Tour "The Rouge" For a Trip In History

Garagistry's recent article featuring artwork at the Chicago Art Museum's special "America After The Fall", paintings of the 1930's, included the 1931 "Classic Landscape" by Charles Sheeler of the Ford Rouge River plant.  The tremendous reader response to that article suggested we learn more about the Ford plant today - and that sounded like a great idea.  Here's what we found...
The launch of the aluminum-bed Ford F-150 pickup truck last year meant more than a bump in sales for the nameplate that already had been America’s best-selling vehicle for decades. It also has brought an uptick in visitors to the Ford Rouge Factory Tour at The Henry Ford Museum, an experience that has transformed the Rouge truck plant into an important location for brand “ambassadorship” as well as profits.
Rouge River Model T Production Line
The Ford River Rouge Complex may be the world's most famous auto plant. In 1915 Henry Ford bought 2000 acres along the Rouge River west of Detroit, intending to use the site only to make coke, smelt iron, and build tractors. Over the next dozen years, however, the company turned "The Rouge", as it became known, into the most fully integrated car manufacturing facility in the world. 
In the Rouge tour, affiliated with the iconic The Henry Ford / Greenfield Village complex nearby in Dearborn, Mich., the actual Ford Rouge Factory Tour is co-located at the most important plant in the Ford network. The sprawling, integrated Rouge complex is where so much of the company’s storied past unfolded - and where it's present and future, in terms of the crucial F-150, is being constructed as well.

By 1927, when Ford shifted its final assembly line from Highland Park to the Rouge, the complex included virtually every element needed to produce a car: blast furnaces, an open hearth mill, a steel rolling mill, a glass plant, a huge power plant and, of course, an assembly line. 

Coal Hauler Locomotive for the Rouge River Coke Plant
Ninety miles of railroad track and miles more of conveyor belts connected these facilities, and the result was mass production of unparalleled sophistication and self-sufficiency. 

"By the mid-1920's," wrote historian David L. Lewis, "the Rouge was easily the greatest industrial domain in the world" and was "without parallel in sheer mechanical efficiency." None of the buildings that comprise this National Historic Landmark have remained unchanged over the years, a reflection of continuing developments in production techniques. Yet many of the complex's most important buildings still stand: the 1917 Dearborn Assembly Plant, still houses the main assembly line; the 1921 Power House continues to supply energy to both the plant and parts of the surrounding community. Today River Rouge turns out a car every few seconds.

Making Coke, Guinness, Ford A Destination
And with the uptick in public interest in Ford’s innovative F-150, and because of a significant overhaul of the Factory Tour itself, the attraction has been turning the attendance arrow back upward recently. It’s averaged around 100,000 visitors a year since its opening early last decade, according to Christian Lachel, vice president and executive creative director with BRC Imagination Arts. The company was the lead visionary not only behind the Rouge tour but also behind other branded destinations including The World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta and The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin.
What to Expect
Specifically, in line with the launch of production last year of the aluminum-bed F-150, the attraction added the Manufacturing Innovation Theater, which celebrates the engineering ingenuity behind the production of the F-150 with a multi-sensory film experience complete with vibrating seats, gusts of “wind,” 3D projection mapping and winking robots. 

The new film replaced a previous “film experience” for the tour. “We wanted to upgrade the experience overall,” Lachel said. “And so much of the truck had changed. We wanted to bring that forward. Also, so much of the Rouge has been transformed inside. It was important for us to get back in there and get kids excited. 

And now they just sit there and go, ‘Wow!’”

This is a great tour if the assembly line is running, but I think it would be a dud if the line was shut down for the day so plan accordingly. It's incredible how well organized this tour is, everything from the check in experience, to the bus ride, to the greeting once you arrive, to the movies, and the factory floor itself.

The vantage points within the factory tour are generous, and very interesting.  It's really something to see the vehicle come together over the course of a walk.  You even get to see some of the quality control stations, where some very advanced technology is being used to ensure the vehicles quality. Most of the factory prohibits photos but the first floor offer a glimpse of the historical highlights of the Ford Motor Company including it's flagship Model A, Mustang and Thunderbird.

The movies are also a lot of fun, one of them is a expose of the history of the factory, and the other displays the various new technologies being applied to the vehicle manufacturing process.

The public spaces are also very accommodating for handicapped persons.

The value is very high when you visit this factory, I highly recommend this to anybody who comes to Detroit, it should not be missed!

However -

You don't have to do The Henry Ford Museum to do this tour, though you go to their website for the tickets, which are roughly $15, though $6 additional for parking. Purchasing online is cheaper than onsite. 

But, no where on the ticket states that the last bus leaves at 3 PM. Tickets aren't transferrable. 
NOTE: last bus leaves at 3 PM to see the factory. The bus is the only way to visit.

So, go and make a day of it while in Detroit - take the Ford Rouge River Plant tour...

The Garagistry Team

Thanks to Dale Buss of Fortune Magazine and the National Park Service for their contributions to this article.