My World Wednesday: Factory Tours

My area is known as the Factory Tour Capital of the World. Yeah, that’s a bit extreme but there are some really fun, informative and tasty factory tours here. Let’s start with the big daddy of all tours, the Harley Davidson plant.

If you heard the names William Harley and Arthur Davidson separately, you might not realize who these guys were; put the names together and you have the most famous motorcycle in the world. Their company began in 1903 in Milwaukee WI and their headquarters is still there. But in 1973, all assembly operations were moved to a huge plant in my area. They run a factory tour every weekday. They even allow visitors to take the bikes for a spin on the test track. Nono, I’m making that up. But they do allow you to sit on a bike. After the tour, visitors get to spend time in their gift shop. You don’t have to be a hard core biker to want a Harley t-shirt. In fact, it is always good just to buy a shirt for everyone on your gift list.

Hershey Chocolate’s Chocolate World offers a “simulated factory tour ride.” You can learn all about the chocolate making process here. They used to allow visitors into the actual plant and I can still remember the smell of the chocolate. The simulated tour doesn’t have the same impact but they do still give you a Hershey Bar at the end. If you’re tired at the end of the tour, you can book a chocolate spa treatment at the Hotel Hershey. Just think, head to toe covered in warm gooey chocolate. Is it a yum or a yuck?

Snyder’s Pretzels has been around since 1909 and they are still going strong. They offer a factory tour with samples all along the way. They have an outlet store where you can buy their products for very, very low prices. It is hard to come away from there without bags of pretzels.

Even if you don’t have access to Utz Chips in your area, you’ve probably seen their logo on the backboards of various East Coast sports arenas and stadiums. The Utz tour will teach you how potato chips are made. They should know a lot about that since they can produce 14,000 pounds of chips in one hour. Just as the smell of chocolate is in the air in Hershey, as you drive up the street in this neighborhood, you can’t avoid the smell of frying chips. Utz also has a factory outlet store and they sell freshly made chips that haven’t even been bagged at the local farmers’ market.

The Wilton Armetale factory tour is especially interesting and doesn’t involve putting on weight. They’ve been manufacturing metal serving pieces and tableware since 1892. You can see molten metal poured into their sand molds at 1200 degrees and then watch how they hand finish all their pieces. There is a factory store that offers 60% discounts. Everything is a trade-off, isn’t it? Save your waistline and tempt your wallet here.

Today’s final tour is of the Family-Heirloom Weavers. If you subscribe to any old house magazines, I’m sure you’ve seen their work. With only 12 employees, this is one of the few remaining textile mills in the US. They use antique looms dating back to 1890. They weave ingrain carpets in authentic patterns, many of which are used in historic homes. They also weave coverlets following the patterns of weavers from generations ago. Their work is amazingly beautiful.

There are many more factories in my area offering tours but you’ve probably never heard of them. And many of the real factories have closed and moved their operations to other countries. I always try to buy local when I can. I hope that you try to do that too. By the way, you can order any of these products online. Any except the Harley but you'd probably want to take a test drive first anyway.