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Ford reopens window to Rouge, '04 tours will blend amusement, history

Thursday, June 12, 2003

By Mark Truby / The Detroit News
Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- When Ford Motor Co. halted tours to its Rouge industrial complex in 1980, it left a void that has never been filled.

For 56 years, the Rouge factory was a mecca for motorheads, a place where the miracle of auto production was shared with as many as 250,000 people per year.

Next summer, Ford is finally reopening the industrial icon to the public to coincide with a $2 billion refurbishment of the iconic industrial site.

With Ford's centennial celebration beginning today, The Detroit News was given a special preview of the new Ford Rouge Center tours. Ticket holders to Ford's centennial celebration running today through Sunday can take advantage of a sneak preview of the tour.

Part history museum, part Disney attraction, the 90-minute tour offers visitors a firsthand journey though Henry Ford's manufacturing marvel, a place where as many as 100,000 workers turned iron ore, rubber and sand into shiny new cars.

The Rouge Visitor Center promises to be a major boon to Metro Detroit's tourism industry.

"Detroit is still the Motor City, and people still want to get behind the scenes and see how cars and trucks are made," said Steve Hamp, president of The Henry Ford, formerly The Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, which is operating the Rouge Center tours.

Displayed in the lobby of the Rouge Visitor Center is a lineup of memorable cars produced at the factory -- from the 1929 Model A roadster to the 1956 Thunderbird to the 1965 Mustang convertible. A little exploration uncovers letters from outlaws John Dillinger and Clyde Barrow thanking Henry Ford for producing such reliable and speedy getaway cars.

Before the factory tour, visitors can take in two 12-minute movies produced for the Rouge Visitor Center.

In the Legacy Theater, the story of the Rouge is recounted through grainy, black-and-white footage unearthed from Ford archives. The film chronicles Henry Ford's development of the Rouge complex, recounting the factory's growth into "an industrial marvel the likes of which the world has never seen."

The movie is a warts-and-all account of the Rouge's history and doesn't gloss over the sometimes Draconian working conditions at the complex or the infamous Battle of the Overpass in 1937 when company officials beat union organizers.

"We didn't turn it into a Ford infomercial," said Tim O'Brian, vice president for corporate relations.

The second film, in the Art of Manufacturing theater, is a wild ride through the sights, sounds and smells of vehicle manufacturing from the molten steel that becomes sheet metal to the final coat of high-gloss paint.

From chairs that swivel 360 degrees, viewers will watch the film on seven screens that encircle the theater. The theater's special effects -- from the rumbling floor to hot air, mist and smoke pouring from the walls -- are a sensory delight that give the film a breath-taking shot of realism.

Both films are set to musical scores composed by David Kneupper, who works extensively on films and themed attractions, and performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

From the theaters, visitors can move to the 81-foot-high observation deck to see the "living roof" covering the Dearborn Truck Plant. The 10-acre roof is covered with the flowering plant sedum and is a key part of Ford's efforts to make the once-toxic 600-acre industrial complex more environmentally friendly.

The tour of the new Dearborn Truck Plant -- which begins producing the new F-150 pickup next year -- is likely to be the main attraction.

A 30-foot-high mezzanine above the plant floor that stretches over a third of a mile allows a bird's-eye view of final production of F-150s below.

"We think the draw is going to be enormous," said Renee Monforton, spokeswoman at the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. "(Auto plant tours) are something people ask for and expect from Detroit."

When the attraction opens to the public in 2004, visitors will purchase tickets at The Henry Ford and take a narrated shuttle to the Rouge Visitor Center. Up to 300 people an hour will be able take the tour. Ticket prices haven't been announced.

Displayed in the lobby of the new Rouge Visitors Center, at the industrial complex in Dearborn, is a lineup of memorable cars produced at the factory. The center will be the starting point for plant tours that begin next summer.
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My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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