Winnebago: A Love Story

Having just spent a couple of days in the Iowa hometown of Winnebago Industries, I'm inspired to muse about exactly what I love about Winnebago...

I love that the fact that it's a big company in a small town, just like a Winnebago allows me to explore the big picture by reaching some of the smallest dots on the map. I love that the town is called Forest City because a house-on-wheels journey may be THE best way to make sure you don't miss the forest because you're too focused on the trees.

"Forest City Welcomes You" sign leading in to town.

I love how the various Winnebago models that I've driven over the years have names that seem to encapsulate the experience of a cross-country journey--Brave, Adventurer, Via, Vista, Tribute. I love the fact that, even more than a half-century after its beginnings, the Winnebago brand name is often still substituted for the product--like Kleenex or Frisbee or Xerox. That only happens to icons.

Winnebago posters hanging on the wall.

I love the fact that anyone can walk into the Winnebago Visitors Center and be transported back in time...

Vintage Winnebago motorhome in Visitor Center.

Then step back outside and travel "Back to the Future"...

Winnebago motorhomes in parking lot of the Visitor Center.

I love how the Winnebago Museum offers a stroll through some history (that's Amy educatin')...Museum area of the Winnebago Visitors Center.

... and biography (that's company founder John Hanson)...

Photo of John Hanson in museum.

... and family (that's a scroll for Hanson, signed by every Winnebago employee)...

Scroll signed by all Winnebago employees in 1983.

... and whimsy.

Cutout of John Hanson that displays his quote, "You can't take sex, booze or weekends away from the American people."

I love that you can take a short bus ride to explore a factory where RVs are made.

Winnebago Plant tour bus.

And you can see how they manufacture nearly every part of the Winnebago experience--how they put the foam in the cushions (cool shrink-wrapping), how they stitch bedspreads, how they use lasers and concentrated streams of waters to create intricate cut-outs, how they mold plastic into various water tank shapes, how they lower slide-outs onto a chassis. Fortune magazine described the facilities as having a "whimsical, Willy Wonka quality"--no Golden Ticket necessary.

Production lines in the Forest City, Iowa Winnebago plant.

I love that Winnebago Industries knows exactly when it should take itself seriously...

Sign on walkway in factory that reads, "safety is job #1."

... and when it should reveal a sense of humor.

Vintage Winnebago towable with sign outside that says, "If the Winnie's A-Rockin."

I love how the Winnebago Outdoor store sells everything from T-shirts, hats, and thermoses to do-it-yourself model kits. Why shouldn't Winnebago owners be as proud and appareled as Harley enthusiasts?

Winnebago red shirt that reads, "I'm a Winnebago lover."

And I love that Winnebago has never been afraid to try something different. Sometimes, really different. Like a photo shoot featuring "upholstery wear"...

Photos of an old photo shoot where the attire was made from Winnebago interior upholstery.

Or a set of Winnebago trading cards...

Display of Winnebago trading cards.

Or--and I'm not making this up--a Winnebago Heli-Home..

.Photo of Winnebago Heli-Home in 1976.

And I love that all of this can be found in a state where the welcome sign echoes a road trip's possibilities--"Fields of Opportunity."

Winnebago Brave in parking lot with farm in the background.