We arrived in Forest City, Iowa earlier this week. Yep, it was a thousand mile detour. But our coach is broken and we need it fixed, and we are smack in the middle of rv camping season. So, we are rolling with the punches.
Having never been to Iowa before, we were pleasantly surprised by how beautiful it was. Fields and fields of corn and soybeans as far as you can see, dotted by pretty lakes here and there.
And in north central Iowa sits the birthplace of our coach. Forest City, Iowa is the home of Winnebago Industries.
We found customer service located on the perimeter of several football fields worth of buildings. We were put on a waiting list and directed to park our coach in one of the many electric sites that they offered across the street at their visitors center.
So now we are parked and waiting patiently for our turn along with about 40 other individuals and their Winnebago coaches.
What to do? Well, we will take the time to enjoy the area. We will more than likely be here through the holiday and we will make the best of it.
We will start with a tour of the factory! Yep, Winnebago offers free tours of the factory twice a day. A great chance to see how these things are actually put together.
You can also check out the Winnebago Museum which is located in the upper level of the Visitors’ Center. The museum chronicles the Company’s 57-year history, as well as the design and construction of the Company’s motorhomes.
I loved this hand crocheted emblem on display there. It is the size of a large tablecloth.
The company was founded by Forest City businessman John K. Hanson in February 1958. At the time, the town, located in Winnebago County, Iowa, was not doing well. Winnebago Industries soon became one of the biggest employers in Forest City.
Winnebago Factory Tour
The tour starts at the Winnebago Visitors’ Center with a 20-minute video that offers a preview of the manufacturing process. The film was very interesting and gave us an idea of some of the things we would see first hand on the tour.
We were then given safety vests, safety glasses and ear plugs for the tour. A small bus and tour guide would take us in. As for photos, we were told that none were allowed within the plant.
So.. I contacted Connie at Midwest Wanderer. Connie took the tour back in 2010 when photos were allowed. She has given me permission to post the photos below from her site.
Our first stop was the Stitchcraft facility that builds quality chairs, window valances, sofas and other innovative furniture pieces made specifically for Winnebago products.
One thing we noted early on was that the vast majority of the parts to our coach were manufactured here right in these buildings. Winnebago is definitely made in America.
In 1966 the first motor home rolled off the Winnebago Industries assembly lines. The brand name has since become synonymous with “motor home” and is often used for any RV even if it isn’t an actual Winnebago.
Here you see one of the assembly lines. They are installing flooring. the coaches are sitting on a conveyer belt which travels very slowly, giving the workers time to complete their particular jobs before the next coach arrives on the belt.
One fun thing to watch was how they filled the cushions and other “stuffed” items. This machine sucks all the air out of the foam until it is just a tiny piece of it’s former self. The cushion cover is then put over it, and the air is let back in.
We were able to do walk-in tours of three buildings: the Chassis Weld facility, where the raw chassis is prepared to become a home on wheels with the front cab and basement storage added; the Stitchcraft facility, and the main production building named Big Bertha.
Equivalent in size to eight football fields, Big Bertha features three production lines. From our birds eye view above on the catwalk, we could observe the final construction of many different style coaches.
If you get a chance to get to northern Iowa, be sure to check out the Winnebago Factory Tour. It is quite fascinating and left us very impressed with the basic quality of our product.
Oh, and you don’t have to own a motorhome to go on the tour!
We will be here in Iowa a bit until our slide is repaired. In the meantime, we are going to check out the place. There are lots to see and do here. Stay tuned…I hear they have a SPAM museum. I certainly can’t miss that.