Thursday, May 27, 2004

APRIL 22, 2004, cont'd

We have been talking with John Davis, the plant manager at the SNC in Emmetsburg, Iowa. We are at the King Street plant. John has been explaining what SNC does, and its history in Emmetsburg.

"We bought this building in 1996 from Horizons when they moved," John said, speaking of the King Street plant, or #2. The airport plant runs orders which require molding. Plant #2 is "the magnetics division."

"Orders declined over the past two years," John said. "9-11 put a kabosh on things. Right now things are picking up - we're the busiest we've been in two years."

"In twenty years we've grown phenomenally," he said.

SNC in Emmetsburg has 86 employees; in Oshkosh there are 140 employees, counting office staff, sales, and engineering. SNC also built a plant in Mexico recently.

The company has 2000 customers and manufactures parts from 20,000 different designs. Customers include three divisions of General Electric, five divisions of Rockwell, American Power Conversion, Banner Corporation, and Trombetta. SNC makes a battery charger for E-Z-GO Golf Carts, parts for Acme Corporation's mobile MRI equipment, "neutralizing transformers for the telephone industry, "and a lot of stuff for the military - we're a subcontractor for firms selling equipment to the government."

"We used to do a lot of stuff for the computer industry," John said, "but we've lost that to Taiwan." SNC used to produce 40,000 solenoid coils for hard drive devices each week.

"Parts we've made are in the scoreboards at most NFL stadiums in the country," he said. Daktronics in South Dakota makes those electronic scoreboards, including scoreboards used at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Our talk was interrupted by a phone call. It was an engineer from the office in Oshkosh, concerned about aspects of the manufacturing process for a new customer. The customer required a written procedure called a "process sheet" and the engineer was clarifying the changes that had been made at the manufacturing phase to make production more efficient.

John finished his business and turned back to me. "Daktronics also makes portable 'leader boards' for the PGA, so every golfer knows where he stands at any given moment."

"In 1996," John said, "we refurbished all those leader boards. It took us about two years. It required 600,000 transformers to finish that project."

Those leader boards are electro-mechanical devices, last built about 1979. The PGA intends to replace them with leader boards that are entirely electronic, but a successful prototype hadn't been developed yet when the old devices came in for refurbishing.

To be continued....



This concludes our discussion about "the construction of place," started in our post of April 28, and continued on April 29, April 30, May 10, May 11, May 13, May 14, May 16, May 17, May 18, and May 26, in response to the article "A Case Study in the Construction of Place: Boundary Management as Theme and Strategy in Canadian Art and Life" by Gaile McGregor. I have been highlighting points of interest from that article and considering them from the perspective of my Vagabond in the Middle project.

McGregor says: "The American north [Alaska] is lived in to a degree that the Canadian one isn't." The typical Canadian northern town, "is a well-serviced, highly rationalized, pre-fab imtitation of a southern community with houses tightly huddled and outer boundaries clearly marked." By contrast, its American counterpart will be "a sprawling, unbounded, fortuitous agglomeration of mismatched and often makeshift building types, where people precede services, where space and privacy are more important factors in residential site-selection than security, and where the outer edges seem to be trying to migrate into the trees."

One can look at specific Canadian towns such as Lynn Lake, Manitoba, or specific personalities such as Twelve Foot Davis as evidence contrary to McGregor's thesis; or we could look at planned communities such as Leaf Rapids, just miles from Lynn Lake, where school, grocery store, cafe, art gallery, and city offices are all found under one roof as evidence in favor. Nonetheless, I think she is essentially correct: American towns are sprawling and diffuse and unbounded; Canadian northern communities are more planned and rational. Canadian communities still seem to be encampments. The middle western communities I'm most familiar with are places settlers staked their claims and put up their buildings where they could. This was where they were going to live; it was not where they were going to live until they could go back south. My middlewesterners took possession of the land in a way that McGregor's Canadians never did. The land has become a permanent part of us; by contrast, those northern Canadian mining communities are often inhabited by miners who will leave once the mining plays out. Perhaps it's that middle westerners play for keeps in a way that McGregor's Canadians do not.


MAY 27, 1998

These mornings on this familiar ground I am as far as one can imagine from being a stranger in a strange land. And yet as much as I know about the roll and swoop of this ground, there is also much I do not know. I don't know the families who farm these fields, and the families before them, all the way back to the Indians who walked here.

Granted, it is nearly impossible to gather certain kinds of historical information. Still, how can I pretend to speak with any authority on this morning as I drive if I have little clue who these people are, who those who came before them were? Will this essential ignorance doom my effort?

In front of the garage, three peonies have opened, pink and heavy. Another bud is ready to. All of these are on the end of the peony bed that is closest to the morning sun.

I cannot go on saying how lovely the village is in morning light. There! The post mistress raises our flag in front of the post office.

The corn fields definitely need cultivating. El Nino has been kind to the weeds as well as to the crops.

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