Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On the Road: The Henry Ford and The Ford Rouge Factory Tour

 Somehow NASCAR knew we had chosen Michigan as our destination this year. Beginning in April, Pure Michigan ads kept appearing during race coverage.  Then it came to planning our day trips and we realized Brooklyn, MI is literally in the middle of farms. What to do? That's when we saw an ad for The Henry Ford--millions of artifacts. Acres and acres of museum. AND a factory tour where they build F150's. We were all in.

We'll start with Dearborn, the city Ford owns/runs/built/what have you. The bridge on I94 is a Blue Oval, for goodness sake. There's a manmade lake with the corporate name on it. Block after block loom research facilities, massive testing tracks, hotels clearly built solely for the Ford offices.  This isn't just about the car in your garage, but Ford runs a humungous part of Michigan. It's then that I actually began to understand why our government felt that car manufacturers had to be bailed out. Ford wasn't part of the handouts, but my point is that for the first time I got it. This was about the men and women who punch the clock creating cars--not just corporate greed.   If Dearborn had fallen, we were looking at an entire city in shambles.  What the rest of Michigan looks like, having greatly suffered through the economic collapse, I can only imagine. the factory tour:  We are both fascinated by "How Things Are Made." The intricacies of robotics, line work, logistics, etc. Yes, Ford has set up the tour to impress you with their Eco-friendly approach to factory life and it offers the opportunity for them to sing the praises of the latest model rolling off the line. But for me, that's all beside the point. We pretty much by-passed the propaganda films and headed to the factory floor. 

I'll be recalling the images of the flawless ballet being executed by the 1,000 person team for years to come. My respect for their labor increased ten-fold as they wired tailgates, installed moon roofs and bolted the truck beds to the frame rails. While modern technology has improved quality, consistency and speed, it is startling to realize where 100,000 people used to work this factory, only 3,000 do in this current day. How America can continue to employee its millions is a question posed to the tourist, even while we marvel at the trucks honking horns in the final inspection bay. 

Note: I have no pictures of the factory, not due to corporate secrets, but because the workers don't want their pictures plastered over the internet. The tourist in me grumbled--the caddies carrying car parts around were worthy of documenting. But I can't blame the employees for protecting their privacy in this day and ago.

Ronald Reagan's Presidential Limo--you can see where they fixed the ding the bullet left.
 The Henry Ford Museum:  The museum itself is built around innovation. Yes, transportation works into it significantly. But not only are you presented with the first Toyota Prius, but why it meant something to the American consumer.  Add to that Kennedy's limo--yes, where he was fatally shot--and THE bus where the Civil Rights Movement began and it is not merely a building with a collection of old things.  It all means something.

There's innovation in comfort, economy, technology and beauty. Even now, you cannot deny the glamour of the Bugati, but also understand that in the midst of the Great Depression, only the exceedingly rich could drive one. Sometimes creativity cannot be stymied by the exigencies of poverty.

I can't truly expound on the depth of the Henry Ford collection, as we only had a few hours to wander about before our feet gave out.  Days could be spent here.  We only scratched the surface of the complex, leaving the village for another year perhaps.

We found Trevor Bayne's Daytona 500 car--still covered in sticky soda and confetti.  His front and rear bumper were rubbed raw from his dance with Jeff Gordon that propelled him to an unfounded victory.  Fun stuff.  Next to him say Bill Elliot's 212 mph Talladega car (too fast! Much too fast!) and Bobby Unser's Pike's Peak Hill Climb machine. Salt flat rockets and IndyCar samples.  Accompanies with the random RV.

But let's not forget the trains.  Yes, trains. Fullsize engines, passenger cars, snow plows and even horse-drawn carriage conversions for the earliest attempts.  I pondered how the Allegheny Steam Locomotive got in the door, until we discovered the giant gates carved into the rear of the gallery.  And yes, the trains still sit on tracks.

To finish off the day we grabbed the requisite souvenirs:  a squashed penny, magnet for the fridge and a injection molded plastic car--made right before my eyes.  A pair of German gentleman kept shaking their heads. "We have nothing like that in Germany," they said as I pulled the warm, blue truck from the dispenser.

Quite clearly we are still crazy Americans.  But at the Henry Ford, you experience a multitude of ways that our enjoyment of the new and possible has created the world we live in.  Right down to the campy, plastic F150 I just bought.

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