For years the CurbCrusher family has been traveling through Ocala on I-75 and off on the east side of the interstate around Exit 354 there are always a bunch of fire trucks sitting there. The reason is that E-One, a fire truck manufacturer is based on Ocala. So on the way to Paynes Prairie we decided to stop and take the factory tour. E-One offers factory tours Monday – Friday at 0900 and 1100. The tour cost $8.00 per adult and $6.00 for kids, last about an hour and a half, and involves walking around the factory campus located right off I-75. One thing to note is that there is really not any RV parking at the place. We ended up parking the Itasca in the parking lot of a Florida Department of Revenue building (it appeared to be converted from a grocery store, so it had a big empty parking lot) and unhooking the Saturn and driving the mile or two to E-One. There are no pictures, as the E-One web site says “No cameras or cell phones.” As we started the tour, our guide told us that we were welcome to take pictures of anything outside the buildings, but could not use our cameras inside the buildings. Wish I’d known that.
CurbCrusher enjoyed the tour. Lady CurbCrusher and Little CurbCrusher both said it was “OK.” I was amazed that very little of the manufacturing process was automated. There is a lot of manual processes and labor that goes into building the fire engines. E-One produces about 400 engines a year at the Ocala location, and they build them from the ground up. I had figured that fire engines were probably like RVs to some extent, that a chassis was acquired from a manufacturer and then the fire engine built around it. Nope. They bring in the steel beams, a guy with a template and a drill puts some holes in them, then they start welding and building the frame. After they get it together, the move it along and take either a Cummins or Detroit Diesel engine out of a crate, put it together and add it to the frame. Another shop builds cabs and after a while they bring the things together. Another line puts together custom bodies built to the fire department’s specifications. At various points the fire trucks are inspected by representatives from the ordering department.
One of the nice things about the tour is that you are walking on the manufacturing floor. You’re not behind a glass wall, or walking over everything on a catwalk. At one or two points, you need to watch your step to make sure that you don’t trip over some poor guy up under a chassis bolting on parts. In my experience this is unusual, as most manufacturers seem to put some kind of barriers between the tours and the work going on. In addition there are a couple of chances for you to sit in a fire truck if you wish, and of course you get a chance to climb on one too. Overall, there is not a lot to not like about this tour.