Working in the Corn Industry

I had to high tail it from Chicago to East Moline early Thursday morning so I'd arrive in time for my 12:30 tour of the John Deere Harvester factory.  I've been on a previous John Deere tour (Tractor Works in Waterloo) and absolutely loved it, so I took advantage of the vicinity I was driving through to schedule a tour of the plant that manufactures harvesters.  You're familiar with harvesters even though you might not realize it because almost every piece of stock footage relating to mechanized food gathering has one, sweeping up crops and depositing them into a waiting trailer.  We're talking a two story tall, 40 foot wide corn eating machine!

Alas, as usual, I wasn't able to take any pictures on my tour, and I'm not sure it would have done that much good anyway because the scale of the place turned out to be off the charts.  Everything was big, big, BIG!

One thing I hadn't anticipated being such a huge part of the operation and ended up blowing my mind is the logistics of painting these big machines.  We got off our tram and were allowed to walk alongside a long, long wall of windows that looked out over a cavernous enclosing a row of tanks, each one of them deep and wide and tall enough to submerge Special Ed's Donut bus.  Hanging from a massive computerized gantry (overhead crane) the bus-sized chassis would be sequentially dipped in a series of baths, including paint. Mind boggling!  There were humans and robots that painted less massive things in another chamber which had a gigantic water bath circulating below the gridded floor to capture the ambient paint and wash it away.  I watched as all the different elements were added and adjusted and moved on, and I was livid with excitement.

The Harvester Works employs about 2700 people and 700 of them are welders.  While there is some amount of robotic welding done of these machines, a good bit of it is done by hand.  I especially liked watching a trio of fellows making the long intake augers (like the one at the top of the photo above).  The welder would retrieve a long relaxed coil of thin metal that looked like a Shirley Temple curl and then proceed to clamp it down to the core in a dozen of just the right places.  Then the welding wire starts to unroll, the sparks start to fly and before you know it - Shazam!  Another shiny 20 foot auger!

I was thrilled during the tour when our guide made mention of a special high quality steel that they imported specially from Sweden for a particular application.  I wished we were having Show and Tell at the end of the tour so I could tell all about having toured the Kiruna iron mine in December.  What a damn dork.

One last thing to say about the John Deere tour(s): I have become more and more impressed with John Deere corporation as I've taken their tours.  A lot of companies spout a lot of bull about integrity, but what I've seen at John Deere has convinced me they not only understand the concept but also practice it.  Pretty cool if you ask me.

From East Moline, I drove to Des Moines which is a city I learned to deeply love when I visited with my friend Mac many years ago.  Since Iowa is the third biggest agricultural producer in the US (behind CA and TX) I figured they'd put on a pretty good State Fair, so I stopped by for a visit Friday morning.  

These giant 3-D American Gothic figures in the main square were just fantastic.  It was spooky to look up and see those faces you knew so well, but from a different perspective.  The artist did a superb job of capturing nuances you didn't realize you'd registered until you saw them above your head 8 feet wide and recognized them.

Can't dawdle - got to get over to the weighing in of the biggest pumpkin contestants.  The winner tipped the scales at 782 pounds.

Competition looked pretty stiff in the Weed Identification contest...

So I stood I stood in line for an egg on a stick instead.

I liked this entry in the table setting contest:

Imagined to be overhead in Floral Arrangement Contest area before judging: "Yeah...corn...That's what it needs - corn....!!  Quick, where's my hot glue gun??

Front drops everywhere.

The Big Boar

I arrived at the Swine Barn just in time to see the pig competition for young adults.  As a complete neophyte to porcine parading I was shocked to find that they have to switch those poor pigs with a quirt constantly to make them trot around and keep them in line.  All their little pink cheeks had large patches of rose colored lash marks by the end of the contest. I've noticed people who know pigs seem to cut them a pretty wide berth due to their innate meanness, so I trust that they have to use those quirts, but it made me feel bad to see their little bruised faces.

I noticed that the human counterparts did this interesting dance whereby they had to continually encourage their pig to promenade, keep it from getting into some sort of trouble and at the same time keep a sharp eye on the judge as he walked around giving competitors who'd been eliminated a hand signal to indicate they should exit.  Finally there were only three kids and three pigs left in the arena.  High points were given for spirited pigs which I liked.  Here's our third place winner:

Our second place winner...

And the grand prize pig...

Very tasty on my fresh apple with caramel and bacon:

And I'm sure delicious on a stick, except I didn't spring for one of these because I'm well aware that they think of black pepper as an exotic spice up here.

My batteries had started to wind down after all that excitement so I took in just a few more classics - chain saw art:

The Honey Queen

And last but not least the butter cow.  Just what it sounds like, an entire cow carved out of a block of butter.  Not to mention several farmers and a row of corn (all butter!), but the glass on the display window kept me at too much of a distance and I became more interested in watching people that had waited in a long long line get to the butter cow and saw, "Is that IT?"  Maybe if the State Fair oganizers would take down the protective glass and put out some saltines people would like it better.

No comments: