IF YOU'RE LOOKING for a bit of a distraction from winter, consider taking in a farm equipment factory tour. The smell of new tires and fresh paint and the look of shiny new equipment may be just what you need to perk up your spirits.
Plenty of plants in and around the Midwest offer tours to the public. But call ahead before setting out on your trip. Most factories require at least 24 hours' notice to schedule a tour, some even three to four days. And don't plan on taking little children along on these tours. Due to OSHA regulations, most plants don't allow children under the age of 12 to take the tours. Most facilities also require visitors to wear closed-toe, low-heeled shoes if they enter the plant area. Of course, comfortable shoes are must, because many of these tours require hoofing it over a mile or more of hard factory floors.
Here's a handy state-by-state guide of manufacturers that currently offer a tour of their plants, and a preview of what you'll see at each.
Case IH compact tractor plant
Currently, the DX and NH Boomer lines of compact tractors roll off the assembly line here in central Georgia. The versatile little red models range in horsepower from 21 to 54. The maneuverable blue Boomers are available in 14- to 39-hp models.
For tours of the Dublin plant, group size is limited to between five and 10 people. There are no regular tour times, so call ahead to schedule one. Contact Garry Black at 478/275-4655, ext. 305, or Michele Hinshaw at 478/275-4655, ext. 316.
John Deere Harvester Works
East Moline, IL
John Deere Harvester Works, a near 200-acre facility, began building horse-drawn harvesting equipment in 1913. Today, it produces its full line of combines, which can be made to order.
Visitors ride on moving carts through the 1½-hour trip and see the main production line, from start to finish. Tours are available twice a day on weekdays. Other tours can be arranged, including visits to the parts warehouse and planter and construction equipment factories. There is also plenty to see in the nearby John Deere Pavilion, and plenty of shopping and restaurants at the Mississippi River Front location. Contact guest services at 800/765-9588.
Case IH/New Holland tillage tools plant
For a look at where both red and blue cultivators, chisel plows, disks and rippers are made, check out this plant located between Bloomington and Peoria, just off Interstate 74. Call one week ahead, if possible, to arrange a tour between 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. or 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Contact Debbie Ulrich at 309/965-2217, ext. 2265.
John Deere Waterloo Works
Five sites comprise the massive John Deere Waterloo Works, the company's largest tractor manufacturing facility, with more than 13.2 million square feet of office and manufacturing floor space. Here, the company produces tractors ranging from 95 to 450 hp.
This Deere location is currently undergoing a multimillion-dollar capital improvement project to redevelop its facilities and manufacturing technology, so call ahead to ensure tours are available when you plan to visit. They are generally open to the public on weekdays, with guided tours twice a day. Call guest services at 800/765-9588.
Kinze Manufacturing plant
Depending on the time of year you visit, you may see blue planters or grain wagons being built at this facility just off Interstate 80, west of Iowa City. The company's wide range of 4- to 36-row planters roll off the line from mid-May through March. Grain wagons are made the remaining two months in the spring.
You'll cover about a mile when taking this 1½-hour walking tour. There is a minimum group size of 10 active farmers, and you need to call at least 24 hours ahead to arrange the tour. Smaller groups must go through their local Kinze dealer. Children must be 14 years old to be allowed in the plant. Contact Delores Reinhart at 319/668-1300.
AGCO — Hesston division plant
With five separate plants at this one location, AGCO's Hesston manufacturing facilities offer plenty to see. A wide variety of equipment is made here, including balers, combines, forage harvesters, manure spreaders, planters and haying machines, under a variety of brand names such as Gleaner, White, New Idea, Massey Ferguson and Hesston. Located 35 miles north of Wichita, just off I-135, the site is also home to the company's new North American training center.
The typical 1½-hour plant tours need to be arranged during normal business hours on weekdays, and no photos are allowed. Contact Cindi Roth at 620/327-6130.
Case IH application equipment plant
Originally the Tyler self-propelled sprayer factory, this western Minnesota plant is now home to the red sprayer line, including the SPX Patriot. It also will be the future home of Case IH's cotton picker manufacturing.
Groups are limited in size to 10, and children must be in eighth grade to take the tour. Contact Deb Orr at 320/842-2812.
Claas Lexion combine plant
Built in 2001, this sleek, new, 200,000-sq.-ft. plant produces the Lexion combine and houses the engineering, marketing and service centers for the line.
The 1-hour tour includes an introduction about company management and philosophy, detailed explanation of the product and its engineering achievements and a product walk-around. Call three to four days ahead to arrange a tour on weekdays. Contact visitor services at 402/861-1041.
Case IH/New Holland combine plant
Grand Island, NE
Currently, Case IH produces its AFX combines in this facility and plans to move production of its 2300 series here. All New Holland model combines are also produced at this east-central Nebraska factory.
Due to larger volumes of visitors, plant tours are prescheduled. To schedule a plant tour call 308-389-5758 (Charlene Goeden) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Plant tours are scheduled Monday through Thursday between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. Plant safety policies ask that no one under the age of 12 years old allowed on the production floor.
Case 4-wd Steiger tractor plant
There's plenty to see at this 600,000-sq.-ft. plant, from the machining and welding centers on the east side, to the three dedicated assembly lines on the west side, where the large HSP ag tractors, wheeled loaders and bidirectional tractors roll out.
For the 1½-hour tour, a headset and safety glasses are provided. Children must be at least 14 years old to take the tour. You must call ahead to reserve a spot. Tours run Monday through Thursday, usually at 1:30 p.m. Customers can arrange to watch their new machine come off the line. Contact Ginny Hanson at 701/293-4666.
Case IH/New Holland hay tools plant
The company's full line of haying tools is produced here, including all types of balers, mower conditioners, rakes and tedders. Call at least two days in advance, but they'll take any size group, even just a few folks. Contact Chris Yohn at 717/935-3540.
Case IH tractor plant
Wear comfortable shoes for this walking tour of the tractor factory at the Case IH home base in Racine. Here, depending on the week, you'll see the complete line of large red tractors being built. Tours are conducted by retired employees, Monday through Friday, and must be scheduled a week in advance. No children under 14 are allowed on the tours, and you'll have to leave your camera in the car. Contact customer service at 262/636-7273.
Case IH/New Holland planting/seeding equipment plant
Home production facility for the Case 1200 series planters, along with air drills and grain drills, this 634,000-sq.-ft. plant features the latest technology in steel fabrication, robotic welders and power paint lines. Tour size is limited to 12 people, who must be at least 18 years old, and tours are available by appointment only, Monday through Thursday. Contact Carman Dodmen at 306/343-3775.
Team fin top pick
Our resident Team FIN tech head, Daryl Bridenbaugh, says his hands-down favorite factory tour (and he's taken a lot of them) is the John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, IL. The Pandora, OH, farmer has toured the facilities twice and plans to go back again this winter. He says there is so much to see there, besides the manufacturing line, that you can easily fill a day. “The plant itself is amazing, and much of it has been updated in the last year or two,” he notes.
Then there's the nearby Deere Pavilion, filled with a full range of Deere equipment dating back to the company's early days. “It takes at least two, maybe three hours to take in everything on display there,” he says.
A favorite stop for collectors of Deere paraphernalia is the Deere Store next door, with clothes, shoes, books, videos, toys and a wide selection of green and gold gifts. There's also a parts counter for those tracking down elusive restoration parts.
The Deere corporate headquarters building, on the south side of Moline, is worth a stop as well, Bridenbaugh adds. “The building's unusual architecture and the hilly grounds make it a beautiful place to spend and hour or two on a sunny summer day,” he says.
Deere sculptures adorn the grounds, and inside the lobby is an impressive display of new and antique equipment. “There is also plenty of variety, so even a spouse can enjoy the visit,” Bridenbaugh says.