January 2008 Issue
How Do They Make That?
Factory tours let visitors see how their favorite products are manufactured.
Think back to when you were in grade school: those days when your parents had to struggle mightily to get you out of bed in the morning, and when every student prayed for snow in the hopes of a day off.
Remember how, miraculously, no one was ever absent on the day a field trip was scheduled?
That’s because those educational excursions promised a day filled with entertainment and wonder –– from learning the origins and fascinating statistics surrounding some fun local attraction, to seeing the heavy machinery and hustle and bustle behind a longstanding family business. (And, of course, a free sample or two at the end of a tour always made the visits even more enjoyable.)
Adults, too, can revel in the equivalent of a school field trip. Ohio is fortunate to have a number of companies that open their doors to visitors, allowing us to appreciate their effort and ingenuity.
So, make like you’re a student again and head for one of these four very different factory tours across the state. Although we can’t promise any free samples, you’re guaranteed to have a good time.
Some people refer to it as a silver bullet, a tin can or a mini submarine.
Others revere its distinctive design, pointing out that it was once worthy of a featured exhibit in New York’s famed Museum of Modern Art.
But no matter how you view the Airstream trailer, there’s no doubt that it’s become an iconic piece of Americana and a home away from home for millions of family campers and solitary adventurers.
The Airstream has been built in the southeast Ohio town of Jackson Center since 1952. Company founder Wally Byam, a man known for his ubiquitous blue beret and positive attitude, began constructing experimental recreational vehicles in the 1920s. The now easily identifiable, sleek and streamlined appearance of Byam’s Airstream trailer was based on a design created by Hawley Bowlus, chief designer of Charles Lindbergh’s airplane, the Spirit of St. Louis.
Six vintage Airstreams –– including Byam’s personal trailer, which once led a caravan to Africa –– are parked in front of the service center and gift shop in Jackson Center where all factory tours begin. After the tour guide presents a brief history of the company, visitors get to stroll through the production facility and watch up-close as workers build chassis, assemble those famous aluminum shells and painstakingly install living room, bathroom and kitchen components. Airstream (now owned by Thor Industries) is one of the few vehicle plants in the country that makes most of its parts, from cabinets to curtains, at one site.
A highlight of the tour is the water test booth, where the equivalent of five inches of pressured rain pummels a partially assembled Airstream for 20 minutes. If a leak is discovered, it’s back to the drawing board before anything else goes inside.
Onlookers can also witness 30 pounds of signature rivets being “bucked” by hand into the aluminum –– just as it was done when the original 1936 Clipper model was made.
It’s not hard to find an example of the careful craftsmanship and commitment to quality exhibited in Jackson Center: Two-thirds of all Airstreams ever built are still cruising down highways around the world. And it’s not just nostalgia lovers and retirees who consider themselves devotees. From Francis Ford Coppola and Tom Hanks, to Paris Hilton and a slew of NASA astronauts, more than a few celebrities refer to themselves as Airstream enthusiasts.
Not bad for a vehicle that’s been called a baby blimp on wheels.
, 419 West Pike St., Jackson Center, 877/596-6111. www.airstream.com
. Free tours are held Mon.–Fri. at 2 p.m., typically lasting 90 minutes; groups of 10 or more must call in advance. FYI: Visitors should not wear open-toed shoes, and earplugs and protective eyewear will be provided.Anthony-Thomas Candy Company
For chocoholics eager to peruse the Anthony-Thomas Candy Company in Columbus, a quick note of caution: While strolling the elevated, glass-enclosed catwalk, you’re liable to swoon upon seeing the huge vats of rich, melted chocolate down on the factory floor. And be careful that your knees don’t go weak when you witness maraschino cherries individually placed in sumptuous cherry cordials.
In short, the visit could prove to be a deliciously dangerous experience.
The candy company traces its roots to Anthony Zanetos, a Greek immigrant who came to the United States in 1907. Zanetos was a candy maker’s apprentice, restaurant owner, and confectionery and ice cream maker before opening the Anthony-Thomas Candy Company in 1952. Today, the business is still very much a family endeavor: Zanetos’ 80-something son, Thomas, still works there every day as a consultant; relatives running day-to-day operations include three sons and a granddaughter (named Candi, of course); and though still in school, fifth-generation family members are getting to know the operation from the production line up.
Visitors also learn the fundamentals of the job while on a tour of Anthony-Thomas. During a short introduction, friendly and funny tour guide Ross Fillmore explains how, first, cocoa beans are grown in West African rainforests before the raw product is shipped to the plant in “unmarked trucks so chocoholics don’t hijack them.”
Once it arrives, Anthony-Thomas employees have two methods for making their chocolate delectables: molds and enrobing. Enrobed candies are made by covering nuts, sandwich cookies, graham crackers or other treats with tasty chocolate. To make a molded candy piece, melted chocolate is poured into molds shaped like a heart, poker chip, tennis racquet or any of a zillion other forms –– including such unique custom requests as chocolates shaped like human brains, courtesy of one creative advertising agency. Tour guide Fillmore calls the company’s busiest Easter production period, during which popular bunny molds are filled and sealed, “the night of a 1,000 rabbits.”
The tour winds through production areas such as the kitchen, where raspberry fillings and other sweet stuff are created (the chocolate is never really cooked); and the hypnotic spot where giant blobs of fudge are extruded by machines, “just like in a Play-Doh factory,” Fillmore says. All the while, quality-control workers in white coats and hairnets scurry about, testing and tasting.
The trip wisely ends with a visit to the gift shop, where guests can purchase decadent English Toffees and silky Butter Creams, displayed in glass cases like fine jewels. And for visitors who enjoy sports as much as sweets, the peanut butter and milk chocolate mounds known as Buckeyes –– an officially licensed product of The Ohio State University –– are sure to hit the spot.
Anthony-Thomas Candy Company
, 1777 Arlingate Lane, Columbus, 877/226-3921. www.anthony-thomas.com
. Free tours are held Tues. and Thur. 9:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.; tours for groups of 10 or more available any day, by appointment only.
Warther Carving Museum and Knife Factory
Master carver Ernest (“Mooney”) Warther had wild Albert Einstein hair and a mind that would have impressed the genius himself. Need proof? Take a tour of the Warther Carving Museum and Knife Factory in Dover, home to Mooney Warther’s intricate carvings of historical steam train models in ivory, ebony and walnut –– complicated whittlings that awe even today’s noted mathematicians, and that have earned Warther a place among the world’s most unique craftsmen.
The eight-acre complex was constructed around Warther’s original 1912 workshop. Knives and carving long played an important role in his life: At five years old, Warther became transfixed by a pocketknife he found in the dirt, and by age 17, he was making expertly constructed kitchen knives for his mother.
Throughout his life, Warther’s superior knife-making skills would translate into the creation of a stunning collection of meticulously crafted works, including the 65 trains on display in the museum. From The Empire Express (the largest working ivory carving in the world) to the haunting Lincoln Funeral Train, every nut, bolt, bell and whistle is reproduced in miniature. The museum also spotlights Warther’s exquisite wooden canes and his famous Pliers Tree: 511 interconnected working pliers, carved with 31,000 cuts from one block of wood into the shape of a tree.
During a tour of the Warther Knife Factory, visitors can watch third- and fourth-generation Warthers further the legacy of quality craftsmanship as they produce the trademark knives that are staples in many Ohio kitchens. (Warther’s even customizes knives for left-handed cooks.)
The factory hums with the sound of grinding, polishing, sanding and smoothing, as no automated machinery is used in production. Rust-resistant, high-carbon tool steel is hand-rolled on a hand-operated mill, and factory workers give each knife a convex grind –– an old-fashioned method that’s now considered lost to technology. Guests also peek in as Vermont birch handles are attached to an assortment of tools, including paring, butcher, boning, slicing, carving and French Chef knives.
For many years, Warther (who died in 1973) rose several hours before he went to work in a steel mill, desperate to find any spare moment of time to carve what the Smithsonian Institution now calls “priceless works of art.” The museum and factory offer a closer look at his obsession.
The Warther Carving Museum and Knife Factory
, 331 Karl Ave., Dover, 330/343-7513. www.warthers.com
. Admission $10.50, children 7–17 $6, age 6 and under. Winter hours (Jan. 1–Feb. 28): Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Last tour begins at 3 p.m.; tours are about one hour, and begin about every 15 minutes.
The Creegan Company
It may be hard to recall, but there was a time before video game systems, iPods and laptops were plugged in at every home. A time when children’s entertainment was far less complex, no less engaging and –– due to its encouraging youngsters to use their imaginations –– was arguably more educational in its purpose.
It was a period when puppets with colorful personalities provided hours of enjoyment for kids.
Inspired by those humble characters, the first animatronic attractions were created. Soon, holiday store windows and malls featured animated Christmas carolers who sang, Easter rabbits that hopped and Halloween goblins whose eyes glowed red.
The Creegan Company in Steubenville was a pioneer of that world. George R. Creegan, the company’s founder, was a children’s television producer before becoming a nationally known puppeteer, serving as the go-to animatronics guy for such big-name clients as Sea World, Disney World, Hershey’s Chocolate World and Las Vegas casinos. Creegan’s company has long come to the rescue for industry giants seeking a touch of whimsy, producing everything from fuzzy yellow chicks that pop out of eggs for springtime displays, to Italian pizza makers with curly black moustaches that welcome diners to restaurants.
Sophisticated technology has replaced much of the earliest animatronics, although the Creegan Company still creates computer-controlled and pneumatically driven characters. Now, costumed mascots and costume making (think Santa Claus and Easter Bunny suits) are just as important to the business.
For nostalgic value, tour participants won’t find anything comparable to Creegan anywhere else in Ohio. The three-story building, once a Montgomery Ward department store, is a trip down memory lane, where animatronic pirates, animals and angels still perform. Visitors walk past displays of laughing cows and talking pigs, before roaming a sewing room filled with bolts of fabric and miles of ribbons. Storage shelves of face and head molds, various assorted “body parts,” giant costumed character heads –– a tour of Creegan allows a peek into the birthplace of countless colorful characters.
One of the most endearing things about any visit to the Steubenville factory is its absence of the latest technological wonders. This is a spot where guests can appreciate the history of puppetry, recalling childhood memories of staring in wonder at awe-inspiring department store window displays at Christmastime.
Or, thanks to The Creegan Company’s perfect mix of education and entertainment, just fondly relive the enjoyment of going on an old-fashioned factory tour.
The Creegan Company, 510 Washington St., Steubenville, 740/283-3708. www.creegans.com. Factory tours $1; Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Reservations requested, but not required; large groups by appointment only.