Amtrak Road Trip 2013
January 25-27, 2013
Those who enjoyed this year's iteration of the AMTRAK Road Trip included Doug Clark, Tom Holtzman, Bill Mennell and his cousin Ron Gengler, Jim Renkar, Ann and John Schroeder, Bob Simon, Steve Skeggs, and Ann and Jake Snyder. Although we left Chicago earlier than usual, we were still able to meet in the lower level of the Snuggery, away from the bustle of the Union Station food court. The half-flight of stairs down was blocked a bit by the empty rush hour Snuggery beer wagons but we managed to wiggle past them. After a very pleasant hour of fast food and drinks from the food court and Snuggery we made our way to the departure area. Several of our group (names withheld to protect the guilty) got the group a front position in the line as “senior citizens”. We got seats together and departed the station to the minute of the scheduled departure time. We had, all the way to Dearborn, a very nice party, with shrimp cocktail,
cheese, sausage and crackers, skewers of cherry tomatoes, olives, and prosciutto rolled around cream cheese, double chocolate brownies, fresh berries, and all sorts of other treats. We arrived only 30 minutes behind schedule, despite the icy conditions that prolonged station stops. The hotel shuttle arrived in a few minutes after phoning the hotel and all eleven of us, including a lot of baggage, packed into the ten-passenger van. Checking in at the Greenfield Inn around 8 pm, those who wished indulged in the freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies provided at the front desk, and we confirmed that we were in time for dinner at the restaurant. We were seated in the restaurant's "porch" room for dinner and then we settled in the wood-paneled Squire's Pub for nightcaps and planning the next day.
Saturday's activities began for most with complementary complete breakfasts and one of the group took advantage of the hotel fitness room to work out first. The hotel shuttle took us to the Henry Ford, as the museum is known locally, where we purchased tickets. The young people simply assume that any male with grey hair and bifocals gets the senior discount. And they were very good at spotting a touring group as almost all of us got that very same senior discount. We waited in an inside corridor for the bus for the Rouge Factory Tour and a guide made certain that we all got on the bus. At the Rouge Visitor Center we first saw an introductory 3-screen video documenting the history of the plant, including the union-management Battle of the Overpass in 1937. Interestingly, this episode was presented as the first necessary step in the union-management agreement that makes the Ford Motor Company successful today. Next we moved to a second theater with widely-spaced, fully rotating seats surrounded by screens for a multi-sensory presentation on the current manufacturing process for the F-150 Ford trucks. The strobe lights that produced the effect of pouring white-hot iron from a blast furnace, coupled with the floor that actually shook and vibrated, made the experience seem real enough to expect to work there the rest of our natural lives. Then we visited the Observation Deck for a view of the factory complex and information on the Green initiative introduced when the factory underwent a $2 billion renovation begun in 2000. Most interestingly, the parking lots are covered with a porous surface that gets rid of water quickly and a roof constructed of multi layers that have growing plants on the surface to absorb moisture, provide cooling in summer and increase the oxygen content of the local air.
The tour of the Ford truck (and vehicles built on similar platforms) production area was the highlight of the experience. The elevated one-third mile observation walkway surrounds the outside of most of the assembly area that is four miles long, folded back and forth to fit the square building. The second floor provides a view of the production line and final testing area. The second floor is shared with automatic elevators and grappling machines that move truck cabs and doors into the line as required.
The 3D design is almost bewildering and the plant very obviously is itself a major tool. Renovation of the Rouge included worker-friendly conditions that include wide aisles and supplemental natural light from skylights. The truck cabs enter with doors attached and the first station is the removal of the doors, which follow a separate assembly line. Most of the operations are performed by humans, but some utilize robotics. Moon roofs are fitted entirely by single-handed robot machines that stand about 12 feet tall. Air tools were used at most of the work stations. There was a hands-on exhibit of one of these hand-held torque-limiting drivers. One very interesting fact was that lug nuts are started by human hand before being tightened by a multi-socket automatic wrench. Apparently, there are some tasks that cannot be economically given to the robot machines.