By Robert Schwarzli, President Ontario TDR
So you heard about the Turbo Diesel Registry (TDR) tour to the Warren truck factory, right? Well did you know there was a part two? Our second destination would make Ram truck lover’s knees weak. What could be amazing enough to even dare be spoken about in the same category as the amazing Warren Tour? How about the ultimate engine factory and a trip to the sacred land of all diesel engines? This place pumps out the commercial duty motors that power your Ram truck and produce the torque to wrinkle the asphalt and pull your house off its foundation. That’s right; the TDRs next stop was the Cummins Midrange Engine Plant (CMEP) in Columbus, Indiana.
When arriving at the Holiday Inn in Columbus, what we saw was beyond words. There were Ram trucks everywhere. The parking lot was full of Rams of all body styles, engines, and colors, with every truck sporting different accessories. It was like a family reunion for the trucks. After checking into the hotel, we were off to CERAland to pick up our event registration packets.
Now for those that don’t know what CERAland is, let me try to give justice to what this place is about. CERAland is the Cummins Employee Recreation Area. It is the ultimate outdoor resort for Cummins employees and retirees. For the TDR, this would be our home base for the next few days, and ground for those camping. What is so special about CERAland you ask? It’s just a trailer park, right? Wrong. Picture this:
Located on 345 acres in the middle of the hilly South Indiana countryside, CERAland offers its guests a private go cart track, camping, boating, basketball courts, baseball diamonds, football fields, golfing, fishing, horseshoe pits, mini golf, RC airstrip, Volleyball courts, shuffleboard court, fitness center, a skeet range, and even its own water park. Talk about great accommodations for the group!
When we arrived at CERAland, we had our second wave of Ram fever. We pulled into the main parking lot and the TDR group had started a Ram truck show with over 300 Ram trucks in attendance. Nearly every model and color of Cummins Ram was represented, right back to 1989. After drooling over all of the trucks, we finalized registration, and joined the giant ice cream event – there was a full ice cream truck set up for unlimited ice cream consumption for the entire group! After popsicle and ice cream consumption reached near dangerous levels (thanks in part to the sunny 95 degree day), we proceeded back to a car wash and then to the hotel to get some much needed rest.
Friday morning came to the neighborhood with the sound of 100 Cummins trucks starting up and heading to Cummins Engine Manufacturing. Cummins Midrange Engine Plant is an assembly plant, 100% dedicated to the assembly of motors for Ram. At an average of 100,000 motors a year, this is a diesel lover’s ultimate destination. By 7:00 am, over 425 TDR members and their trucks had descended on the rural assembly plant of CMEP for the day’s activities. My group started off with a seminar on plant history with Wayne “Rip” Ripberger, the plant manager. After our history session, we were off to our next seminar: How to properly maintain your Cummins Ram engine.
The next stop for our group was a tour of the plant floor. Now, this is not just a plant – it’s a world class facility that is almost clean enough to eat off the floor. Watching close to 400 engines working their way down the assembly line is breathtaking. From bare block, to camshaft and crankshaft installation, right down to the paint booth and quality check, this is a full assembly plant.
One thing that’s very nice to see is the attention to detail that the craftspeople at Cummins take. Cummins has a reputation for building the best engines in the world, and we got first-hand experience on what they do. Every engine is tested in a sound chamber, where high sensitivity microphones listen for any sound that should not be there. Every part of every engine is inspected for signs of inferior quality. Randomly off the assembly line, engines are pulled and run through a battery of tests to ensure maximum quality. Some are even run in a test cell for over 40 hours, and then torn apart and inspected for signs of inferior workmanship and parts. Now that is dedication to quality. By the time the tour of the plant floor was over, we all had a new respect for the engines in our Ram trucks, and a better understanding on how the engines live up to their designed life of 1,000,000 miles. I think it is fair to say the engineers over at the “other” two manufacturers do not put that much thought into their engines.
Once the tour of the plant floor was complete, we were off to a question and answer session with the Cummins engineers. We were able to ask detailed questions regarding the engines, emissions systems, designed durability of the engines, and the future emissions laws.
By the time the tech session was over, we were once again hungry, and timing was perfect for lunch. Lunch for our group would be shared with the Cummins employees off the assembly line, and would be complimented with a show of all of the Ram trucks. To top it all off, Ram brought out the Raminator monster trucks and proceeded to pulverize a few unfortunate non Chrysler vehicles. Talk about lunch and entertainment to go with it!
After lunch, our next stop was a product information seminar with Ram. They covered some of the newest truck options ranging from the high quality interiors of the new Ram Longhorn Edition, the off road capability of the Power Wagon, and even a sneak peak of the option on the new Ram Long Haul Edition. For those that have not seen the Long Haul, it’s based off a Long Bed Mega Cab, but Ram added full front and rear air ride suspension, integrated 5th wheel and goose neck hitch, quad bucket interior with Longhorn Edition trim, 19.5-inch Alcoa wheels, an 800 ft/lbs Cummins engine, and to top it all off, a 170-gallon fuel tank. Not only can you now tow your house down the road with your powerful Ram, you can tow it all the way from New York to Texas without stopping to refuel!
After listening to all the talk of the new Rams, doesn’t it make you wish you could test one? Well, we all sure did, and Ram did not disappoint. Anticipating the thirsting need to test a Cummins Ram after the fantastic presentation, Ram had brought along five Rams for us all to test. To top it all off, Cummins and Ram built a test track incorporating both on- and off-road bits for us to get the full feel of the new trucks. From off-road articulation reaching a point where you felt your brain trying to slosh out of your ear to near vertical hills making you look at the sky and feel like you’re in a space shuttle launch, and then looking at the ground like a diving eagle, they missed nothing. They even set up close to 20 railway ties for maximum suspension rebound testing. I think anyone who has not had the opportunity to test one of the new Rams needs to get out to a dealer to see what they are missing!
After the ride and drive, we were off to our last seminar: The history of Cummins and Ram delivering the first Cummins Ram back in the summer of 1988, put on by Troy Simonson (Retired – Chrysler engineering) and John Keele (Retired – Cummins Engineering). What an opportunity to be able to hear the story of how Ram ended up with the only Commercial Duty engine that was available in a pickup.
Last stop on our Cummins tour was a group photo on the manicured front lawn of the Cummins plant. One vehicle representing each generation was chosen to be a part of the photo, as well as the first Cummins Ram off the assembly line; followed by a photo shoot with all of the first generation Rams (1989-1993) that attended the event.
With that it was off to CERAland for a large BBQ dinner, as well as some activities around CERAland. The few who stayed late got to hear firsthand, undocumented stories of the early years of both Dodge and Cummins engineering told directly from Cummins and Dodge engineers. It would be after midnight before they would be heading for some rest before Saturday’s trip out to the race track.
Saturday began with a sight that was beyond imagination: A 300-truck long cruise with the destination of Lucas Motorsports Park in Indianapolis, Indiana. Once the group arrived at the track, we were in for a full day of drag racing, sled pulling, dynometer pulls, and shopping at the vendor’s midway. Most large aftermarket vendors were represented, offering products’ ranging from performance clutches, wheels and tires, and general accessories. It was a pick up lover’s paradise.
After a full day at the track, the day came to a close. It was the end of the 2011 TDR Rally, and the following morning, a cruise back home with the Ontario Chapter of the TDR.
In closing, I would like to say a special thank you to the following people:
From Ram: Fred Diaz and the Ram Team
From Warren: Jason Ryska, Janet van Havermaat, Dominic Ventola, and the rest of the Warren plant staff
From Cummins: Wayne “Rip” Ripberger, Sena Adekpuitor, Tracey Embree, Lanre Ige, and Dave Gowin
Without these people, our tours never would have taken place. My sincere appreciation and thanks for their efforts, and hard work in helping to make these two tours possible.
Keep those trucks shiny side up.