When kids leave home for the first time and live on their own they are expected to derail a time or two. Life without parental supervision; college parties, getting drunk and disorderly, and generally making fools of themselves are part and parcel to growing up. Then there's the moment when life's realities start to sink in. Job, marriage, kids (not necessarily in that order) and generally joining in with the mainstream of society, raising a family and becoming a decent citizen are all necessary to keep the world moving ahead. But there are times when that youthful recklessness comes back for a visit, even several years down the road.
Manufacturing--mass-production--is always interesting. Seeing that metal being heated into a molten state then poured into molds to become a transmission case or an engine block, then watching as those castings are machined and assembled into complete units, tested and sent to other parts of the factory; watching sheets of steel being cut out, pressed, and formed to become frame rails, fenders and hoods, then to watch all those pieces being assembled on a moving line where the sum of the parts becomes a car or truck, or a tractor or combine. Companies, like General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, John Deere and Caterpillar all manufacture products that are used by the masses to commute, transport, dig, plow and build (although some products are not used for what they were originally intended--more of that in another story). And it naturally raises one's curiosity to see how those products are actually made.
Almost all manufacturers offer guided tours through their various plants. Guided is absolutely necessary to ensure safety of the visitors as well as that of the workers. Through the various dealerships many mass tours are organized where the visitors are flown (and bussed) to several plants to see all kinds of work in process. John Deere, to name one company, is especially capable of handling those masses and seeing that all have a good time. They organize what is called The Deereland Fly-in, usually twice a year, and the select customers are brought in for two to three days of education, good food and a chance to rub shoulders with others from other parts of the continent (and even overseas).
Service personnel in dealerships are required to attend annual updates and service schools that specialize in the products they service. In the early days of JC's tenure as a service technician those schools/workshops were held right at the factories. During some of those trips factory tours were given so JC was quite familiar with the goings on there. After a couple of update sessions he was content to socialize with the other technicians then simply head for home when the course was over.
Well, it was in late February and JC had completed a four and a half day update course at the John Deere Tractor Works in Waterloo, Iowa. The course let out at noon on Friday and JC was back at his room packing his things and getting ready to head for home. An extensive two day drive and he would be home, possibly have part of Sunday to recuperate and be ready for the carnage that awaited him on Monday morning. To his surprise, the phone rang.
It was GA, JC's boss, and sometimes (read, often) adversary. 'JC, how was your course?' That was more of a statement to break the ice because GA never cared much about the courses that his service department attended except that they cost way too much and were a waste of valuable shop time. And that they were another ploy of the manufacturers to hold a gun to his head in order to be allowed to continue selling their product lines.
JC responded in true character: 'Just fine." Translation: 'Things were just great until you phoned.'
'JC, I've got a big problem: The Deereland Fly-in begins on Monday and I've got some things I've got to attend to here at home. I've got six customers coming down on the charter plane on Sunday for that tour and I was hoping that you could represent our dealership and go on the tour with them. Just meet them at the airport and take my place.'
'No problem; I'd be glad to do it.' JC hung up then proceeded to unpack and prepare to spend a rather boring couple of days cooped up in Howard Johnson's, reading and watching TV. It could've been worse; having to stay behind to watch a ballet or something cultural (therefore the last thing even remotely interesting) like that.
Sunday morning, JC checked out of his room then moved over to the Sheritan where Deere and Company housed all their tourists. He drove out to the airport, parked his truck and waited for the plane. It was about then he began to wonder what was in store for him.
Through the years it was commonplace for some of the factory tourists to go haywire. First time away from home and the wife and kids, and it was almost like being in college again. Party it up, have a good time then sober up and come home. There was in incident in Manheim, Germany, where everyone down one corridor was awakened at three in the morning by a woman shrieking and pounding on the door to one of the rooms.
'You bastard! You owe me a hundred Marks!' It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what kind of business the woman was in. And at breakfast the next morning the 'customer' showed up with a black eye. The excuse: walked into a door.
Well the charter 737 jet landed and taxied over to the terminal. The weary travelers shuffled in and JC looked for his charges. Before he recognized any of them he did notice a couple of men in their early forties, quite well-dressed and each holding tightly onto a briefcase. Their red faces and somewhat disheveled appearances made it quite clear that they had consumed a rather large amount of alcohol both before boarding that plane and during the flight.
JC was glad they weren't from his dealership. Actually all of his group came out at once and none of them was the worst for wear. It could be that none of them drank either.
They all boarded the buses and drove straight down to the Sheritan where they were treated to an excellent dinner--courtesy, Deere and Company--in one of the large dining rooms and then off to their individual accomodations to spend the evening unwinding and getting ready for the first tour early the next morning.
JC's curiosity was aroused with the two partiers he had seen at the airport. He wondered if they would be in any kind of shape to actually go on the tour. Strangely he didn't see them at breakfast and they weren't on his tour group, but since there were over three hundred people at this event, they could easily be with another group.
They toured the John Deere foundry, then the Waterloo Tractor Works, then across the Interstate to Cedar Rapids where they toured the Engine Works. Then they boarded their buses and drove across the state to Moline Illinois, where they were fed and put up in the Sheritan Rock Island.
After supper, JC contacted a couple of friends he had met on one of his motorcycle trips and made arrangements to meet them at a tavern a short distance away. They shared a few stories, played a few games of pool then parted company. JC entered the hotel lobby and pressed the button for the elevator. When the doors opened JC was quite surprised at what he saw.
One of the mystery men he had seen get off the plane in Waterloo two days ago, was lying, spread-eagle on the floor of the elevator, head propped up against the wall, passed out cold. He was still clad in the same suit, only with the jacket open, shirt open, tie undone, and still holding tightly to the handle of his briefcase. JC had no idea how long the man had been there but it looked like he'd been going up and down with the elevator for some time.
Once securely in his room, JC phoned hotel security and advised them to check the elevator.
The next day, Tuesday, they toured the Combine Works, then the Plow-Planter Works, then at day's end they were bussed out to the Deere and Company World Headquarters where they toured that facility and sat down to an elaborate supper in the massive dining hall there.
By ten everyone was back at the hotel to unwind and prepare for the trip home.
The fortunate thing about the organized tours is that the host (in this case, Deere and Company) is very careful to keep track of everyone. Every morning there is a head-count and if someone isn't present, a search is conducted and the missing person found.
Well, they were missing someone. JC saw the one guy (same suit) from the elevator but he didn't see his buddy. Everyone was kicked off the bus and reissued their room keys. Back in their rooms a new head-count was taken. They were almost ready to summon the authorities when someone called out from down the hall: 'I think he's here!'
There must have been quite a party going on in that particular room as both beds were a shambles. The missing man was found, buck-naked, sleeping on the floor next to one of the beds.
And it wasn't his room!
It's needless to say that the trip back to Waterloo was rather quiet as the busload of tourists/partiers had other things on their minds aside from the breaktaking sights they had the privilege of seeing in those factories. Back in the airport terminal, JC said good-bye to his charges and watched as the weary travelers headed through security. Near the end of the line were those two, still wearing the same suits, still clutching their briefcases, shuffling through the gate.
To this day JC can't help but wonder what those guys actually saw.