September 30, 2013

9/26/13 - Heartland Big Country Factory Tour

Finally!  After living in hotels for almost two weeks, we got a call that we could pick up our house-on-wheels from the RV service center in Elkhart.  But first I wanted a tour the Heartland RV Factory, where our Big Country 5th wheel was made.  That's the reason we went to Indiana in the first place.  Having the repair work done by RV Capital Service Center in Elkhart was an afterthought--and not a good thought, after all.

Heartland gives free tours Tuesday to Thursday at 3:00 PM.  When I called for reservations, they asked which plant we wanted to tour so we could see 5th wheels like our own.  We were the only people on our tour, so it was about as personalized as you can get.  The guy who gave us the tour was in Marketing, but there was absolutely no high pressure to buy the latest, greatest model.

I expected an assembly line, like we saw in the Corvette or Harley-Davidson plants.  I also expected to see people assembling the RV's.  I was wrong on both counts.  I guess they schedule the tours after the workers go home so the visitors don't distract them.  He told us they arrive about 5 am.  (I'm sooo glad I don't have to do that kind of stuff anymore!)  We headed out through the warehouse to where they start building each trailer from the frame up.
Because they make a whole lot fewer trailers than they do cars, the factory doesn't have the robotic assembly car manufacturers have.  (I keep reminding myself:  "It's not a Corvette.  It's not a Corvette...") I don't think this thing counts.  Our tour guide told us what it is--I can't remember what he called it, but since it flips the frame upside-down so they can get to the bottom of the frame easier, I just call it a "frame flipper".
This frame has already been flipped over and back--I think.  The thing in front is a reel for the 50 amp power cord.  George really liked that idea because it's so heavy and awkward to store.
The lights don't reach well back in this corner of the building.  Good thing I have a flash!   
The white boxes are tanks for ...  The gray ones are for ???
The flooring and carpet have been installed.  This is a much nicer floor material than the linoleum we have in our kitchen.  Apparently it's a lot more durable too.  (sigh)
The bathroom will go here.  The steps up to the bedroom haven't been built yet.  I'd insist on it if it were mine.
They've started putting in some of the cabinetry already.  All that and the furniture goes in before they add the final walls.  It's up to you later to fight getting that chair you can't stand out the way-tool-little door if you need to.  
This is the kitchen area.
They're in deep discussion here about something up high.  I just take pictures.
They put the jacks on little skateboards to move the trailer from one work station to another.  I think that's clever.  
Here's a front cap ready to go on.  
Looks really funny without the decals.  
This is the other side of the one above.  The walls are on, but this side doesn't have the slides on yet.  
The slides are pre-assembled and ready to lift up and connect.
I think I got some of these out of order, but you can probably figure it out.  Or you can ask George.  Here's a mostly finished kitchen and entertainment center.
And I think this one looks like it's pretty close to done.  
There's some pretty interesting things in the 2014 models.  Some have a  bathroom across the front instead of a closet.  Some even have a powder room, although I can't imagine why you'd need a half-bath in a trailer, for Pete's sake!  I really like the new flooring and they've gone away from those stupid day/night blinds.  (You have no idea how many of them George has had to restring!)  George likes the 54" TV's that store down behind the fireplace and pop back up. 

We're not upgrading yet.  I'm still satisfied with our 2009 model.
I've got more pictures.  Click Heartland Big Country Factory Tour

September 27, 2013

9/19/13 - Studebaker National Museum

Since we were still waiting for the work to be done on the 5th wheel, we decided to visit the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend. Granted, it's not the Corvette Museum, but it has more history.

It's possible that you aren't old enough to remember Studebakers.  And possibly if you are old enough to remember Studebakers, you might not be old enough to remember they started out making wagons and buggies.  We may be retired, but we're definitely not that old!
The Main Level Gallery holds the largest collection of Presidential Carriages in the US.  Think of them as the Presidential Limos of the 19th century.  Studebaker made President Harrison's Brougham and President McKinley's Phaeton.  (I have no direct knowledge of what broughams and phaetons are.  I know the difference between a carriage and a wagon: Cinderella had a carriage; people traveled west in Conestoga wagons.)  
They didn't make President Grant's Landau, but it's in the National Treasures Collection, and I think it's really cool!  I love the big back wheels.  It's almost enough to make me want to run for President.  I can't think of any other reason.
The Studebaker Brothers figured their experience with carriages would fare them well in the 20th century so they started making horseless carriages too.  Isn't this 1911 Electric Coupe the cutest little thing?  I'd choose this over a Smart Car any day!
This 1928 Commander Roadster broke records--it ran 25,000 miles in less than 23,000 minutes.  How fast did it go?  YOU do the math!
I like this spiffy two-tone job.  It's a 1931 Studebaker Six Roadster.
After making the circuit in the main gallery, we headed upstairs to look at the "modern cars".  They were having an "Art Car" exhibit--check out this wrought iron VW called Casa Linda Lace.
My dad had a Studebaker when I was little.  It was black and it looked like a Studebaker.  I have no idea what model it was, but it was one of the "Bullet-Nose" kind.  I was a mere child, and mostly I remember photographs.  This is as close as I can get to what it might have been.  George wasn't any help figuring it out either.  (sigh)
The Avanti came out while I was in high school.  It was a pretty good race car too, but I guess it was too futuristic for a lot of people.  Then Studebaker went out of business in 1963.  If you're going to need a swan song, I guess something as classy as the Avanti would do.
We stopped at the little cafe for drink and sat at a table with hubcaps in the middle.  Can't you just see hear someone saying, "Yes, I know we're closing down the factory, but be sure to save the hubcaps so we can use them for decorations later."  I'm sure they have a lot more hub caps stuffed in nooks and crannies all over the place.
Downstairs in the basement is a Studebaker and Humvee military exhibit on the right and double-rack storage for cars they rotate through the upstairs museums on the left.  They call it "Visible Vehicle Storage".  Works for me.
Want to see more Studebakers?   Click the link:  Studebaker Natl Museum 

September 25, 2013

9/17/13 - South Bend Chocolate Factory Tour

When we finished with our tour of the northeast this summer, I asked George if he'd like to go to Elkhart, IN, RV Capital of the World, and where the Heartland factory where our Big Country was made.  He jumped at it, so I routed us through Ohio and Indiana.  Now we're residing at a hotel, and trying to find things to do while we're waiting for some service work to be done on the 5th wheel.  Someone suggested the South Bend Chocolate Factory tour.

The Basic Factory Tour is free, and it's fun.  Since it starts on the hour, we had about 20 minutes to wait so we wandered over to the Chocolate Museum.  They have a lot of chocolate memorabilia, including old chocolate boxes and signs.  

We were hanging around the lobby looking at the educational stuff about chocolate, waiting for our tour guide.  I knew chocolate is made from cacao beans.  I didn't know cacao beans came out of these huge pods, that look like some kind of exotic squash or melon.  The pods grow on the trunk of the cacao tree, which probably couldn't support them anywhere else.  Pretty weird looking, huh?

After a little discussion about the history of chocolate, we had to don covers for our hair.  George had to have a little hairnet for his mustache too.  I have pictures of me too--but there's no way I'm posting it here.  Ha!
Then we headed into the kitchen.  They were making chocolate-covered raisins (or was it cherries?) that day.  We got a sample of that--and a sample of chocolate turtles.  When I asked if we could hang out around the turtles for awhile, our guide just giggled.

Next we headed into the packaging and packing (packing and packaging?) section of the plant.  I'd never heard of South Bend Chocolates before, so I figured they were regional.  Turns our they make chocolate for other companies (like Costco) and slap their brands on the boxes.

Next stop was the I-have-no-idea-what-they-call-it-area where they have molded chocolates.  They have chocolate polar bears (why didn't they use white chocolate?), chocolate Studebakers (they were made in South Bend) and even chocolate dinosaur teeth!  (Apparently the company president digs dinosaurs.)  I thought they looked like knives, but George guessed dinosaurs right off.

 We ended up in the outlet store,which they call "Almost Perfect".  We bought some regular chocolate, and some pumpkin flavored chocolate covered malted milk balls too.  (I think there should probably be some hyphens in that mess, but I'm not even going to try!)  I would have bought a game but they were out of stock--and I don't even like Monopoly!