Winnebago Industries was born in 1958, when a group of local businesses, worried about Iowa’s depressed farm economy, persuaded Modernistic Industries of California to build a travel-trailer factory in Forest City. Local businessmen soon bought the factory and, in 1960, named it Winnebago Industries, after the county in which it was located. Since 1966, when the company started making motor homes, the name Winnebago has become synonymous with “motor home.”
You will not doubt Winnebago’s self-proclaimed position as an industry leader after touring the world’s largest RV production plant. The company prides itself on its interlocking joint construction and on the fact that it produces the majority of parts in-house, including fabric covers for its seats and sofas. The 200-acre factory includes the main assembly areas (which you’ll see on the tour), metal stamping division, plastics facility, sawmill and cabinet shop, and sewing and design departments.
In the chassis prep building (not on tour), parts of the all-steel frame are stamped out. Sparks fly as workers weld floor joints and storage compartments to the chassis. The completed RV (including windshield) will be set into this steel frame. The front end drops from a mezzanine onto the chassis and is aligned by laser beams.
The motor-home production lines are in a building employees affectionately call “Big Bertha.” From your vantage point on the catwalk, you’ll see the developing motor homes creep down three 1,032-foot-long assembly lines at 21 inches per minute. First, workers install a heat-resistant laminated floor. Next, they install the bathroom fixtures, then screw the Thermo-Panel sidewalls (made of block foam embedded with an aluminum frame and steel supports, interior paneling, and an exterior fiberglass skin) onto steel outriggers extending from the floor of the motor home. Farther down the line, cabinets are installed.
Finally, the entire unit receives a one-piece, fiberglass-covered, laminated roof. The motor home is then driven to the company’s Stitchcraft building to receive its furniture and window coverings. The completed motor home is rigorously inspected in the test chambers, where it experiences severe “rainstorms.” Select units also travel through a test track of road hazards.
Freebies: Product brochures.
Video/DVD Shown: 22-minute “Winnebago Industries—A Closer Look” video takes you through a detailed view of the world’s largest motor-home factory. When no factory tours, visitors can watch this video as well as informative videos on individual Winnebago and Itasca motor homes.
Reservations Needed: No, except for groups larger than 6 people.
Days and Hours: April–October: Mon–Fri 9:00 am and 1:00 pm; November–mid-December: Mon–Fri 1:00 pm. No tours mid-December–March 31. Closed holidays and 1 week in July.
Plan to Stay: 1.5 hours for video and tour, plus time for Visitors Center motor-home exhibits and wall displays.
Minimum Age: No, but small children must be accompanied by an adult.
Disabled Access: Yes, for Visitors Center. Factory tour includes 3 staircases.
Group Requirements: Groups larger than 6 people should make reservations 2 weeks in advance.
Special Information: Photography allowed in Visitors Center but not in plant.
Gift Shop: Winnebago-Itasca Travelers Club gift shop sells logoed items, including jackets, shirts, and caps. Open 8:30 am–4:00 pm year-round. Closed holidays.
Directions: From I-35, exit at Hwy. 9 West. At junction of Hwy. 9 and Hwy. 69, take Hwy. 69 South. Turn right on B14 and immediately turn right on 4th St. in Forest City. Visitors Center is on right.
Nearby Attractions: Pammel RV Park; Pilot Knob State Park; Mansion Museum; Waldorf College; Heritage Park.