Instead of taking your kids to tour museums or other national landmarks, why not take them to places they may really be interested in — like the Crayola factory or the Ethel M. Chocolate factory where you can take free, or relatively inexpensive, tours of their manufacturing facilities? “Today” travel editor Peter Greenberg describes eight factories across the country that you can visit, and sometimes even help in the manufacturing process.
117 billion crayons have been made in this Easton, Pa., factory since the beginning of Crayola in 1903. If you lined up all of the crayons that have ever been made, it would circle the world eight times at the equator. For the tour, company officials have taken a production line from the real Crayola factory, which is seven miles away, and slowed down the processing so children can watch the crayons and markers being made. It’s a self-guided tour and visitors receive a box of four crayons and a marker.
JOHN DEERE ASSEMBLY LINE
In East Moline, Illinois, or Waterloo, Iowa, learn about how a combine works, and watch the processing of corn, wheat, and soybeans during harvest season. The John Deere Pavilion, located at 1400 River Drive, Moline, Illinois, is a popular destination for group tours across North America. About 42 percent of the yearly group tours include school tour groups. Students of all ages, preschool to college, come to the Pavilion to learn about the history and future of agriculture. In Waterloo, learn how tractors are assembled, from the first piece of metal to the finishing touches.
KOHLER DESIGN CENTER AND KOHLER COMPANY FACTORY TOUR
You might be surprised how many people go to Kohler, Wis., to watch a toilet, a sink or a bathtub being made at the huge Kohler factory.
Former employees serve as tour guides and visitors interact with current employees on the floor during the tour. Find more than 24 bath vignettes, along with displays by Baker and McGuire furniture and Ann Sacks Tile and Stone. The 2 1/2 hour walking tour offers an overview of the production of vitreous china and enameled cast iron plumbing products, as well as brass and die-cast faucets. Learn the history behind the nation’s largest plumbingware manufacturer.
Free tours depart from the Kohler Design Center at 8:30 a.m., Monday - Friday. Not available holidays. Visitors must be 14 years or older. No open-toed shoes or sandals are permitted on the tour. Advance reservations are required.
INTERCOURSE CANNING COMPANY
Intercourse Canning Company in Intercourse, Penn., is located in the quaint Village of Intercourse. An optional “behind the scenes” tour/canning class is available by reservation only. Sampling is free around the store with items such as pickled baby beets, chow chow, pickled baby corn, bread and butter pickles, and jellies, vegetable salads and relishes, gourmet dip mixes and more. Also available, by reservation only, a “tasting party” with a bigger spread of samples for $5 per person.
Free canning classes take place every Friday at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. $5 for tour and canning class on other days.
LOUISVILLE SLUGGER MUSEUM
The tour in Louisville, Ky., consists of film, hands-on exhibits, and a walk-through factory that shows how bats are made. Stroll through the factory where world-famous Louisville Sluggers are crafted with the same pride that started in 1884. You’ll learn every step in the process, from a bat’s bulky beginning to its finishing lacquer. The best part of the tour is when visitors receive a mini-version of the original Slugger bat made on location. And you can customize your own bat.
Virtual ballpark and virtual ball catch allow visitors to catch 90 mile-per-hour balls. It’s also a museum filled with baseball memorabilia, including actual bats swung by Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth.
Adults (13-59) $6, seniors (60) $5, kids (6-12) $3.50, kids 5 and under are free.
Group rates available for 20 or more with advance reservations.
VERMONT TEDDY BEAR COMPANY
At this Shelburne, Vermont, factory learn the history of the teddy bear, the beginnings of the company, and the hand-made process used in creating the Vermont Teddy Bears.
Visitors may also create their own 13” bear for $19.95. Select the stuffing of your choice for your bear and place a red felt heart inside the bear. After the bear is stitched, you name it and receive its birth certificate.
Adults, $2; Kids (12 and under) are free.
ELI’S CHEESECAKE BAKERY TOUR
You have to wear a hairnet on the tour, but you’ll end the tour with a slice of cheesecake.
Among tour highlights in Chicago, Ill., are mixing bowls that have room for 500 pounds of batter, a 70-foot tunnel that can bake 3,000 cheesecakes at a time, and the opportunity to decorate your own cheesecake.
Eli’s Cheesecake World is the only place where you can see the dessert actually being made. Plus visit the 62,000 square foot bakery and enjoy a slice of Eli’s cheesecake. More than 30 different flavors are available by the slice each day.
ETHEL M CHOCOLATE
There are two reasons this self-guided factory tour in Henderson, Nev., just 15 minutes from Las Vegas, is unusual:
The factory is home to a 2 1/2 acre cactus garden with 350 species of cacti and desert plants; you can also view the machinery in tanks, marshes and reed beds that transforms wastewater into water clean enough to be used for landscape irrigation. They recycle 20,000 gallons of water each day.
The Ethel M Chocolate Factory is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.. Admission is free and tours are self-guided. Special guided tours may be arranged for parties of 10 or more.