Getting it Done
We began our final morning in Detroit at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, which is widely recognized as the oldest auto plant open to the public anywhere in the world. The interior has been restored to look just as it did when Henry Ford and his closest colleagues were designing and producing Model T’s and their precursors. The three-story building houses a comprehensive collection of rare Detroit-built cars from the early 1900s. They were absolutely stunning.
We then drove ten miles in our distinctly not stunning Ford rental car and into the 21st century to tour the Ford Rouge Factory in Dearborn, Michigan. Before being invited into their mammoth, remarkable truck assembly floor, we were ushered into a theatre to view a film about the making of the Ford F-150 truck. Both the theatre and the film were the work of good folks who also produce content for Disney and Cirque Du Soleil. They presented a love-letter of a film complete with lasers, robotics and lots of thumping, pulsing sound. It stopped just short of depicting their trucks as having superpowers worthy of a new Marvel Comics hero. Their presentation was so over-the-top that had a dozen winged Victoria’s Secret models dropped from the ceiling to perch on an F-150 hood it would have fit right in.
The factory itself was breathtaking. Ford has installed an elevated walkway to permit visitors to walk around the entire perimeter of the building and observe all of the myriad actions that take place simultaneously to assemble the Ford F-150. More than 1,000 employees work 24/7 on a never-ending succession of trucks that travel on oversized conveyor belts bringing the trucks to each employee, station after station. Every step is synchronized to take the same number of seconds so the trucks can continue to move along the line at a constant rate. The entire process results in the completion of a new truck every 90 seconds. It was like watching the most complicated, intricate ballet imaginable. Since they did not permit photography, just think of the iconic final kitchen scene in the animated film Ratatouille but instead of lovable little rodents getting everything ready, substitute United Automobile Workers.
Loving manufacturing as I do, I have made it a point to see Crayola crayons made at Binney and Smith, Guinness stout made in Dublin, coins made at the Philly mint, Snyder pretzels made in Hanover, Gibson guitars made in Memphis, Cape Cod potato chips made in Hyannis, ten of thousands of pieces of mail sorted at New York City’s principal post office, Tio Pepe sherry made in Jerez and most recently Louisville Sluggers made in Louisville (of course). None of these facilities begin to approach the complexity, scope, and beauty of Ford’s Rouge Plant. When we get back to Cape Cod we are going to have no choice but to look at Harry’s Ford F-150 with a whole new level of respect.
We then drove to and around Ann Arbor to pay homage to my brother and sister’s alma mater, The University of Michigan. Their bustling, hipster-laden campus may well be bigger than some states we have driven through on our cross-country adventures. While in Ann Arbor we stopped for lunch at the Midwest’s vaunted entry into the “Is there anywhere better than Zabars?” contest. The revered local institution known as Zingerman’s Delicatessen was delicious, but to be clear, the answer remains a definitive “no”.