On to the Real Reason I Visited Iowa

Now on to the real reason I was in Iowa — to visit the Winnie’s birthplace.

If Iowa is the heartland, the Winnebago River has got to be a vein leading there….at least to Winnebago owners. Along this river is Winnebago Headquarters, more affectionately known as “the mother ship.” Visiting WGO HQ is a rite of passage for any owner, and they are certainly made to feel welcome as only Mid-westerners can. A beautiful grassy field with 1,500 electric poles, water spigots at the end of every row, dump stations throughout, and steaming hot shower blocks.

Here we are, all 120 of us! (Photo compliments of J.J. Kosmider)

But there’s room for another 1,380 more!

I think #9 is my favorite.

They have some interesting food offerings here in Forest City. “Snicker Salad?” Yep, that’s real snicker bars made into a “salad.” And the one behind it is “Keebler Cookie Salad.” I think the Top 10 Reasons T-shirt needs “Reason #11, so you can bring your own lunch!”

Winnebago throws a party every summer called the Grand National Rally where every spot will be filled into the overflow fields. Anyone owning anything branded WGO is welcome, from big diesel pushers to towables. But this fall, WGO offered a first….a mini-rally just for us “compact coach” owners; Views, Navions, and the latest Class C on the Fort Transit chassis, the Fuse. This is a small group by Winnebago standards, but huge to us View Owners. A typically View/Navion rally will attract anywhere from 50 to 70 coaches. But this one brought in 120!

Since it was the first of its kind, and I was only a state away, I thought it would be fun to attend. Plus I had friends also attending. And I had never been on the factory tour before. While Winnebago has other satellite factories where the Class Bs and towables are manufactured, all Views and Navions are made right here on the line in Forest City. So it was fun to “walk the line” where my own View was birthed!

Gotta love how WGO Sales brings the “showroom floor” to the rally grounds. Fortunately for my retiree budget, I didn’t see anything I liked as well as my 08VJ.

Strangely enough, the most popular model seems to be the one with the fold-up Murphy bed. I had to laugh when a friend said “It reminds me of college kids hauling furniture.”

This row of rally attendees demonstrates the evolution of the shape of the cab-over. The ones down at the end are the older models with the more rounded cab-over, with the ones to the right being the newer, more angled shape.

Since we were visiting on a weekend, we got the abbreviated tour as the line wasn’t running. This gave us the advantage of getting to walk right down the line, snooping in each of the coaches in various stages of manufacture from the time the cut away chassis enters the massive building, walls and floor are added, cabinetry and the slide are dropped in from overhead, to the final “punch list,” a hand-written checklist taped to the hood as the assembled coach exits the line. I found the factory tour to be so fascinating that I went back Monday morning (free hook-ups, after all) to take the longer tour that visited more buildings. Of 22 buildings on the property, we only got to visit one as a part of the rally, but four on the official tour.

Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside any of the buildings on the tour. I certainly respect this for competitive reasons. However, it’s kinda frustrating seeing entire factory tour videos on youtube filmed by “unofficial vloggers”…particularly those vloggers who own an Airstream.

Blurry photo taken through the tour bus window on a rainy day…Sprinter chassis awaiting coach assembly.

Kind of unnerving to see the number of rigs awaiting built-out.

This rigs are awaiting full body paint. I think I would prefer them this way rather than with the “zebra stripes.”

In the Visitor Center, you can design your own RV. Or at least you can see which dreams are realistic.

In honor of WGO’s 25th Anniversary, the employees signed this scroll. The inscription reads, “We the undersigned employees of Winnebago Industries, do hereby proclaim to all who should read these presents that the rare foresight and leadership of John K Hanson has been a continuing inspiration to us and major beneficence to our communities.”

I was most impressed to learn that just about every piece and part is manufactured right here. From aluminum and steel frames to cabinetry in the wood shop to molded custom-fit holding tanks right down to the bedspreads and pillows. I got to see fascinating machinery in operation, like the one that cuts interior wooden walls with a stream of water like a lazer at 5,000 psi. It was fascinating to watch them all work like a well conducted orchestra.

The thing that didn’t impress me so much was what appeared to be gender roles left over from the 60’s. Most of the women seemed to be confined to the sewing machines. Even the elderly gentleman who escorted us on the tour said “While you men pick out the motor and the chassis, we know it’s you ‘gals’ who pick the interiors.” He also said “you know when a sewing machine is broken down because there’s a man sitting behind it.” I found these comments to be highly disappointing, particularly since there were fifteen female WGO owners in our rally alone. I understand part of it is the culture of the heartland. But I look to Winnebago to lead the charge in quality and design. I’d like to see them lead here as well.

Winnebago has a “museum” in their Visitor Center. It was fun touring it, seeing the old artifacts.

They have a couple of early models in the museum, this one a 1967 with msrp of $4,997.

I love all the pre-safety feature window space!

This one, a 1959 trailer with msrp of $900.

Love those “coppertone” appliances!

Another aspect that troubles me is seeing how many RVs are actually coming off the line. WGO produces 13 to 17 View/Navions per day. That’s one model on one chassis in one class among one brand. Imagine what this is like when you throw in the Class As, Bs, and towables. Multiply that times the number of manufacturers out there, Forest River, Jaycos, Tiffins, AirStreams, etc. and imagine how many new RVs are coming off the assembly line, just ready to “hit the road.” Yet I never hear of any political action committees or lobbyists working to increase the size of State, Federal and local campgrounds. In fact with public lands, the opposite is true. So where TH are they all going to go??? This is a problem that I don’t see anyone addressing, let alone the manufacturers who have to be soon facing critical mass.

This is a hilarious marketing campaign whereby models were clothed in Winnebago’s upholstery fabric.

Yep. “Sex, booze, and weekends” is definitely why I bought my Winnebago home!

Before “fat-shaming” was a thing…

Having now fulfilled my own personal reasons for visiting what is my 49th state, that leaves one more to go….

17 thoughts on “On to the Real Reason I Visited Iowa

  1. Those comments on the tour were pretty appalling. I always think we’ve evolved beyond them, and then I’m proved wrong. You’re right – just where are all of those RVs supposed to park? Less land, no new RV parks. I did see an article somewhere that sales have dropped, so maybe the situation will get a little less bad. a

  2. Folks;
    RE: Suzanne observation of the increased pressure on a “fixed” number of camp grounds across the US.
    Chuck Woodbury, editor of RV Travel is trying to address this huge issue.
    His second “dog in the fight” is addressing the increasing number of manufacturers whose motivation is increased production while foregoing production quality.
    You may subscribe to his free, weekly enews letter @ https://rvtravel.com/ .
    If so motivated Chuck seeks donations to support his work…a voice in the wilderness for sure.

  3. My 87 year old father-in-law just traded their Navion (with a corner bed) in for one with the new murphy bed. They love it because it is so much easier with access to both sides of the bed. Plus the full side slideout really increases the room inside. I thought they were crazy for trading again, but I can see how it is so much easier for them.

    What we call Snickers salad is actually apple salad with a few pieces of Snickers cut up in it. Is that what they were serving?

    • Hi, Mindy. It was in the deli counter of the only grocery store in town. I had never heard of putting Snickers in a dish, much less calling it a “salad,” so it was a little foreign to me. 😉

      How I love that your 87 yo FIL is still driving a Navion! There’s hope for me yet. haha! He should have come to the rally!

  4. I knew that’s where you were going. How cool of Winnebago to have a rally for their little guys. I’d like to see them do one for just the Braves – old and new. Although I think they may have stopped making the new ones. I too feel like the quality that is in my 2004 rig does not exist in the new ones I see at RV shows. They are throwing them off the line. RVing has definitely become the new fad and that makes it tough for full timers to have the freedom we once had to travel and be able to find campgrounds without making a reservation in advance for every night. Amazing to find those comments around. Is that really the way of the “heartland”?

  5. My top three reasons: No airports, airlines, or TSA, travel while eating my own food (mostly) and sleeping in my own bed, and sitting up high behind that big ol’ windshield.

  6. It is always interesting to see the evolution of RV’s, it looks like you saw everything from old to new. Glad to see that you got to attend and scratch that (and Iowa) off your list.

  7. Can you imagine seeing that RV park completely full?!?!? Yikes! But very cool that it was free.

    It is amazing how much more crowded the RV parks are than when we started fulltiming in 2012. I don’t see it slowing down any time soon either.

  8. I thought your Iowa experience would be one of those “I’m glad I went, but…” deals. Turns out it looks interesting. So true about where TH are they all going to go. It’s getting crowded out here.

  9. Oh! That rascal Mr. Hanson and his sex and booze quote! I *love* this post as I enjoy it so when you entertain readers while challenging us to think. I’ve been fascinated with rv’ing and rvs/campers since 1964 when my best friend’s dad bought a brand new Volkswagen camper van, taking us on sweet little day trips while we sat in the back at the dinette singing Beatles songs at the top of our lungs!

    The concerns you share (hastily shoving rvs off the assembly line; no place for them to go) are en pointe. It is incredulous to me this sort of thing is happening with no responsible oversight in place. JMHO: the US rv industry as a whole is one greedy monster puking out flimsy crap while laughing all the way to the bank.

    I love my tiny 14′ travel trailer but I’d love more to have a small, fuel friendly caravan (a la Euro models) which would fit in my garage. Sadly, anything resembling those remarkable VW camper vans of the past would not be profitable enough to feed this country’s money hungry rv monster which is alive and thriving today. 🙁

    • Well said, Rhonda. But I also have to add it is our “in debt up to our eyeballs” culture that is driving the demand. While I was at the rally, Winnebago held a “wish list workshop.” Each table had a giant piece of flip chart paper with concentric circles of perceived needs, broken out into four quadrants (technology, boondocking, and I can’t recall the other two.) Each person was given a sticky note pad and a sharpie, and we were to all write down our perceived needs, and then place the sticky note in the right quadrant, in the closest “ring” according to consensus of level of desire. I was stunned at some of the requests. Things like “I’d like a remote control so I don’t have to get up out of my recliner to change the thermostat,” and “I’d like a sewer bay where I don’t have to bend over.” And already, Mercedes’ version of “Alexa” is slated for the 2019 run. This new definition of “camping,” i.e. “taking the entire house with you” is helping to drive the insanity.

      • I hear you and I understand. I’ll hold my tongue but it all seems so sad and wasteful and plastic and hollow…while the landfills turn into a mountain of yesteryear’s dreams.

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