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7 of the Most Bizarre American Factory Tours

Insider Guides Budget Travel
by Sarah Park May 10, 2012
Nothing says suburban family vacation like a road trip stop at a manufacturing plant.
1. Vienna Beef Factory Store & Cafe, Chicago, IL

Aiming to debunk the belief that hot dogs are made primarily out of mammal anuses and nitrates, the Vienna Beef Factory Store & Cafe brings a few tube-meat enthusiasts through their production facility once each week for an educational experience.

Prior to entering the factory floor, strict rules must be obeyed: no bare legs, no open-toed shoes, and absolutely no photography. Once a waiver is signed and jewelry is removed, get ready for beef. Cover your eyes, vegetarians: factory workers proficiently trim beef brisket, separating the fat to be blended with lean bull meat. There are meat hooks. A big blender thing. Beautiful meat puree. And not an anus in sight.

If you’re thinking about being anywhere near Chicago in the next few years, get on their waiting list now. This tour is already booked up through Winter 2014.

Free tours are available Wednesdays, 10:00am – 11:00am. Space is extremely limited, and reservations are required. 2501 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL 60647.

2. American Whistle Corporation, Columbus, OH

The only manufacturer of metal whistles in the United States, the American Whistle Corporation has been terrifying skinny nerds in gym class for over 50 years.

Their 45-minute factory tour shows the entire creation of an “American Classic” whistle, which starts when raw materials — copper, zinc, and nickel — meet in the factory. The primordial mixture then passes through a variety of fancy presses and machines, some of which date all the way back to the beginning of the company. Finally, the teeny ball is placed inside the whistle, endowing it with the power to send would-be rapists running.

Parents, be warned: you may want to bury the souvenir whistle under wrinkled maps and fast food wrappers in the backseat. This is the self-proclaimed “loudest whistle in the world” that you’re about to put in your kid’s hand.

$4 tours are scheduled in advance for private groups of 15 or more. If you have under 15 guests, you can request to join an already existing tour by calling 800-876-2918. 6540 Huntley Road, Columbus, OH 43229.

3. Hoegh Pet Casket Co., Gladstone, MI

Hoegh Industries has been manufacturing pet caskets and urns since 1966. Available in various colors and with an assortment of interior flourishes, these final resting places were nobly designed to keep your pet as comfy in death as they were when they snoozed on your feet under your computer desk.

The tour begins in the Hoegh showroom, where you can see various models of their sarcophagi in action. Mock funeral scene action, complete with floral arrangements and velvet posters on the walls. Then, off to the factory, where caskets are vacuum-formed out of sheets of plastic, likely held together by the salty tears of grieving pet owners. Here, the boxes, which vary in size from about 10″ (ant farm) to 52″ (mini pony), are churned out at the rate of 18 per hour.

And no, no pets were harmed in the making of their model pet cemetery.

Free tours are available Monday – Friday, 8:30am – 3:00pm. Call (906)428-2151 or drop in. 311 Delta Ave., Gladstone, MI

4. Nongshim America, Rancho Cucamonga, CA

Nongshim — makers of the insanely delicious fire-in-the-hole Shin Ramyun product that fills my pantry — conducts tours of their California noodle factory in both Korean and English. I’m not sure why my parents didn’t love me enough to let me experience the taste of fresh pre-bricked noodles, or the sight of their gigantic soup drum, but now that I’m all grown up, you better believe I’ll be pushing 8-year-olds out of the way to take a photo with the Noodle Man statue in the reception area.

After saying farewell to Mr. Noodle-hair, the guided tour gets air showered, dressed in hairnets and gowns, and asked to wash their hands before entering the production plant. It comforts me to know that my ramyun packet was born in a building 100 million times cleaner than the kitchen it will be slurped in will ever be.

Free tours are given Tuesday – Friday, 10:30am to 3:00pm. Call in advance to schedule a tour: (909)484-1888. 12155 6th Street, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730.

5. Kohler Design Center & Factory, Kohler, WI

The Kohler “Industry in Action” tour is not your typical push-the-button-to-activate-the-animatronics kind of tour. This three-hour, three-mile factory visit gets you as close to the tub-and-toilet-making action as you’d want to be, especially considering the average pottery kiln runs at about 2,450 degrees F.

The tours are led by retired Kohler employees and these guys really know their shitters. As you’re led through the pottery, brass, foundry, and enamel shops, they’ll actually be able to explain to you every step of the manufacturing process, just so you can appreciate it even more when you’re peeing on one of their products in the Design Center bathroom afterwards.

The creation of bathroom fixtures surprisingly involves a lot more magma-esque substances than you might think, so safety goggles (provided for you, compliments of Kohler) and closed-toed shoes are required.

Free tours are available Monday – Friday at 8:30am (arrive early to register). Advance reservations are required. For more information, call (920)457-3699. 444 Highland Dr., Kohler, WI 53044.

6. Herr’s Snack Factory, Nottingham, PA

Next time you find yourself staring through the haze into a bag of Cheese Curls, contemplating their cheesiness with “I Shot the Sheriff” on repeat for 45 minutes straight in the background, I insist you stand up, brush the crumbs off your pants, grab some Visine, and head to the Herr’s Snack Factory. Wait — probably take a nap first.

This free 60-minute tour shows how potatoes and other raw ingredients tumble into the factory and get passed from one machine to the next, transforming step-by-step into things you’d totally want to eat when you’re high. The viewing station above the factory floor makes it easy to notice how few humans are actually involved in the production of a potato chip. They even have robots that seek out discolored chips and blow them off the conveyer belt with a little poof of air — pew pew!

Free tours can be scheduled in advance by calling 1-800-63-SNACK. Tour times vary by day. 20 Herr Dr., Nottingham, PA 19362

7. Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, Shelburne, VT

Equal parts wholesome and unnerving, the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory is one of those places where something is not quite right. Get super engrossed in the craftsmanship of their bears, feel suddenly overwhelmed with fear and sorrow. Maybe it’s the random piles of bear appendages or the booklets full of pages of teddy bear skin on display. No, I’m pretty sure it’s the 100-mile-per-hour stuffing enema that newborn bears are subjected to as human children gather around to watch.

Or perhaps this place makes me want to cry because I can’t stop anthropomorphizing all these cuddly creatures. Is that a fur cutter? Run, bears, run! Oh! You can send your mom a Bear Gram dressed exactly like her? Aw, cute!

Tours cost $3 and are available multiple times a day, 7 days a week (closed on holidays).
6655 Shelburne Road, Shelburne, VT 05482.

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