The last stop on our six week tour of Michigan was in the southeastern corner of the state. We camped at the Wayne County Fairgrounds, located about halfway between Ann Arbor and Detroit. Of our seven days in the area, we spent three at The Henry Ford Museum. Now, you would not be crazy to assume that a museum called The Henry Ford was all about cars, but it’s actually about much, much more. Think of it like the Smithsonian, but with an emphasis on the industrial age… and lots of other things.

The Henry Ford is actually made up of a number of different properties and there are an endless list of things to see and do during your visit. We decided to buy the “Main Attractions Package” which included visits to The Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory.

Greenfield Village

Greenfield Village is an outdoor campus filled with historic buildings, craft shops, and one-of-a-kind structures. The entire property is surrounded by a railroad track upon which an authentic steam powered train transports guests around the village.

The steam train at Greenfield Village
The black smoke it belched out was less charming…

What made Greenfield stand out were the craftspeople who were working in the various shops. We loved talking with them and, with only one exception (I’m lookin at you print shop lady…), they were happy to explain their crafts.

Honestly, looms are not something we generally get really excited about; we’re just not big into “loom life.” But, if you have someone there to explain how they work, and show you the differences between various types, and you can see the finished products as they’re created, it really does make a big difference… at least for us. And it turns out, looms are legit fascinating. Take this one built all the way back in 1801 which uses punch cards to control the design of the fabric:

A loom that uses punch cards at Greenfield Village
As the weaver works, the cards are drawn up to the top of the machine. A set of pins tries to cross the cards. If there’s a hole, the pin goes through the card. If there’s no hole, the pin doesn’t go through. The pins correspond to individual threads and, therefore, determine the design of the fabric.

These are the very same type of punch cards that eventually became the key to modern computing. Neat, right?

Or, take this guy… a tinsmith.

A tinsmith working at Greenfield Village

I had no idea tinsmithing was so fascinating, but here’s this guy rocking a mustache and beard that would put your average 25 year old hipster to shame, and he could not have been nicer in explaining to us – and the children in the room – how these products are made.

And, after he gave the little girl above one of his homemade duck-shaped cookie cutters, he gave me one too.

Because duck-wiches aren’t just for kids, you know!!

In addition to the potters and glassblowers and other craftspeople, the village is full of historic mills, churches, inns, and residences. There are the childhood homes of the Wright brothers, Noah Webster, and Henry Ford himself. And there’s an entire section devoted to the Menlo Park labs of Thomas Edison – shops that contain many of the machines he and his staff used, as well as the inventions they developed.

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Perhaps the coolest part was that, while walking down the sidewalks of this idyllic little village, there was a near constant stream of vintage Model Ts zipping by. Tourists can take rides in these old cars for $10 per person.

Model T at Greenfield Village

The Ford Rouge Factory Tour

The Rouge Factory (named for the Rouge River) was and is Henry Ford’s biggest and best known plant. Built between 1917 and 1928, the factory was the largest industrial complex in the world. When it was completed, it was a mile wide and mile and a half long, it contained 93 buildings and over 15 million square feet of floor space. Today, it is the factory that produces the Ford F150 pickup truck, the most popular truck in the U.S.

The Ford Rouge Factory Tour Building in Michigan

The tour starts with a movie about the history of the company. We were impressed that they acknowledged some of their controversial past directly – namely their history with unions and working conditions. We thought the movie was pretty even handed.

Visitors are then ushered into a second “4D” movie – this one about the design of the F150. This was pretty much just one big truck commercial, but I guess someone’s gotta pay for all this stuff.

Guests are then sent in an elevator up to a high floor to view the entire enormous facility. Here, you can see the factory’s “green roof.”

Over the past several decades, Ford has made efforts to be more environmentally conscious and stop wrecking everything. Additionally, because the facility grew so much over the years, and because Dearborn gets a lot of precipitation, and because the factory was built right next to a river, they were having problems with flooding in the buildings. The green roof and other environmental projects at the plant were designed to soak up and reclaim a lot of that rainwater to reduce the amount of runoff. As an added benefit, the mats on the roof provide natural insulation and protect the roof itself.

The last major stop on the tour is the actual factory. There’s a catwalk that encircles a large section of the facility and visitors are free to spend as long as they’d like watching the assembly line. Unfortunately, photos are prohibited. The pictures interspersed below are from the entrance hall.

A vintage Ford at the Ford Rouge Factory in Michigan

As you can imagine, the factory floor is immense, and it operates not only below you, but also above you. 1,000 employees work in the factory during each 10 hour shift. There are 2 shifts each weekday and one shift each day of the weekend. A new truck rolls off the line each minute. Putting all of that together, the factory produces 7200 vehicles each week.

From our perches on the catwalk we could see vehicles in various states of manufacture wind their way along endless conveyor belts, stopping for about 10 seconds at each work station. Employees have only that long to do their part before the vehicle moves on.

There are guides that walk the catwalks to answer questions (and make sure no one is taking photos). In speaking with them, we learned that the various tools the employees use are all tracked by a central computer system, so each employee is consistently analyzed for efficiency. As she said, “Big Brother is alive and well here at Ford.” She also told us any employee has the ability to stop the entire line to report a problem.

A vintage Ford at the Ford Rouge Factory in Michigan

As we were watching the workers do their jobs – going through the same motions over and over and over again – we asked the guide whether employees had the option of switching around to do different things. She said they did, but the vast majority liked doing the same job. She said they’d often wear headphones and just do their work while listening to music or an audiobook.

Everywhere we looked, there were interesting things going. Directly below the catwalk, a large robot with a single arm delicately and efficiently picked up brand new windshields and attached them effortlessly to vehicles coming down the line. Above us we saw an endless stream of doors hanging from a line like laundry drying in the sun. Down and to the left we watched truck beds that had not yet been married to their cabs floating down an assembly line, turning a corner, and then rising on an elevator before disappearing into another section of the factory. All the while, we watched a dizzying array of employees on forklifts zipping around the floor bringing needed supplies to the various work stations.

A Ford Mustang at the Ford Rouge Factory in Michigan

As we continued along the catwalk, we walked into a large, glass paneled room with a commanding view of another massive factory floor. There, we watched brand new, finished trucks coming to the end of the line for a series of quality control checks. There were component leak checks, rain water checks, and checks done by robots to ensure every measurement was correct. In the middle of the room, we saw employees entering these brand new cars and driving them to various stations for additional testing and analysis. When all of that was done, the trucks would be sent outside to a racetrack where they would be put through their paces.

We initially planned to visit this factory on the same day we visited the Ford Museum, but we spent so much time there, we put the museum off to another day. Maybe it’s just us, but we thought the whole experience was fascinating.

The Henry Ford

Finally, we visited the actual Henry Ford Museum. This has, as one might expect, lots of Ford related exhibits – old cars and new cars and everything in between.

But it also had a seemingly random collection of Americana – really important pieces like the Rosa Parks bus:

The Rosa Parks bus at The Henry Ford

and really interesting pieces like a collection of presidential limousines:

Collection of presidential limousines at The Henry Ford in Michigan

and really weird pieces like the chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot:

Chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when assassinated

Speaking of which, one of those limousines pictured above is the very same one JFK was assassinated in. Apparently, the Secret Service was like “Sure, we’ll just hose off the blood and keep using it…”

So weird.

Our sense with some of this stuff is that the museum has a lot of money on its hands and just wants to get people in the door. A museum about the industrial age and American innovation will appeal to some folks, but throw in some blood soaked furniture and they’ll be lining up out the door!!

Making a bit more sense, there were exhibits about the history of driving in America –

15 cent hamburger sign at McDonald's and 1950's vehicle

…how cars led to roads and roads led to interstates and interstates led to hotels and restaurants and drive-ins, and how it all led to Airstreams…

Vintage Airstream display at The Henry Ford

…which, when you think about it, all kinda led to this little project of ours…

“Nomads,” you say???

Speaking of which, what do you think? New tow car???

The Oscar Meyer Weiner-mobile at The Henry Ford

Anyway, as you can probably tell, we really enjoyed this whole experience. Overall, we liked Greenfield Village more than the museum, but that was because there were so many more docents and craftspeople available to talk to. The museum was more of a regular museum – with placards on the wall to discuss the item. In fact, the only place we saw a docent was on the Rosa Parks bus – and she was great! She made the whole thing more interesting. I just wish there were more people like her. Maybe they could explain why the items of my childhood are in a museum now…

Exhibit containing 1980's toys at The Henry Ford

Michigan Football

After all the history and learning, it was time for some football. I’d never actually been to a college football game since my school didn’t have a team. While going to a university located in the heart of a big city was a great experience and opened a lot of doors, I was always a bit jealous of people (like Kevin) who went to these huge schools with gorgeous campuses and die hard sports fans. Football is, obviously, huge at Michigan, so we decided to get tickets. On the upside, because it wasn’t a big important game, we were able to get really good seats for pretty cheap:

Football game at Michigan stadium
Not too shabby…

On the downside, Michigan crushed Rutgers so it wasn’t the most exciting game to watch. But it was still fun to be there and see all the traditions and school spirit.

Marching band on the field at University of Michigan football game

After the game, we met up with my former colleague, Jeff, and his wife and kids for a tour of the Michigan campus. They took us to the stunningly beautiful, Oxford-inspired law school quad and its reading room (which is open to all students and gawkers like us.) Then, they showed us the rest of the bustling campus and told us about their time there. It was really cool to see.

Jeff is extremely knowledgeable about Michigan and even writes a blog about all the best places to visit in the state. His articles provided much of the road map we used when traveling through the state this summer. If you’re ever thinking about heading there, it’s a great resource written by a local. Thanks again for all your help, Jeff!

Speaking of Michigan, later that week, we met up with some blog friends who are originally from there. Brian and Heather (Tinned Sokuls) have been traveling in their Airstream for about as long as us and have visited and photographed numerous gorgeous places. In fact, I would venture to guess that if you’re on the fence about making the trip up to Alaska, and you take a look at Heather’s blogs from their time there, like this one about seeing the Northern Lights, you’ll be planning your trip in no time.

Anyway, we met up with intentions of having a beer or two and heading home. Five and a half hours later we finally dragged ourselves away from the table and called it a night.

Needless to say, we had a great time and are hoping to cross paths with them again in the future.

Michigan – Final Thoughts

And with that, six weeks after crossing the state border, we exited Michigan to begin our trek south.

When planning our travels, I intentionally set aside a big block of time for Michigan. Over and over we were told that the state was special and we needed to spend a good amount of time there. We found that to be completely accurate.

Michigan offers a nice mix of small towns, beautiful natural parks, stunning scenery, one of a kind tourism opportunities, and great small cities. The food was delicious, the beer was phenomenal, the people were warm and welcoming, and there were a plethora of things to see and do.

I will say, we were happy to have gone at the tail end of summer and beginning of fall as we missed some of the craziest crowds and got some deals on camping. We also avoided the mosquitoes and black flies we heard nightmare stories about.

As for downsides, we noticed there was no recycling anywhere. Ever. We stayed at 8 different campground and not a single one of them offered recycling. Maybe there’s a reason for it, but it seemed odd – especially in a state renowned for its natural beauty. Finally, we were never able to stay at any of the Michigan state parks. Between the lack of sites available to accommodate large motorhomes, the high costs, and some questionable reviews, we never chose a state park over our other options. It wasn’t really a big deal, just something we noticed.

All in all, we had a fantastic time and agree with what others have said – this is a state worth spending several weeks, if not months, visiting.

Thanks for the great memories, Michigan!

Next up, southbound and a stop at the Flight 93 Memorial.


  1. Michigan looks great! Honestly, a lot of what you showed from The Henry Ford reminded me of New England. Colonial craftspeople, the Noah Webster House (like the one in West Hartford), etc. Glad you had fun and caught some good college football, too! See you soon!!

    • Yes, it definitely has a very New England feel – and I was telling Kevin that there was another Noah Webster house in Connecticut! Who knew he had so many?? Looking forward to seeing you!

  2. I also would have thought The Henry Ford would only be about cars, now I really want to visit it. I love the angle of the Mustang picture; I’m going to have to try that sometime. We saw the Oscar Myer Weiner car at the Hoover Dam, no idea why it was there … but I definitely think it would make you guys a good tow vehicle ☺

    • I feel like maybe there’s an entire untapped market out there for fun and unique tow cars! Someone needs to look into this. RVers are easily entertained, you know!!

  3. All I can say is your last several posts having me itching to get to Michigan! Maybe next fall. I’d love to visit the Ford plant. I had a 1997 F150 that had 249K miles on it when I got rid of it, nothing wrong with the motor or tranny, but New England winters can do some serious damage to the body! I was definitely a truck girl before I became a Jeep girl, lol. This has really been a great series of posts. Safe travels!

    • Michigan in the Fall would be wonderful and I am 100% sure you would love it. And yeah, I grew up in the northeast too and know exactly what you’re talking about. 250K miles on any car is impressive. That many miles on a car that got beat to hell every winter in New England? That’s truly impressive!

  4. After reading about your experience at the Rouge Factory, I’m kinda wishing that I went there—although the whole ‘Big Brother’ aspect of continually evaluating worker efficiency is disturbing! Eric went and enjoyed it, but his report back to me wasn’t nearly as compelling as yours, LOL.

    Like you guys, we had a great time at the Henry Ford and Greenfield Village. We were so caught up in the reenactors event during our visit to the village that we didn’t spend a lot of time in the crafts area, but what we saw was excellent. I remember talking with a wonderful woman potter, but I missed the engaging presentation by the print shop lady, haha!

    • I swear, if we lived closer, we would be members of that place and go to many of their special events – like reenactments – that happen all the time. I’m jealous you got to see one just by chance, and would absolutely do the same if we got the same opportunity. We were talking to one of the employees who was telling us about their Halloween and Christmas stuff and it all sounded like a ton of fun. It would be wonderful to be able to go to that stuff and not feel like you were missing out on the regular museum. And yes, we really enjoyed the Ford Factory. While I couldn’t imagine working there – for several reasons – it was still really neat to see.

  5. Great post Laura…’re right, everyone sees different things so each person’s blog gives unique and interesting information on the same damn place! We didn’t interact much with the individual crafts people at the Village. After visiting several other, similar recreations (Williamsburg, Sturbridge Village, Genesee Country Village) I figured I had been there, done that. Evidently I missed things. Thanks for taking us inside! Also, the direction we chose to walk through took us to the crafts section last, it was near closing time, and I was exhausted by then. I just wanted to “experience” the place and keep moving. We loved the factory tour, hated the no photography rule, and loved the museum (although I took from it what was interesting and walked past what was not) so, all in all, a very special stop on this year’s travels.

    • I agree. This place was a very special stop for us too. It’s rare we spend 3 of 7 days in any one spot, and if we could have, we would have spent 7 more. We really only saw a tiny portion of each place. I’m glad you guys enjoyed it as well. There truly is something for everyone there!

  6. I would never of even thought to go to the Henry Ford Museum, but it looks very interesting! We LOVED Michigan this summer and can’t wait to go back. So much we didn’t get to see, even though we spent 5 weeks there. 🙂 Off to read the blogs you posted.

    • Yup, I am quite convinced we could spend several months there and never get bored. It has a great mix of the the things we love and different landscapes to keep things interesting.I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it too!

  7. So glad you too enjoyed the three must-do tours at the Henry Fords. Since you were fascinated at the F150 tour, I would recommend that you check out BMW Zentrum Museum in Spartanburg, SC if it is on your route heading south. The BMW tour was excellent and you get down to the floor and a bit closer to the assembly line. You do need a reservation ahead of time.
    We agree Pure Michigan is actually a beautiful state even if we only toured the eastern and upper half of it.
    I just caught a glimpse of your wedding pic on your Instagram, Cheers on your anniversary and here’s to the next 14 or 20 years!

    • Thanks for the tip on the BMW facility. I’ll definitely keep it on our list for when we’re there. Sadly, we won’t be heading through South Carolina this fall, but we have plenty more exploring to do there at some point. I would absolutely love to get up closer to the assembly line, so it sounds great! And thank you for your good wishes. I know you know of what I speak! 🙂

  8. The Ford factory tour sounds fascinating, and a great way to appreciate why Tesla has had so much trouble getting a car business off the ground with appropriate levels of quality and consistency. Factory efficiency is really an art form honed over many decades of experience. You two look happy and well rested despite the fact that RVing years are apparently equivalent to dog years. I am so glad that your summer ended up being full of so many wonderful new experiences after the disastrous trip east (and in spite of a certain canine’s GI issues).

    • It sorda feels like this has been “a tale of two halves of one year.” The first was full of places we’d been before and godawful weather. The second has been full of new experiences and much improved weather. And we seem to have turned a corner on Thor, so that has gotten better as well. It’s interesting how this stuff seems to happen in groups – good and bad.At least, things finally seems to be going in the right direction.

      It’s funny you mention Tesla. When we were in DC, we were talking to one of our friends who recently bought one. The thing sounds amazing and after all this gas guzzling we’ve been doing, I can’t wait to at least get a hybrid car, if not a fully electrical one. A Tesla would be wonderful, but they are, sadly, a tad pricey for us these days.

  9. What did the print shop lady do?!

    We will expect duck-shaped cookies next time we see you.

    I totally thought we were gonna see a bootleg photo from the factory LOL Are people/employees allowed to go out on the grass roof like a lawn? I love roof-top gardens.

    You guys done good in six weeks! Thanks for all the tips & links that will surely make our future travels that much more enjoyable!

    • Oh, print shop lady was just sick and tired of giving the same spiel to dippy tourists and she didn’t even try to hide it. I can imagine having to go through the same explanation over and over would be boring, but still… it’s kinda your job and hell, check out what the folks at the factory are doing. Same thing over and over. Do they complain? No. Ok, well, sometimes they go on strike, but that’s not the point. The point is, cheer up, lady!

      Anyway, I do not believe people can walk on those mats. We didn’t see anyone out there and they didn’t mention it. I think it really is mostly focused on flood prevention efforts – with a side order of good corporate P.R.

  10. We have been to Michigan a few times and loved each experience. We only visited the Henry Ford Museum which was wonderful. The village didn’t do much for John (I would have loved it). It reminded him of Williamsburg, Virginia where he spent a lot of time touring with groups from his school. I am sorry we didn’t visit the factory, and I don’t know why. We love watching things made. We’ve done the Corvette, BMW, and Harley factories. We even did the John Deere combine factory and loved it! We don’t even farm!! Haha!

    Sweet that you got to do a Michigan football game. That is a gorgeous campus. We usually tour any college campus wherever we are. We loved this campus. I felt badly for those going the Michigan State. Their campus didn’t compare. Sounds like a wonderful six weeks.

    • We would love to tour any of the factories you mentioned. I’m still amazed they allow tourists in! But what a cool way to get people more engaged with your brand. Of course, some factory tours end with free samples – like Ben & Jerry’s and the Bourbon producers in Kentucky. I’m not saying Ford has to give everyone a car, but they should at least consider it.

      And I totally get John’s disinterest in the village. If I had to take a pile of students to one of those places year after year, you’d never get me back again. I’m still traumatized about art museums after just one field trip with my nephew’s class. Just kidding… kinda.

  11. Well, Michigan is the gift that keeps on giving! Who would have thought. I really want to go there after reading your posts. That Henry Ford Extravaganza looks excellent. I like the way they did the roof! Thanks for the tip about your friends Lifelong Michigander blog. I’ll check that out before heading up there. Happy travels!

    • We really did enjoy our summer up there and can’t imagine anyone NOT liking it. I mean – good food, good breweries, nice people, pretty sights, decent summer/fall weather… It’s kinda hard to beat! I hope you get up there one year and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

  12. After spending twenty years living in Chicago, I can vouch for the fact that Michigan is awesome. The lake beaches are wilder than those in Chicago and it was always a great place to get away for a weekend, or more. Lots of options….Ann Arbor is a pretty neat place. Love the cars.. remind me of the ones we saw while in Cuba.

    Interestingly enough, with regards to recycling, it turns out that most stuff actually CANNOT be recycled. Either because it was not cleaned or sorted properly or because most facilities are just totally over run with recycled materials. The only solution from an environmental point of view, that works, is to not buy plastics, such as water bottles and other single use plastics in the first place. Its a mess.


    • I agree. It is absolutely a mess. And, sadly, there are people actively trying to make all these problems worse. I had heard about the issue with China not wanting to buy our recycling anymore, but I hadn’t seen a lack of recycling containers until we got to Michigan. Most states have had at least some containers – maybe not at every campground, but this was the first time we didn’t see any containers anywhere. But, for all we know, all the stuff we’ve previously put in recycling containers has just ended up in a landfill anyway. Ugh. Depressing.

      Anyway, I can imagine how cool it would be to see all the old style cars in Cuba. Sadly, we can’t do that anymore, either. (insert eye-roll here…)

    • Honestly, we could have spent another two or three weeks just in Ann Arbor. There’s a ton to see and do…and eat….and drink…. 🙂

  13. Loved all of the posts from Michigan. I grew up in Michigan but have lived in Atlanta for the past 10 years. Now that we have a motorhome I am looking forward to getting back to MI and taking some time to see all of the sights. Your posts, along with the blog that you shared, will help in our planning.

    • You’re one of the few people I’ve known who grew up in Michigan and then moved away. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to spend so much time there. In my experience, people who are from there just love it and are so loyal. I’m sure it will be cool to get back and see it from the perspective of an RVer!

  14. It was so nice to meet you in person!

    I’m glad that you enjoyed your time in Michigan. Since I’ve lived here most of my life, I think I take it for granted. You make Michigan look good!

    I’m definitely going to have to do the Rouge Factory Tour, it sounds really interesting!

    • I think “taking where we live for granted” is just a given for most people. I think it’s hard to appreciate anything when you’re always there, but that’s been a nice thing about full time travel. It’s given us new appreciation for our old home even as we search for our next one. Anyway, we truly enjoyed Michigan and it was great to finally hang out. Hopefully we’ll cross paths again sometime soon!

  15. I lived in Michigan all my life until we did the RV thing 2017, and your posts have made me reconsider our decision to leave…until I remember the long dark cold winters. Still miss the breweries though, at least I can get most of my favorites here in Florida. A perfect life would be Michigan in the summer, Florida in the winter.

    • That would be a perfect snowbird lifestyle! I’d also consider Tucson in winter or Maine in summer. Honestly, there are several northern cities and states we would consider settling back down in if not for their winters. These days, we are unabashedly cold weather wimps and just cannot imagine going back to all that darkness and cold and gray. Not that we want to be roasting all the time, either. Hence, snowbirding! Or… just continuing to travel around in the RV… We’ll see. Anyway, Michigan was awesome and I totally get now why people love it so much.

  16. Thanks for a great tour of Michigan, we’ll be sure to allow enough time one of these days. We spent a day, years ago on vacation, we spent one day visiting Greenfield Village and Henry Ford, didn’t get to the factory, can’t wait to go back.

    • I think any visit to these places is worthwhile, but I would love to go back and spend two or three days at each of the major places. They are truly phenomenal museums. I hope you get back up to Michigan at some point and get to spend more time checking them out.


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