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In York, PA, you can take:

A Tour of The Harley-Davidson Factory

with lots of:
p h o t o s !

I'm so glad I made it to the:

2011 Harley-Davidson Open House Factory Tour in York, PA

after not having updated this page in over 10 years.

No factory operation photos from the 2011 Open House Tour, except for the visitor's center photos, so you'll need to personally take the tour to see their awesome operations.

But, I have just added some photos that include a York, PA Police bike, and a bike that would make Yankees fans proud!. CLICK HERE

You should see this awesome set-up!

  • Tour visitors [you] will be treated to an awesome revamping of the final assembly plant.
  • No more Harleys on a roller-coaster track. No more bikes dangling in the air, shuffling along to their next station.
    No siree, everything now gets shuttled along to its next attachment point by robotic carrier, and remains at ground level.
  • No more showers of sparks from frame construction that you can even see, though they may be hidden, depending on construction method.
  • It starts with the frame being mounted on a "robotic carrier". It will stay there, until the product is completed.
  • Dyno testing of the bike occurs while it is still on the carrier.
    The carrier with the bike on it, moves into place at the dyno area, and the operator does what appears to be an oil/fuel top off, gets on the machine, starts it, and begins to row through all six gears to make sure it all plays a symphony, and not a 'shake and rumble'. He has to repeat this well over 300 times a day.
  • I wish I could show you, but no cameras were allowed in the plant.
    Much tighter security. I'm sure some part of this awesome operation can be found on YouTube, if not on the official site page.
  • Much neater/cleaner operations all around.
  • Every bolt during assembly is not only torque-tightened but also checked by computer
  • Clearly marked lanes keep the tour visitors safely on path.
  • The system was loosely in place, the last time I toured it.
  • I'm thinking it'll eventually be a 'lights out' factory, where no employees will be present.
  • On Thursday (9/29/2011), the sun was out just enough to let me test ride 2 bikes. A brand new Road King and a Street Glide. Those were not only the most comfortable, but the easiest bikes to control, that I've ever ridden.
The product models now being built at the Harley-Davidson York, PA assembly plant are the: Softail, FL line, and Trikes, or 3-wheeled motorcycles.
The Dyna and Sportster model lines have been moved off site now, for some years.

Having toured the Harley-Davidson Final Assembly Plant in York, PA six seven eight times,
I'm still drawn to re-visit this incredible factory, to witness the manufacturing process all over again.

Everything below this, was last updated at least a decade ago, and may likely no longer apply.

It also means it was last updated:

Blue text throughout this tour generally indicates a process which may or may not be current.

The Factory's Product

"Where do they make Harley-Davidson Motorcycles?"

Manufacturing of Harley-Davdison Motorcycles takes place in a number of plants.

Kansas City, U.S.A.
Sportsters are completely assembled at the Kansas City plant, which opened in early, 1998.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, , U.S.A.
Engines and transmissions for the Sportster and other Harley-Davidson models are manufactured in Milwaukee. They are then shipped to York, PA and Kansas City. Big Twin 80 cubic inch and the new for 1999, 88 cubic inch engines are shipped to York, PA, while all Sportster engines are shipped to Kansas City.

York, PA Final Assembly Plant, U.S.A.
Most of the parts for the bikes, with the exception of the engine/transmission, wheels, headlights, Narrow-glide forks, tires and perhaps some other parts of which I may not be aware, are fabricated here. All models of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, except for the Sportster line, are completely assembled.
Each frame is shaped and hand-welded of high tensile steel. Beautiful, chrome wheels are laced - and rather quickly as the bikes
bobbing along this assembly line, need about 2 or so.

Fenders, fuel tanks and oil tanks are pressed into their beautiful shapes by hulking presses, (each as big as a house) and then trimmed in a manner you won't soon forget.

The legendary Springer's front end is built right here, piece by piece, and polished in a manner that will have you so awe-struck, the tour-guide will be steaming, trying to get you to keep up.

Triple trees are made and polished in the same awesome manner.

Cables are run through the beautifully finished, black skeletons
which are soon to be outfitted in America's finest.

For the 1999 model-year, the final product of this factory can be any of the following new models:

  • 6 Sportster models (including an 883 with factory forward controls)
    ( Sportsters are assembled at the Kansas City plant only)
  • 5 Dyna models, each with the new Twin-Cam 88 cubic inch engine.
  • 7 Softail modes ( including 2 Springer models)
  • 7 Touring models, each with the new 88 cubic inch engine.


(To see what 1998 had offered: 1998)

Cameras and Video Recorders in the Assembly Plant

Those items are a "no-no" in the factory, outside of the annual Open-House week-end, but are OK in the museum.

I was told that by the time Open-House week-end arrives, all sensitive information, processes, etc., have been finalized, completed, tucked-away, etc.

Come Open-House time, and you can probably stage a movie inside the Assembly Plant.

Historic Points

Note: Harley-Davidson Sportsters are now built in Kansas City. Tanks and fenders are stamped in York, and shipped to Kansas City. They currently build 540 Big-Twin bikes at the York plant, every day.

" Where do we start this tour? "

We start by going to the York, PA Harley Davidson plant which is on route 30 (also known as Arsenal Road).

Get a parking space in the visitor's section, walk across the road to the nearest set of doors. Go in there. Tell the security guard why you're there. Seated in a waiting area, you wait for one of many guides who will announce when its your group's turn to start the tour. While waiting, you are treated to a large screen which may be showing from any number of pre-recorded programs, possibly on the plant in Milwaukee Wisconsin where the engines and transmissions are manufactured.

Your group is called by one of the tour guides and you're asked to follow them. The tour begins in a room that is dedicated to the company's product as a whole. For instance, in this room, you'll find an original 1906 Harley Davidson, a 95th anniversary model, and possibly a brand new Buell bike. The arrangement may change from time to time.

  The Museum Tour
The museum part of the tour is where you'll find a lot of the Harleys from the earlier years which will no doubt add to your amazement and new knowledge.

Here are some bike photos from the museum:

1906 model which had belt-drive and white tires.
1914 model Both 1913 and 1914 models were quite similar.
1915 model
1918 model The kick-starter in its 2nd year
1936 model with the "Knuckle-Head" engine
1942 Military model This bike is very unique, as the cylinders are not in the conventional pattern.
Elvis Presley owned this 1956 KH
1970 XLH Sportster

  The Factory Tour
Photo of a trike, outside of plant.
Having finished the museum tour, you are now issued a pair of safety glasses, provided by the tour, and you are, at this time, asked to leave your camera with the guide who will store it safely away for you, until you are returned through the same set of doors, in the adjacent building you left from.

We leave the museum part of the complex and head to a huge, blue and white factory which may not look like much on the outside - a warehouse of some sort ?
p h o t o : West Side of Plant.
(Your space will be saved, if you wish to return here)
But its mostly in this building that all the assembly, welding, painting, pipe bending, hole drilling is done, and has been done since '73. You may see forklifts transporting huge rolls of different width sheet metal to various stamping stations where the fenders and tanks are formed.

p h o t o : 80 Cubic Inch Engines

p h o t o : New 88 Cubic Inch Engines
Depending on which way you entered the tour, you may either find a mountain of engines and transmissions to your right, or you may see where they get the final product onto a crate, with a guy who staples a huge cardboard box over this wonderfully finished product, on its way out the door, and onto your dealer's floor.

Say we enter via that door - we find a mountain of engines to our right. Amazed, and wanting to take in every detail, as we don't know when we'll next return
( thanks to the rule about no video-recorders), we are forced to lend our attention to two distractions:

1) this new world of people, sights, and sounds,
2) the mountains of engines, stacked in skids, to be served in a fork-lift-ballet style, to the person hooking the crated engines to a cable, which will lift them out and with the guidance of a counter-weight, hoist them over, right into the frame.

(You'd figure after six tours that I'd've taken it all in, but that's not so - perhaps after 600 tours).

After the initial amazement has somewhat dissipated, the thought may creep into your mind:

"Wow! This is the Harley Davidson Assembly Plant. This is where it happens".

You look to a fellow tourist, whom you've never met before, looking for the reflection of your amazement in their face. You may not find it. But don't worry, this tour has affected each of the people I've gone there with, a bit differently.

The tour guide, though having anticipated your reality lapse, may be prompting you to stick with the group as there are several such groups touring and has to account for each of you.

Sounds like productivity in here . . .

A symphony of "Zzzzzippp", "Pleeenshshsfff", "PrrtPrrtPrrt", "pssht,pssht,pssht" sounds translate into the goings on, which have greeted you since you walked into the plant. Welding, sparks flying, air compressors. Let's not forget the "Vweeeeeen" sounds caused by various other toolings. Perhaps a forklift carrying skids of parts here and there.

Have you ever seen a Fat Boy or a Heritage fender being stamped out from a flat piece of sheet metal?

Hydraulic presses, each as big as a small house are used here. The main hydraulic piston which applies the pressure to the flat piece of sheet metal (the square sheet of metal which becomes either the bike's fuel tank, fender, or oil tank), is larger than the hydraulic press piston which you see at most automotive service stations which actuate the lift to raise and lower your car. It's the job of these presses to stamp a rectangular piece of sheet metal into a beautiful fender, gas tank, or oil tank (depending on which dies have been set up in that particular press). Our guide mentioned something about 100 tons of pressure that was needed. I was not sure what was mean by that enormous force. The amount of force to stamp a new fender?

p h o t o : HUGE Hydraulic Mechanical Press

By this time, you've probably thought to yourself the following:

  • Wow, the Harley Davidson Assembly Plant !
  • How great it would be to work here ! (however, you better be prepared to wait in line, because everyone and their mother would like to work here)
p h o t o : Laser Cutter
Your tour continues. Perhaps now you are right at an automated station. Robots, whose job it is to trim and prep the fenders and other body parts of the bike do everything that's required of them, without so much as picking up any tool, or looking around, or feeling obligated to say "Hi". But what a job! Perfectly-cut bolt holes, perfect tail-light cut-outs. If you tour the plant, you shouldn't miss this: As the last piece of material is hot-knifed through, the piece simply falls out of its previous domain. This laser machine voided my imagination.

The pencil-point fine, orange-yellow trace from the automatic machine's movement and the consistent shower of fine, orange sparks made a lasting impression on me. Watching these laser torches, and other automated machinery was just overwhelming and blew my mind.

This machine, it appeared to me, was using a human as a tool. It had the human-being trained to feed it another fender when it was ready for the next piece to prepare.

So, the guy pulls out the fender which was just prepared, separates the two pieces: the fender and the excess, and feeds this laser surgeon another fresh fender stamping, to trim off the excess.

At just about any point in the factory, you can see the Harleys, just bobbing along slowly, hanging by their own hook, or cradle:

. . . black frames picking up a colorful piece here and there . . .
. . just bobbing to the next station where they may get cables run through . . .
. . . on their merry way to another station, where they get a screw screwed a thing here,
. . a thing there . . .

Sacks of crushed walnut shells

Sacks of crushed walnut shells. Just stacked there. Sacks of 'em. Harley Davidson appears committed to providing the finest product they can. In my own, personal opinion, second rate quality is not an option for Harley-Davidson.

They'll not settle for a tank or a fender with any kind of glitch in the painted skin before it gets mounted onto the crate and stapled inside its temporary, cardboard house.

p h o t o : "Fender Row" (fenders awaiting an entire re-blast, for defects as small as a pin-point)

On one tour, the guide I was following stopped the gang and pointed out some sacks of crushed walnut shells. He may have been prompted to mention this as we passed by the guy with his hands inside a big, metal box with a window in it. He was removing paint from a fender, I believe it was. The material he was blasting the paint away with was what was in those burlap sacks: crushed walnut shells. The tour guide selected a half of a fat bob from a rack upon which rested some odds and ends parts such as fenders of different colors as well as tanks.
The guide pointed out that the part had to go back and get stripped of any paint.

I was nearest to him as he examined the tank, trying to find the imperfection that caused the tank to be placed onto the "special" rack. It was a paint glitch, somewhere between the size of a pin-point and a pin-head.
This little defect, claimed the guide, was not good enough for Harley Davidson, so it has to be stripped and the paint re-applied until perfect.

Harley-Davidson products are obviously expected to turn out a certain way.

I had completely "lost it" at this point. This is also the point where I knew that Harley Davidson was the bike of choice for me. Though this is the only bike factory I'd ever toured, I was convinced.

OK, now you know why you'll see carts out in the open (outside of the line), displaying various parts that may seem perfectly good to you, until a sensitive hand is run all over them. When these tiny imperfections are found, a yellow, sticky piece of paper which may be thousands of times larger than the imperfection itself, is stuck to the tank or fender to point out the imperfection, to have it set aside, and back to get stripped and re-painted it goes.

The People

Men and Women as young as high school-aged, or as old as nearing retirement work here)

Earlier, the tour guide was asking why I was writing down so many notes. I told him I was doing a paper. I think I forgot to mention to him, that I wanted to put it on the web.

. . . Tools, dyes, LARGE MACHINERY everywhere . . .

We walk along our mandated path dictated by thick, solid white lines on each side. If you look up, you'll see a white, corrugated ceiling with I-beams, gears, scaffolding, and chains which thread a roller coaster of yellow track and cushioned hangers, each hanger adorned with some kind of padding and a duct-tape-sort-of-wrapping to hold the unfinished bike by the hand until it's ready to run on its own two Dunlops.

I lowered my head back to normal level to see a station of people - like a corral of . . . of spoke tighteners. Yes. A person laces hubs with spokes and sends it along to any number of people who, by hand, true these brand new wheels to the precision of that which is sitting on your local dealership's floor right now.
p h o t o : The Wheel Station: Laced Wheels

They spin these chrome wheels on truing stations. They eyeball the wheel against the jig. They turn a spoke here. Turn one there. But the speed in which they do it is amazing. The mag wheels are shipped in - they are not manufactured here. Each wheel gets a Dunlop tire.
p h o t o : Dunlop Tires just delivered (1999)
I personally would love to have any position on the line in this plant, but especially in the wheel-lacing department. I've often trued bicycle wheels, on mountain bikes.

Now, your tour group may turn and start up another aisle along the main line and THERE IT IS!
p h o t o : Where engine meets frame
You are where the frame meets the legendary engine. You've shuffled along with the rest of your amazed group, to the place where the bike begins life as a painted black frame and engine pair ( at the time I toured, I saw no frame building or any painting - oh well). But here it is !

None of the tours I'd ever been on were done in the sequence that the production of the bike takes.

The bare, black frame is hung on one of countless hooks (or hangers), to take this frame on a voyage it'll never forget, nor allow us gaulking tourists to forget. The finished product of course may go places you and I may never go: Perhaps Canada? Germany? Japan? Austria?

The recipient who waited God-only-knows how many months, years even, may never see the plant, but certainly knows what they're expecting on their end.

A build sheet, including the serial number, model, year, and destination, with a barcode, is scanned in, as each phase of the building has completed. This sheet is attached to this bobbing, naked frame, and has the destination printed on it for all to see. The black frame will continue to bob along the assembly line for about 2 hours until it is completely finished (Big Twins), or for 55 minutes on the Sportster line. The Sportster is not longer assembled here, BUT as I just found out during Open House '98, the tanks and fenders are all still stamped here, before they are shipped down to Kansas City, to the Sportster's New Assembly Plant.

It's pointed out that this factory is actually 3 factories in one: The black, hand-welded frame though, needs an engine and a belt.
We're at the Big Twin line right now.
It's getting a belt and it gets placed on the left side of the frame, and of course, a big twin engine which placed Milwaukee on the map, which may need some finessing to set it precisely in place.

On one tour, I saw two guys wielding these big wooden pry-bar-looking things so they could pry the engine over to where it must sit, so the next person in the line, sitting in a chair equipped with all kinds of pockets, to hold all kinds of things they need, can take their air gun and zip the fasteners into place.

You're not the first one to ride your brand-new Harley

Moving along the tour, you eventually come to what is not much bigger than a single car garage, where you may see the dyno testing of the bike. A fellow is riding the motorcycle, but the bike is standing in place with the help of two sets of rollers, built into the ground, where the front wheel of the bike is perched, and one set of these rollers to fix the rear wheel of the bike, for several minutes, while diagnostics are done. The rider, while "riding" the bike, takes a device attached with some sort of cable off the wall and holds it near the bike's seat. Not sure what this was. They'll run the bike up through all the gears, testing it for proper performance.

The tests are done. They ride the bike out of the dyno shack, as I call it, and off it goes - either to final inspection and shipping, OR to be dismantled, if any flaw is found, and "re-cycled".

If your new Harley shines, you can thank the robot . . .

Keep in mind, the tour you go on may take any of several routes as mentioned, but we've yet to see the "buffing" robots which move with such grace while handling a piece of equipment, that it made me think it puts humans to shame.

Here's one booth (or workstation) which you must see. Ask the guide ahead of time if you'll see it: This one robot is holding a Springer's front end, prior to chroming, and this piece is getting a scuffing (in preparation for the chrome finish) that you won't believe. The robot hand is holding the fork set precisely where it needs to be polished.

This booth blew my mind the most.

The grace and precision with the movements: to flip the piece around and bring it precisely to the opposite side it was working on just seconds before, made me wonder how close we may be to cloning humans. Don't miss this booth. Remind the guide to point it out to you when you get near it.

Another such robot, in a booth down the way, was doing the same thing with a triple tree. Again, incredibly precise movements, holding the piece to be scuffed or polished very carefully against a unit which was basically a belt sander which was stationary while the robot's graceful hands made all the necessary movements.

Large, RED, LED Clocks keep all informed of the time.

Stations of some sort everywhere you look

A new, automatic machine that was recently purchased with a 7 figure price tag I was told, has the task of milling the Big Twin's inner primary casing. Not exactly clear, we were told that this machine can do in 7 minutes what it takes 12 other similar, and smaller machines 40 minutes to do. This automatic monstrosity had the hugest chain I had ever seen on it. The chain had a different milling bit attached to each shaft of this large chain. The chain would roll until the machine located the proper bit to do the particular job, and off it would go. The business part of this machine was pretty well hidden from public view, I guess by the design and not so much for keeping it a secret.

I defy you to stand in any one point in this plant (where you're allowed, of course), and not see a part that belongs on Harley Davidson motorcycle. Regardless if it's being machined or if it's sitting on a rolling rack of parts to be consumed.

Another room, the size of a warehouse itself, is filled all sorts of CNC lathes and other milling equipment.

This was truly an incredible tour. Knowing what I now do, I can't keep from telling people about it, hence this page. So, tour Harley-Davidson Final Assembly Plant in York, PA.

I felt like I was at some large-scale, turn-of-the-century-type science fare, where all sorts of technology met, to amaze its passers-by.

Additional Photos From Open House '98 Tour:

Very prominently displayed, obviously posted by someone wanting to get a spiritual message across.

Riders' Rides

Featuring photos of:
The 9/24/1998 - 9/26/98 Harley-Davidson Open House event,
Zipper's Open House, May, 1999
Custom bikes you have to see, to believe


Factory Tour and Manufacturing Info:

Please call: 717 - 848 - 1177

( Yes, that would be the number for watching your bike getting built, as well. )

This page created on: Wed, Aug 6 19:36:59 1997.

Photo and details of my previous '89 883

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