A can of Vernors wrapped in tin foil, a bag of Fritos and a catwalk.
That’s pretty much what I remember from my tour of the Ford Rouge Dearborn Assembly Plant as a kid. It was the late 1970s. We took a school field trip on a bus. I remember packing pop in my lunch (we didn’t have juice boxes then), being thrilled to have my own bag of Fritos and learning what a catwalk was. I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember much else.
I’m quite sure that now days, lunch won’t be the only thing students—or anyone for that matter—will remember about their visit to Ford’s Dearborn Truck Assembly Plant. The catwalk view of the Ford plant is part of The Henry Ford’s very engaging Ford Rouge Factory Tour.
My husband and I took a couple of our children and their friends this weekend to check it out. Our 14-year-old daughter and her friend had been before during Discovery Camp and both thoroughly enjoyed it. It was the first trip for 10-year-old Henry and his friend. On the way home, everyone agreed that it was “totally awesome.” Truthfully, for the two boys, the mere fact they got to get on that cool bus that takes you to the Rouge from Henry Ford Museum was exciting in itself. It got them geared up for the tour. Visiting the theaters, learning about the plant’s huge living roof and some of Ford Motor Company’s other forward-thinking environmentally sustainable practices, watching the final assembly of Ford F-150 trucks and seeing the legacy of vehicles built at the almost 100-year-old Rouge was inspiring in some way for each of us.
The tour is self-guided and set up in five distinct stations. The folks at the visitors center recommend you take it in order, but you’re on your own. We heeded the recommendation and agreed that the first station really sets you up for the remainder of the tour. So even if you don’t do the rest in order, it makes sense to visit Station One, the Legacy Theatre, first. We followed the stations in order and thought the flow was very logical. I’ll share more about each station in future blog posts.
I do need to add that the music soundtrack for the theater experiences is fantastic. The original music is performed by the world-class Detroit Symphony Orchestra. I was happy to learn it was available on CD. I picked up a copy at the gift shop near the Legacy Gallery before heading home.
We left fascinated by what the Rouge Complex was in the past, what it is today and what it will be in the future. Its historic and continued impact on the city of Dearborn, the Detroit area, Michigan, the automotive industry and industry as a whole is truly profound. (And visiting was much more memorable than even a bag of yummy Fritos.)
Kristine Hass is a writer and a long-time member of The Henry Ford. She frequently blogs about her family’s visits to America’s Greatest History Attraction.