, all engine production, save the water-cooled V-Rod, is consolidated at Pilgrim Road.
The Pilgrim Road pad started life in 1979 as a facility for small-engine manufacturer Briggs & Stratton (another historic Milwaukee company). Harley-Davidson acquired the 850,000 square foot building from Briggs in 1996 and has consolidated many manufacturing operations here in the ensuing period, particularly in the last 4 years when it undertook a modernization and efficiency upgrade to its production processes.
The best way to determine how modern Pilgrim Road is requires taking a tour. One of four tours held at Harley manufacturing facilities around the country, the standard Pilgrim factory tour is free and gives you a view of designated machining areas. Shell out a few more bucks though, and you get the Pilgrim Road Steel Toe Tour package; a behind-the-scenes look at off-limits areas, as well as a ticket into the H-D Museum. You’ll be required to wear safety glasses and steel toe protection (it's an active facility). A shuttle takes you from the Museum to Pilgrim Road, where the tour takes you to an up-close-and-personal-view of the engine and transmission assembly lines, the powder coat process, cold testing, and steel and aluminum machining. Steel Toe admission includes a tour ticket, Museum entry, transportation to the plant, commemorative pin, and a group photo.
Clomp inside with your steel toe slip-ons, where a guide holds forth with the standard-issue H-D manifesto. It's worth every bit of the $38 price tag, especially if you've never seen the modern motorcycle manufacturing process firsthand. The first area we walked through had a lot of new robotic machines and systems, after which we transitioned to the engine production process, where we viewed parts being machined down to spec, heat treated and then anodized before final assembly. As we strolled into the powertrain components assembly area, our guide enthusiastically described the transmission system we were viewing as getting that trademark H-D “clunk of confidence.”
We also discovered that many customers can effectively pre-order their engine from the assembly line, and with the ever-growing H-D1 program, there are possibilities for special-ordering virtually the entire bike (new models have been added every year).
Other unexpected factoids?
- H-D sources local American suppliers for the castings machined at the Pilgrim Road facility.
- The paint room's locker room is where employees put on sterile body suits and walk through an "air shower" to avoid contaminating paint with outside dirt; key to a flawless finish.
- The cutting oil used on many of the machining operations is filtered -- and reclaimed, to boot.
Perhaps the most surprising insight though, was discovering just how progressive the Pilgrim Road facility is. On our walk through of the plant, we spied numerous collecting bins full of scrap metal, cast offs from the machining operations, and all manner of rejected parts -- all of it ready to be recycled.
Harley-Davidson Powertrain Operations
The Steel Toe Tour, (877) 883-1450
Read about our tour of the H-D Museum here: