I was in Kansas City for a sad reason, my mother-in-law’s funeral. I spent several days there with little for me to do except be there for whatever my wife needed.
When picking me up at the airport, she pointed out a billboard for Harley Davidson Factory Tours. With lots of time on my hands, and at her suggestion, I booked a Steel Toe Factory Tour for the following Monday.
While their headquarters are in Milwaukee, WI, this particular location manufactures (from their website) “Sportster®, Dyna®, StreetTM and V-Rod®families of motorcycles, along with select Softail® models, from fabrication and finishing through final assembly to include the liquid-cooled Revolution® and Revolution XTM powertrains for the V-Rod and Street families.”
It’s in the middle of flat, flat, flat countryside. The parking lot was jammed full of cars for the workers. There was a big wide lot directly in front but with no one parked there.
The tour met in the showroom. Not a dealership type show room, rather a show-off room… and it was pleasing. There were examples of each of the bikes assembled there, with great lighting and backdrops. Most of them were rigged upright so you could hop on and sit correctly, as opposed to tilted on a kick-stand or with your feet planted to keep balanced.
My impressions of the tour were as follows:
Everything was neat, neat, neat. Maybe not spotless, but safety and mechanized equipment meant there was nothing out of place. If they were a restaurant, they’d get an A+ rating.
It was not nearly as crowded as one might think. Certain areas had very few people around, while others were buzzing with activity.
Everyone looked like they really dug working there. I suppose if you get a chance to work at a place that builds the thing you’re passionate about, it would be a really fun job. On the other hand, I love hot dogs, but doubt I’d want to work at a hot dog factory.
The tour went as you might expect, nothing shocking, a lot of cool stuff, assembly lines, people shifting from task to task every hour or so, so they get cross-trained like crazy. I got the impression that management was very keen on everyone treating these amazing vehicles like their own babies. Especially the closer we got to the end of the line where finished bikes came off the line and were ready to be loaded into semi’s and shipped.
A small group of experts would randomly pick bikes at this stage and take them through hand-touch inspections, test ride them, rain, shine, or snow, and hook ’em up like a heart-attack in the I.C.U. This is where I could feel the intensity of their commitment to the job. These guys knew that a bike’s road worthiness, the company’s good name, and a rider’s life would be on the line. If they found a flaw of any kind, they’d tag it with bright tape and send it to the lunch room where everyone had to see it for a week. Makes me well up.
Oh, that big empty lot I saw in front? During nicer weather, I’m certain, anyone who rides their Harley to work gets to park there. Talk about fostering commitment to the brand and bikes they build!
It’s great to know that the beast I’m riding at 80mph has gone through such close scrutiny. Yes, it was a sad time for the family, but I feel safer.
That’s me – last one on the right. Hang loose!