Next on the travel list was a tour of the Winnebago RV Factory in Forest City, Iowa. We had already decided to go to the Newmar Factory for a tour, but we were so close and I figured it would be fun to compare. If you are a Winnebago owner, they have special campgrounds for you (it used to be hookups in the parking lot) but we are not members of the WIT club, so we went to a campground four miles out of town called Pilot Knob State Park. It was peaceful and uncrowded.
We were met by the lovely camp hostess, Pam. She and her husband, Doug, are from Washington, and spend six months of the year at this campground. She said they like it, but I would be hard pressed to want to spend six months anywhere, no matter how lovely a spot.
Our first stop was at a tiny farmers market in downtown Forest City, by the courthouse square. I took a picture of the statue and fountain and read the plaque.
If you can’t see it, the bottom paragraph says “French Victorian is the fountain design with the most unique pieces being the goats’ heads. During the 1700’s the goat was a symbol of strength and of victory. The horns form a “V”, as we extend two fingers in a “V” for victory, we are really symbolizing the horns.”
Now I’ve heard of the two fingered “V for victory”, and knew it morphed into a symbol for peace, but I never knew about the goat thing. And after extensive research online and finding nothing to corroborate this . . all I can say is, just don’t believe everything you read. We find interesting things everywhere! But I digress.
Winnebago has free tours twice a day during the week. All you do is show up at their visitor center with closed-toed shoes. We arrived early and toured the museum they have at the visitor’s center.
It was interesting to learn how kids from Forest City were growing up and moving away because of lack of work. So the townspeople formed a committee and raised money in 1956 to bring in industry. They went to California, where all the travel trailers were being made to look for a manager and came back with the company Modernistic Industries Inc, who was building Aljo trailers. Well, that company only lasted six months in Iowa, but they had an inventory of 36 trailers. So five city businessmen bought it up and then one of those five (John K Hanson) bought the others out and that was the beginning of Winnebago Industries. I’m guessing named for the County of Winnebago, but I never saw that mentioned and forgot to ask. Then it was up and up from there.
The museum had a couple of early models on display – a pull trailer and a motorhome. Called a Chief, it was just like one that Tom’s parents had.
I also found it interesting that they put $12,000 into building a scale model – that doesn’t even open!
The museum housed some early advertising panels I found funny:
The tour started with a video about how the RVs are made and what sets Winnebago apart from other companies. Very convincing. They were the first company to insulate their walls with a sandwiched foam board in pre-made wall panels.
After the film, you don safety vests, glasses and earplugs and get into a mini bus. They have the facility across the street from where we were at that does Class A’s and C’s, and if we would have been interested in the B’s they would have driven us to a facility in a neighboring town.
They drove us around the plant pointing out the many buildings involved in the manufacturing process. Unfortunately they don’t let you take any pictures in the guarded facility.
As we passed the repair and warranty shop, we were told they take in a few appointments (walk-in’s) each day but to make an appointment would be four months out. To me that says they are doing too much warranty work!
Our tour guide pointed out the incredibly large parts warehouse, and all of the chassis that arrive dally by semi-trucks. We got to go inside three of the buildings. The first was their proprietary Stitchcraft factory, which was quite interesting. I have never worked a factory job, but Tom has and it brought back familiar memories of him being a material handler and then fixing the sewing machines.
I do sew, so it was fascinating to see how they mass produce zippered cushions among the other stitched goods.
The next building was where they drive in the modified chassis to put the flooring on. We got to go up the catwalk and watch the wood floors get lowered on and then the flooring applied. Our tour guide was great and did not rush us as we watched the precision process.
In the final building several things were going on as well. One area was where the coaches are attached to a slow moving conveyor line. We watched as they cut holes in the roof (from the inside!) and attached vents and AC units. We also got to see them assemble a wall panel. It’s interesting to know that the wall coverings are all pieced together on the panel to go behind whatever they add on at a further point. Motorhomes are built opposite of houses!
It would have been interesting to see the full process, including putting the walls up and the roofs on. I guess there are special tours at special times or for special people that get to see more than we did. But it gave us a great taste of how a Winnebago coach is built.
One of our biggest takeaways was how understaffed they were – they cannot get enough workers. Tom’s impression of the workers there was how lackadaisical many seemed to be. That left me wondering if they were lacking in quality control. Especially when we toured several models outside their visitor center. I would think they would only present their best work here, but I found several minor things I wouldn’t think would pass quality control, such as sloppy seams or wrinkles in the taped wall seams.
Of course, we learned that their top-of-the-line models are manufactured in their plant in Oregon rather than at this facility, so maybe that would make a difference.
Next we make our way back east to Elkhart Indiana to see how the Newmar factory compares! Stay tuned for that blog.
Peace & Love, Joy
PS – ever heard of a Navatte Motorhome? Me either – they only made 16 of them – but we saw one going down the road! I didn’t get a pic, but here is one I found online along with the story of the company you can find here.