"Death is very often referred to as a good career move."
State 11: Iowa - August 10, 2017
Occasionally, our cross country trip requires us to briefly cross over to adjacent states we are not yet scheduled to visit, or have already previously visited, to see points of interest not included in our path through a specific state. Since our path through Minnesota will not take us through the southwestern portion of the state, we briefly crossed over from Northern Iowa to visit the Minnesota’s “Roadside Attraction”
We woke up in Mason City, IA, ready for a brand new day. First on the agenda was our chosen “Historic Site” for the state of Iowa: The Buddy Holly Crash Site. On February 3, 1959, rock and roll musicians Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper, and the pilot died when their plane crashed into a corn field in Clear Lake, Iowa. The plane took off in wintery weather conditions, which the pilot was not qualified to fly in. With smash hits songs such as Chantilly Lace, Peggy Sue and Donna, rock and roll tragically and prematurely lost three extremely talented artists. The events of that fateful day has become known as “The day the music died” After Don McLean’s 1971 hit song, “American Pie”.
The exact location of the crash site was very difficult to find. Michelle, our GPS, tried to send us down a dirt road which is very naughty! Rosie is not designed for off-roading. Not to mention, the dust makes her sneeze; Ahhh Choo! However, the only way to access the crash site was via traveling down a ¼ mile dirt road. We convinced Rosie to drive down the dirt road by bribing her with a car wash later in the day. We finally spotted the large pair of glasses mounted on top of two concrete pillars marking the beginning of the path to the crash site, which is pictured below.
The glasses were chosen as a monument, because they resemble the style of glasses Buddy Holly used to wear. Since there was no parking at the crash site, we had to leave Rosie on the side of the road with her hazards on, which she was also not very happy about. Then, we walked ½ a mile through a mowed path in a corn field to the exact site of the crash. The reviews warned us that the pathway was a mosquito magnet, but we were pleasantly surprised to be surrounded by beautiful butterflies for our entire walk.
Upon arriving at the site, we were pleased to see that there were many mementos present even 50 years after their death, which included: guitar picks, eyeglasses, and hand written letters. I first heard their music while working as a nurse in a nursing home, and then learned to play their music while taking guitar lessons at Family Music in Hamden, CT. Although their tragic deaths occurred decades before I was even born, I have a great appreciation for their talent and music. It just goes to show; good music is an excellent way to achieve immortality.
After departing the Buddy Holly Crash site in Clear Lake, IA, we then drove 1-hour north to Forest City, IA for our “Made in the USA Factory Tour”; Winnebago RV. I sensed Rosie was getting a little nervous on the drive over, and perhaps she thought we were going to trade her in for a newer model. I reassured her that I like my women a little older, and she has absolutely nothing to worry about. Yes, I talk to my van!
Winnebago is an industry leader, and it's name is synonymous with luxury RV’s. They have been in business for over 50 years, and all of their parts and products are made and assembled in the USA. The company is traded on the NYSE, and they are a Fortune 500 Company. We were both very excited to learn how an RV was made; Winnebago style! Unfortunately, photography was not permitted on the tour, but we snapped a few shots in the Winnebago Visitors Center!
The tour began with an awful 22-minute sales pitch video, and Lori and I quietly celebrated when the movie finally ended. We then proudly donned our sexy orange safety vests, and since you have to accessorize, we completed our new look with ear plugs and safety glasses. We looked like a million bucks, and were ready to board the bus to begin our tour.
Our first stop and by far the most impressive, was the Winnebago stitch shop. From the captain’s chairs to the pillow shams, if it was made of fabric and on a Winnebago, then it was made in their stitch shop. It was very interesting to see dozens of seamstresses cutting huge swatches of fabric, and working behind industrial sewing machines. The experience breathed reality into the stories of the WW2 textile shops from my nursing home patients. The Winnebago seamstresses clearly took great pride in their job, and the quality of their work was top notch! Next, we were brought to their assembly line where their entire line of RV’s are built. Unfortunately, all of the workers had retired for the day, and no construction was occurring. There were 3 assembly lines within the plant responsible for manufacturing the 26 models of Winnebago RV’s. Not surprisingly, the assembly building appeared scattered, and chaotic with little automation in the assembly process. Pallets of miscellaneous RV parts were spewed about, and half-finished projects littered the work benches as far as the eye could see.
One impressive aspect of our Winnebago tour was the vast majority of parts used to construct their RV’s are manufactured on site. The largest building on their massive complex, houses RV parts not only for all their current models, but previous models as well. Do you need a door latch for your 20-year-old “Minnie Winnie”? Chances are Winnebago has it in stock, and if they don’t, a replacement part can effortlessly be manufactured. In addition, they can overnight the part to your dealer, so you can get back on the road ASAP!
Upon completion of the tour, we both gained an appreciation for the quality of Winnebago RV’s, but we also noticed 2 significant negatives prohibiting us from ever purchasing their products. First, the company offers 26 different models, which is far too numerous! While it is good to offer the consumer choices, too many choices results in insufficient manufacturing automation, unnecessary labor intensiveness, and subsequently increases the chance of human error. Although we were very happy to see hundreds of American manufacturing workers hard at work, hand stitching each and every pillow sham and hand welding every seam are examples of how Winnebago prices itself out of the market. This brings me to their second down side: sticker shock! After the completion of our factory tour, we decided to view a 2018 Class B Winnebago Campervan. I nearly passed out when I saw the price tag of $135,000.00, which does not even include 6% Iowa sales tax! I just wanted to take a moment to compare price points with what we paid for Rosie. We bought our 2014 high-top V6 Dodge Ram Promaster cargo van pre-owned with 100k miles, and performed the necessary mechanical repairs including: struts, alternator, radiator, and new tires. We then completely built out a custom interior including: laying down cork flooring, installing home grade insulation, custom built ¾ inch hardwood poplar cabinetry, a custom pull out queen size bed frame, and topped it off with a brand new memory foam mattress. Regarding appliances and electronics: we purchased and installed: a top of line ARB 60qt 12v compressor chest fridge, 2 fantastic fans in the roof, 200 watts of solar panels, the controller, the inverter and 1 deep cycle AGM battery. For peace of mind, we had the solar components professionally installed. The grand total for everything INCLUDING the vehicle purchase price & 6.35% CT sales tax was…. Drum roll please… approximately $25,000. Since we do not believe in taking out loans to make banks rich, we saved up the money, and paid in cash. Even If I was a multi-millionaire, I could not fathom a single scenario where I could justify spending $135,000, on a van, which is equivalent to the price of a condo or a small house!
After leaving the Winnebago plant, we drove North, and crossed over state border to visit Minnesota's “Roadside Attraction”, which is not part of our scheduled path through the state. We then found a Walmart in Austin, MN, to sleep for the night. Tomorrow, we will cross back into Iowa, and continue our exploration of the state.