Travel Treasures Close to Home: Ford Factory Tour

by Tom Reed
WMV Web News Cleveland
Story filed January 14, 2005

We may travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to visit a tourist destination, but we sometimes overlook the attractions in our own backyard . These may be in Greater Cleveland, elsewhere in Ohio, or in neighboring states. Here is the fourth in a series of articles about such places by Tom Reed, a freelance writer who specializes in travel, and who has been writing about various subjects in our Reed's Read segment.

Photo courtesy The Henry Ford
Detroit is synonymous with the automobile. And now, for the first time in more than two decades, visitors to the Motor City can actually get inside an auto plant to see vehicles being made.

The Ford Motor Company suspended public tours of its massive Rouge Center back in 1980. But with last year's opening of the new state-of-the-art Dearborn Truck Plant, you can get a behind-the-scenes look at the assembly line that produces the popular F-150 pickup trucks.

The tours are conducted not by the company itself, but by The Henry Ford, the new umbrella name for the organization that operates the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. You buy tickets at the Museum, and then board a bus that takes you to the plant. On the way, you'll see part of the vast Rouge complex, which in its heyday employed more than 100,000 workers, and produced nearly every component of the company's early cars. Henry Ford's goal was to make the company self-sufficient, from the processing of iron ore to final assembly. Only about 6,000 people work there now, but it's still Ford's largest single industrial complex.

At the visitor center adjacent to the plant, you'll see two movies - a 12-minute historical film and a multi-sensory video on seven screens in a 360-degree theater in the round.

Then you go into the plant on the mezzanine level. You can proceed at your own pace on the one-third of a mile walkway. Video screens and other displays explain the manufacturing process, and there are human guides to answer your questions. On the floor below, the truck bodies move along on wooden platforms called "skillets" as workers and robotic machines install the components.

The factory tours have become quite popular since they were initiated in May of 2004. Because daily attendance is limited, it's a good idea to buy your tickets in advance, and you can do so on the website One thing to keep in mind: Although the tour hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., the last bus leaves the Museum at 2:30 p.m., so make your plans accordingly.

The website also has much more information about the tours, and about other components of The Henry Ford, namely the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, and the IMAX Theatre. Greenfield Village is not open during the winter months, but the others are open year-around.

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Copyright 2005 Tom Reed