Tuesday, June 01, 2004

APRIL 22, 2004, cont'd

I have been touring IEI in Emmetsburg with its president, Michael Webb. IEI makes countertops and cabinets, many of them for motorhomes made by Winnebago Industries. We are out in the plant along Highway 18 at the east edge of Emmetsburg.

We stopped so Michael could show me a "shipping container" used for sending out finished parts. Those table tops I'd seen get shipped standing on edge, between rubber covered posts that keep them standing up without damaging or marking them. "We deliver each of these carts for a specific workstation at Winnebago, so it will have all the parts it needs for a day's worth of production, and typically we ship it one day before they need it."

"We extract our order once a week from Winnebago and make parts based on that order," Michael said. "Every part we make for them has a serial number that corresponds to an RV they're building. Our software coincides with Winnebago's software. This cart is for Workstation 803B/3 at Winnebago, for production tomorrow."

"Responsiveness to our customers is critical," Michael said.

"We wrote our own software system to handle Winnebago's order, then to generate the code to make the specific parts needed."

Supervisors get a list of what needs to be done each day. Each workstation has a team leader and monitors its own progress. Overall, there's a production manager and an assistant production manager to see that work flows smoothly.

Now we're at the back of the building, where staining of pieces is done. Michael has been carrying a piece of wood with him all through the plant. It is the sample they have to match for Winnebago's new "light cherry" finish. He held it up to some stained pieces that had been hung up to dry. An exact match. He took it over and showed it to the fellow in the spray booth who puts the finish on the wood. "They dry right like the sample," Michael told the fellow, then he put the sample down on a work bench over to the side, for future reference.

Fumes from the spray booth get filtered out of the air and new air gets pulled into the work area to create a positive air pressure in the area where staining is done and the final finish coat applied. The positive pressure keeps sawdust and debris from coming into the work area and marring the surfaces being finished.

"The staining group here has to communicate closely with finishing, to push what is needed in finishing for shipment," Michael said.

Michael and I walked back through the storage area. "Those are pieces of Corian," Michael said, pointing to materials in storage. "They're 30 inches wide by 12 feet long." Farther on he saw something he didn't like, I think, and talked about it to the fellow who was helping get a semi unloaded. It would be taken care of.

We stood and talked for a bit, Michael and I, amongst the apparent chaos of work getting done on the shop floor.

"The company was sales only when we were founded," Michael said. "I grew up in the business. I grew up on job sites." His parents, Ken and Rose Webb, moved the business to Emmetsburg from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1982 when they needed to add the manufacturing element. Michael has a sister who is interested in running the company, and a brother who worked in the business until two years ago when he stepped out to establish a similar business of his own in another geographical area.

Michael is president of IEI; his parents retired three years ago and are supposed to be retired but they get pulled back into the business because of recent growing pains. "We need to get them back in retirement," Michael said.

Now that's a good problem to have, I thought.


The Emmetsburg Writers Club meets at the Lakeside Lutheran Home in Emmetsburg, in a room just inside the main entrance. I'd finished my tour at IEI in time to arrive for the meeting right on schedule. It was 4:00 p.m.

Soon enough several women gathered around the table and we shared our work and offered each other comments and suggestions. I read from The Big Book of Ben Zen as Myram Tunnicliff, who'd invited me, had requested, and I answered questions about that quirky fellow. Janice Kassel was working on another meditation for the religious radio program she speaks on, and she read from it. Liz Culligan offered some "Grandma's Musing." Cecilia Miller, whom I'd met at the Chamber of Commerce Dinner on Tuesday, talked of "Spring," and none too soon as the day had turned summer-like and we had to open windows in the meeting room to let a cool breeze blow through. Jovena Curran told of treasure-hunting in a thrift store with her sister. Mary Ellen Leners, former librarian at the Emmetsburg Public Library, spoke of family recipes, including one for cookies made by a strict teetotaler; the "secret" ingredient was whiskey. And Myram Tunnicliff read her piece about a mine explosion that had occurred when she and her family lived in Alaska: five of the Tunnicliffs' friends were killed in the accident. Her true telling of it sounded like good fiction but it was too true, ever sad word of it.

Ed Meyer of Emmetsburg's web site stopped by to tell members of the group how to post submissions to the local web page. Cecilia Miller has figured it out. She has several poems up that you can see by clicking on "Heartland View" at www.emmetsburg.com .



(501 W. Third #12, Smith Center, KS 66967)

How old is Ivan Burgess? "I am so old," he said, "that if sex was an offensive football team I couldn't make a first and ten against tall grass."

"Here is a true story of Smith County wildlife," Ivan wrote. "John McDowell and Bob Kastle went mushroom hunting. While they were hunting mushrooms, they heard this growling and snarling and spitting and all them kind of noises. They looked up in a tree and saw a bobcat was after a coon. They said that while they were watching, the coon actually threw that bobcat out of the tree. When the bobcat landed, it decided it had all of Mr. Coon it wanted, and it took off."

"One of my favorite Smith Center stories," said Ivan, "is the time when power company manager Deke Divens looked at Ed McFadden's time card and it showed Ed had worked 25 hours one day. Deke said to Ed, 'how could you work 25 hours in one day?' Ed said, 'I skipped lunch.'"

"I wish I had some influence so I could peddle it," Ivan said. "About any place I am any more, the only claim to fame I have is that I am the oldest one in the group. Think about it - I have no accomplishments to parade before the group - just that I am the oldest one there. And I'll tell you, being honored because you are the oldest one there is a hollow victory at best."

"I went out and played golf last Thursday afternoon," Ivan reported. "I took an 8 on one and an 8 on two and an 8 on nine. Then I had trouble on the rest of the holes."

"Jim Fetters was telling about an old time judge down in eastern Kansas," Ivan said. "He told the guy who was appearing before him that he ought to be ostracized and that he himself would hold one leg while they done it."

"Things are moving slowly in Athol," according to Ivan. "Gerald Ratliff said that last week all he knew of that was going on was that the Co-op was spraying. And they had their inventory all counted up and were ready to do the adding up."

"Linton Lull didn't show up for the As the Bladder Fills Club meeting last Thursday," Ivan said. "Apparently his wintering in Arizona made him forget some of the ground rules governing the As the Bladder Fills Club. The age of the group makes it imperative that when you miss a meeting you are supposed to let someone know, because with the new Privacy Act we never know when someone is in the hospital. Friday morning Linton showed up and showed proper repentence for his oversight. No disciplinary action was taken."

"You notice I don't say 110%" said Ivan. "You can't do that. It is impossible to give more than 100%. That giving 110% is just like Mary having a little lamb. It is a biological impossibility."

"Got a coon up in my neighborhood," Ivan reported. "The first time I saw him/her, she was facing my cat eye-ball to eye-ball. I yelled at her/him and he/she took off. Last Thursday night he came back again. It was about eleven o'clock. I opened the door and Miss Kitty bolted in to safety. I yelled at the coon and he/she just sat there. I yelled several times but the coon never did act like he was 'fraid of me. After I yelled at him loud enough to wake up the whole neighborhood, he finally ambled off like he owned the place. I was in my shorts and no shoes, or I would have grabbed a rake and took after him/her. And it wasn't because I didn't have my brithces on. It was because I was bare-footed. If I'd had shoes on, the whole neighborhood would have been treated and greeted by me chasing the coon in my Fruit of the Looms."

"Stay ahead of the posse," Ivan said to end his report, as he always does.


JUNE 1, 1998

While we were out of town over the weekend, high winds - as heavy as 70 mph - moved through Wisconsin. The only damage in Fairwater seems to be the very large, very old, very punky silver maple that stood at the corner of Mary's mother's property. Fortunately when it blew down it fell into the empty lot between Mary's mother's house and the neighbor's. No one was injured. Power was out for the neighbor's for about 12 hours, however.

Some cornfields have water standing in them this morning. Some corn badly needs cultivating. The fields of peas are thick and green.

Between Five Corners and Union Street, the basement for the new house has been dug. A school kid rides his bike towards town in the wrong lane, then veers back into my lane right in front of me. I have to stand on the brakes to avoid hitting him. Life is short enough without such recklessness.

Or conversely, life is too short not to be reckless?

A bright sun, a fresh day, a new month - and no indication in the air that storms had rolled through here on the weekend.

The day throbs, innocent as the fair-skinned girl in white dress, in full sunlight, with mischief on her mind.

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