Scores of factory tours all over the US draw throngs of visitors curious to witness the processes involved in producing such items as potato chips, bottles of beer, trucks, etc.
Most tours are free, take about an hour and are particularly popular destinations for those traveling by car. Some tour providers require reservations or ask that you call ahead to be sure the tour is definitely scheduled on that day, many don’t admit small children, most are handicapped accessible and others insist that you wear closed shoes. Directions to the factories are usually found on the companies’ Web sites. Some of my favorite factory tours…
In this factory located an hour outside San Francisco, you can go on a free 40-minute guided walking tour along the assembly line to see whatever candies — jelly beans, gummi critters, taffy, chocolates, etc. — are being made that day. At the end of the tour, you can taste all of them at a sampling bar and stay for lunch, coffee or ice cream in the plant’s visitor’s center.
Tours run daily from 9 am to 4 pm except holidays. On Saturdays and Sundays, production lines aren’t operating and may be viewed on video instead. Call ahead to check on the day’s tours.
Information: Jelly Belly Candy Company, Fairfield, California, 800-953-5592, www.jellybelly.com.
If you stop in at the last countertop-appliance factory in operation in the US, in Greenville, Ohio, you can see how hundreds of KitchenAid stand mixers and several of their attachments are produced every day. A guided walk takes you through every step — from assembly of the parts to painting, polishing and packing.
Visitors must be at least 12 years old and wear completely closed shoes. Tours are scheduled at 10 am and 1 pm on weekdays except on major holidays. No reservations are required, except for groups of eight or more, but call ahead to confirm that tours will run as planned. Cost: $5 per person.
Information: KitchenAid Experience, Greenville, Ohio, 888-886-8318, www.kitchenaid.com/experience.
These heavy-duty trucks are built before your eyes on a 1.5 mile walk through the huge Macungie, Pennsylvania, factory. Guides are company retirees who once manned the assembly line.
Tours are free, available Tuesdays and Fridays between 8 am and 1 pm, and take an hour and a half. Reservations are required.
Take another couple of hours to visit the nearby Mack Trucks Historical Museum in Allentown, where you’ll see a collection of models from the early 1900s to 1979, more than 80,000 photos and many pieces of memorabilia. Children under seven are not admitted on the tour. Closed shoes are required.
Information: Mack Truck, Macungie, Pennsylvania, 610-709-3566, www.macktrucks.com.
C.F. MARTIN GUITARS
Guitar aficionados will enjoy seeing these famous-name instruments go through all the stages of creation — from choosing the rough wood to bending the wood to polishing and inspecting the finished product.
About 200 guitars are produced daily in this Nazareth, Pennsylvania, factory, with free one-hour tours offered between 11 am and 2:30 pm, Monday through Friday. Closed shoes are recommended.
Save time for the Martin Guitar Museum for an exhibit of historic guitars and the chance to try out a sample guitar.
Information: C.F. Martin & Co., Nazareth, Pennsylvania, 610-759-2837, www.martinguitar.com.
MILLER BREWING COMPANY
Here’s where you will get an up-close look at Miller Beer in the making. First stop on your guided tour is the packaging center, where thousands of cans and bottles of beer are packed into boxes, then moved on conveyor belts to a distribution floor that sends out up to 8.5 million barrels of beer a year. Continuing to the brew house, you’ll see huge kettles where “wort” (liquid made from malted barley, corn grits and water) is boiled and combined with hops, then left to brew.
Next, down to the 150-year-old cold-storage caves that once served to keep the beer cold. Finish the tour with a stop at the Miller Inn, where everyone over the age of 21 is invited to try samples of cold beer while younger visitors are offered soda. Free tours are scheduled Monday through Saturday from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm in summer, and 10:30 am to 3:30 pm from Labor Day to Memorial Day. Note: Production lines don’t run on Saturdays and the company is closed most holidays.
Information: Miller Brewing Company, Milwaukee, 414-931-2337, www.millerbrewing.com.
You follow the raw ingredients in this big automated factory to see potatoes become potato chips, corn turn into popcorn or corn chips, and pretzels take shape. For potato chips, potatoes travel along conveyor belts through machines that wash, slice, cook, season and bag them. Then you get to taste them while they are still warm.
In the pretzel room, the dough is made in huge mixers and pressed through a die cast into the pretzel shape, then baked twice (a traditional crisping and browning method) in huge ovens. Meanwhile, the corn is popping in the popcorn room and you can see massive amounts of corn chips being bagged.
Visitors view the processes through a glass wall while a guide explains what’s happening. The free one-hour tours run Monday through Thursday, 9 am to 11 am and 1 pm to 3 pm, and 9 am to 11 am on Friday. The plant is closed on holidays. Reservations are requested and calling ahead is recommended — especially if you are interested in seeing a specific product being made.
Information: Herr’s Snack Factory Tour, Nottingham, Pennsylvania, 800-637-6225, www.herrs.com.