This is a two-part post – first Steve’s account of our factory tours at John Deere, then back to me for our other excursions.
Our first stop in Iowa got me to thinking about what kinds of tours we might want to take while staying in this part of the country for the first time. I use FactoryToursUSA when we get to a new state, to assist with locating available tours. It’s kind of a crude site and not updated regularly, but I have found it to be useful on several occasions. Anyway, I learned while looking there that John Deere is a major employer in the state of Iowa, and they have several good tours available. I think I’m excited!
I was able to make reservations for two tours on the same day at their Tractor Assembly Plant and Engine Works Plant in Waterloo. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have time to visit the Drive Train Division, Product Engineering Center or the foundry, which are also in the area.
These plants are huge – the Tractor Assembly Plant is one of the largest buildings under a single roof in the U.S. As usual, no cameras or cell phones were allowed at either plant, so I was unable to capture any of the fantastic things going on there. My jaw ached at the end of the second tour from having my mouth hang open so long. Folks, this is heavy-duty manufacturing, and anyone coming into the area should try to do some of these tours. And they’re all FREE!
Tractor Assembly Plant
On this tour, we learned that every tractor built has been ordered and paid for before assembly begins – the same “Just in Time” concept we’ve seen at so many auto assembly plants. None of these big companies want inventory sitting around, especially when times turn bad. And with computer and communication technology being what it is now, they don’t have to. Each tractor is custom ordered, and all of the 20,000 parts required to build it come into the plant from outside vendors within one or two days prior to assembly.
Speaking of technology, John Deere harvesters can now be ordered with state-of-the-art GPS built-in. Accuracy? How about within 1/4″ over 6 miles! It’s no wonder the corn fields out here are so perfectly straight. The tour guide told us a tractor can be programmed to go down a field, lift its accessory, turn around, put the accessory back down and continue down the next row – without the driver touching anything!
A tractor can be built in about 8 hours, and they are churning them out fast and furious for customers all over the U.S. and around the world.
The Engine Works Plant
The Engine Works Plant was awesome. Hundreds of gorgeous completed engines sitting there ready to be shipped, and the tour took us through every step of machining and assembling an engine – as we watched the workers. From engine blocks that had just come out of the foundry to final assembly and paint, they do every machining and assembly operation on the larger engines right here. Engines are available in a myriad of colors – green for agricultural, white for marine, yellow for industrial and red for fire trucks. Absolute works of art, I was in engine heaven! Wait, haven’t I heard someone say that about birds?
I would have loved to go back to tour the foundry, but the 150-mile round trip prevented it on this stop – too many other things to see and do. Maybe on our way back north next summer? We’ll see!
I was not exactly in heaven like Steve but I did enjoy these tours. They were a bit different than the usual airplane or automobile factory tours. To me it was just fitting to tag along, as we are in the midst of Americas number one corn producer, Iowa. I learned the secret of how the farmers plant their corn in a straight line and how efficient they are, using the advanced technology available to them now.
Field of Dreams
“If you build it, he will come.” “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.” Remember those phrases? Well, we visited the site that made them famous, the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. It’s been over 25 years since the movie was made, and we discovered that the baseball diamond carved out of a corn field to pursue a dream remain unchanged. The place has been preserved exactly as it was in the movie, and it’s not over-commercialized – just a quiet little field next to a farm house out in the country. I suppose the simplicity of it is what made the film so endearing. Although I’m not a baseball fan, I thought the movie was quite inspiring.
Basilica of St. Francis Xavier
On our way back home from the Field of Dreams, we observed two steeples standing out in the distance. We made a turn toward town to investigate and found that they belonged to the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, one of only a few Basilicas in the United States. It is unique, in as much as it’s the only one in a rural area; all the others are in metropolitan cities. This is considered one of the finest examples of true medieval gothic architecture. The Catholic church confers the title of Basilica on churches of unusual architectural or spiritual significance. This church was raised to the rank of Minor Basilica by a proclamation of His Holiness, Pope Pius XII on May 11, 1956.
As some of you have commented on my previous posts, there are many hidden treasures out there in small town America. We are always on the lookout for them, but many times we’re just pleasantly surprised to stumble on something unusual and delightful. We are so thrilled to be traveling this way and taking in the scenery and simplicity of life that can’t be experienced in the big cities.
Let me leave you with this amusing sign we saw along the road 🙂