In addition to answers published in the On the Record column in Leisure Group Travel’s February 2011 print issue, below are more reader responses to the question: What is your all-time favorite factory tour? This is the first of two installments of responses we didn’t have room for in the magazine.
Beginning with a recommendation from Lynn Hunt of the Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau, here are some of the answers that supplement those in the print issue:
I recommend the Isabel Bloom Studio Production Tour in Davenport, Iowa.
For more than 50 years the sculpture of Isabel Bloom has found its place in homes and gardens throughout the United States. She studied under Grant Wood and her artistic subjects range from playful children to friendly creatures of the air, land and sea. Cast in concrete and hand-finished to resemble weathered bronze garden sculptures of the Victorian era, the work of Isabel Bloom has made her a Quad Cities icon.
Today, the creation of Isabel Bloom sculpture rests in the talented hands of designer Donna Young, Isabel’s protégé and artistic collaborator since 1986. She has preserved the unique style that has survived Isabel’s passing in May 2001. The Isabel Bloom Studio Production Tour is a free, 75-minute guided tour with behind-the-scenes access to every step in the making of each Isabel Bloom sculpture. Visitors can even offer opinions on future sculptures, and purchase exclusive sculptures available only to tour guests
Vice President, Sales
Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau
My favorite is the tour of Red Wing Shoe Manufacturing in Red Wing, Minn. The manufacturing was done in China for several years, causing the loss of many jobs for this small town that had a reputation of making the “Best Work Shoes” in the world. After receiving back two storehouses of shoes so poorly constructed, the decision was to once again make Red Wing Shoes in America. For groups they have a promotional DVD and will take reservations for a wonderful tour that was loved by all of my groups.
Americas Backroads Travel
Without question the very best behind-the-scenes tour I have experienced in recent years…Villiancourt Folk Art located in Sutton, Mass. It was one feature in our annual “Stocking Stuffer Tour” where passengers receive at a gift at each stop throughout the trip. Client evaluation responses graded it a 10 on a scale of 1-10. Unique, educational, excellent commentary is given by talented artisans, and a quality ornament is given to each passenger on departure.
Sharon Koning, President
Koning DayTours, Inc.
East Rochester, NY
The best factory tours are the soft shell crab and shrimp factories on our “Cajun Cultural Day” tour. Visitors talk with owners of factories where they see how the blue crabs are brought to the dock and then transferred to tanks for shedding. Visitors hear about the molting of the blue crab and actually see one shedding its shell. We hear how they are frozen and sent to markets throughout the United States.
At the shrimp factory we see how shrimp are unloaded from a shrimp boat, taken into the factory by automation and peeled in a machine. The peeled shrimp are boxed, frozen and sent to market. Visitors view all aspects of the processing. We serve boiled shrimp or steamed crabs if groups are interested.
Sandra A. Pellegrin
Cajun Tours & Cruises
There are many great ones, but three favorites of my travelers come to mind are Boeing near Seattle and Longaberger Basket Co. in Ohio and Slugger Bat in Louisville.
It is almost overwhelming to watch the swell of activity at the Boeing plant where workers literally ride bicycles to get from one area to another. It is no small feat to manufacture these monstrous flying machines and, as you watch from above, you can see the step by step process from design to “out the door.” Then a guided shuttle tour gives you insight to how design and mandated detail has changed as well as a look at customized private aircraft (and their price tags!).
The experience at Longaberger is unexpected. The factory is huge and through the hands-on experience, your travelers go right onto the factory floor and, alongside an employee, make their own basket. The basket making is notable, but the interaction with the employee is awesome. They are so proud of their company and its products – it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been with the company a number of years. Travelers board the coach proudly showing off their handiwork!
At Slugger Bat, travelers have a similar up-close-and-personal experience. Upon arrival, the cameras are snapping outside in front of the towering baseball bat that distinguishes the visitor center’s entrance. Walking right through the factory, visitors watch workers turn a log of wood into tools of the baseball greats. Employees are proud to show off their skill and the guides are full of knowledge and of wit! It’s a fun and educational visit topped off with each visitor receiving their own mini-bat. Travelers flood the custom order counter to secure personalized bats for their own family athletes.
The Tour Connection
The most interesting and enjoyable tour our groups have experienced was the John Deere Factory in Dubuque, Iowa. The ladies seemed to like it as much as the men. The tour showed the machining of parts, welding, painting…then the finished product taking off and doing a run out in the field by the factory. Our people got a kick out of the parts runners using three-wheel bikes with baskets.
Our best tour ever was the GM auto factory (now closed) in Janesville, Wis. They were incredibly friendly and welcoming. We were driven around the factory on a little “train” and saw every step of the process. It was very informational, and everyone working said hi and waved at us; some even thanked us for coming. They really seemed happy to have us there. Whenever we were nearing the end of a trip, I would ask everyone what their favorite thing was—over three-fourths of my group said the GM tour.
Top of the Hill Club Director
Profinium Financial, Inc.
We at MIR actually have three favorite factory tour stops – two places fabricating objects that get launched into space, plus one that focuses on products that stay on earth (on the czars’ dinner tables, to be specific).
Douglas Grimes’ (president, MIR Corporation) favorites:
I toured the first two factories, one in Kazakhstan and one in Moscow, on one of MIR Corporation’s Inside the Russian Space Program tours. With special pre-arranged permission we were allowed to visit Russia’s premier space launch facility, Baikonur Cosmodrome on the Kazakh steppe, and visited the Energia factory, where they assemble the components of the Soyuz spacecraft before the launch. Immense and incredible. Back in Moscow, we drove to the town of Korolev, to tour the Rocket and Space Corporation’s factory complex, where they’ve designed and built rockets, spacecraft and components since it was a government-owned Soviet agency known as Special Design Bureau No. 1. We toured one of the factories and the Energia Space Museum, where we saw Yuri Gagarin’s original capsule.
Mariana Noble’s (copywriter, MIR Corporation) favorite:
A more down-to-earth factory tour is on a MIR Corporation trip called Classic Western Russia. It was exciting for me because at the Lomonosov Porcelain Factory in St. Petersburg, Russia, we looked over the shoulders of the artists painting the fine china that has graced the tables of the czars. My favorite part was in the small museum at the end of the tour, where I bought a butter dish with the same pattern (decorated with hand-painted royal blue diamonds and gold leaf) that Nancy Reagan chose for her White House dinner service.