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Full Circle

Day 236: Seattle to Vancouver

Michael Palin - Full CircleSeattle, the third largest of the America's great Pacific coast ports, is 680 miles north of San Francisco, and within 130 miles of the Canadian border. Despite all the buses and trains and helicopters and motorboats and sailing boats and canoes and red Morgan sports cars, we have only been able to take strides like this thanks to good old boring jet aircraft. Without them we would probably still be foundering in the jungles of Borneo and our wives and families would not have clapped eyes on us for a year. So it seems only right that in our headlong race to the finish we should pause for a moment to give thanks at one of the temples of air travel.

The final assembly plant at the Boeing factory in Everett could probably accommodate most of the temples we've visited on this journey and still have room for a football pitch. It covers 90 acres and is the largest building, by volume, in the world. (The Pentagon in Washington has the largest 'footprint', i.e. actual floor space, but less height.) It is home to some of the great statistics of the world, all carefully detailed in a Fact Sheet for visitors. My favourite concerns the computer-controlled automated riveting machines. 'Each of the ten machines can drill, ream, countersink, insert, squeeze and shave smooth one rivet every ten seconds.' Pure poetry.

What strikes me most about this great assembly area where (I feel a statistic coming on), eight 747s can be finished, side by side at the same time, is that from the moment I pass the hangar doors - each of which is the size of an American football pitch - the place is as quiet as a library. Some of the most enormous machines made by man (make up your own statistics here) are produced in near silence. There are noises, the hiss of hydraulics, the hum of fans, the brief whoop of a high-speed drill, but they die swiftly, almost apologetically. Parts are carried around on noiseless buggies, employees cycle round the plant on bikes or tricycles. There is no dirt or dust and virtually no smell. This is not really a factory, it's an environment.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 236
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Everett - Washington
  • Book page no: 308

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