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By Dana Ticknor
Whether you roadschool children or just enjoy lifelong learning, field trips are a top venue for education. Being on-site, and watching a product being produced, has a much greater educational value than just reading about the same process.
Factory tours are a great way to support a community, understand what goes into the items that we purchase, and also help us understand what our purchasing dollars support.
Here are the Top 10 factory tours east of the Mississippi (in no particular order):
Sugarbush Cheese & Maple Farm in Woodstock, Vt.
Sugarbush Farm is a genuine working farm/ranch set in the stunning hills of Vermont. During their free, self-guided tour, you can view a short film that explains the process of maple syrup making, from tapping the trees to bottling.
You can walk the nature trail to see the maple trees that are tapped during late winter, then visit the syrup house to see how the sap is boiled down to syrup. If you visit during the week, and before 3 p.m., you are likely to catch staff waxing cheese.
The farm offers samples of their cheeses and syrups. It is a beautiful location for scenic pictures, and has big rig parking. Please note that vehicles over 10 feet tall do need to take an alternative route to the farm; please call 802.457.1757for directions.
For more information, visit www.sugarbushfarm.com/visit-the-farm.
Infinity Science Center (A NASA Space Center)
Located along Interstate 10 at the border of Mississippi and Louisiana, tThe Infinity Science Center is part space-focused science museum, and part field trip.
This state-of-the-art-center is just a few years old, and includes educational exhibits, an immersion theater, and a cafeteria, which serves southern fried catfish and shrimp.
Included in your Infinity admission, is a 30-minute bus tour into the nearby visitor-restricted Stennis Space Center. Bus tours leave on the hour between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and you must be signed up at least 30 minutes in advance of departure.
The Infinity Space Center has abundant big rig parking, and is located right next to the Mississippi I-10 Visitor’s Center. For more information, visit www.visitinfinity.com.
Space buffs should also check out the Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Fla. Tickets are much more expensive than Infinity, but if you are spending the winter in Florida, check out their annual membership which lets you visit for a year, yet costs less than a two-day visit. For more information, visit www.kennedyspacecenter.com.
Cedar Grove Cheese Factory in Plain, Wis.
Cedar Grove is a small-scale production utilizes only locally sourced milk for its traditional-processed cheese making. Specializing in organic cheeses, during this field trip you will learn the history of cheese making, as well the daily processes gone through for Cedar Grove to collect, and then turn 30,000 pounds of raw milk into 3,000 pounds of cheese.
Cedar Grove Cheese Factory offers visitors tours of their production floor, presentations about the economics of small-scale cheese making, and also offers a tour of their Living Waters reclamation process, which returns the waste water left after making cheese, back into the water shed. It’s even cleaner than when it was pumped out of the ground for use in the cheese-making process.
Open seven days a week, except for January through March, when the factory is closed on Sundays.
For more information, visit www.cedargrovecheese.com.
Charleston Tea Plantation in Charleston, S.C.
With several different tours available, this is the place to learn everything you ever wanted to know about growing, harvesting, and processing tea leaves.
The free self-guided tour that takes off right out of the gift shop lasts approximately 15 minutes. During this tour, you can self pace while you watch the Bigelow family via flat screen TVs, as well as check out the actual tea making process through windows that look down on the factory below.
Weekday tours are choice as the factory is in production, but you can still do the tours during the weekend, without the employees working the machinery.
There is also a trolley tour that costs between $5 and $10 for a 45-minute guided tour through the plantation.
While at the Charleston Tea Factory, you are invited to try as many different kinds of tea as you desire, and to enjoy a relaxing time sipping them on their covered porch in the best southern plantation style. This factory tour offers big rig friendly parking.
For more information, visit www.charlestonteaplantation.com.
Louisville Slugger in Louisville, Ky.
If you have any baseball fans in your house, then this one-of-a-kind 30-minute tour is sure to be a home run. This wildly popular tour takes you through the production floor at the Louisville Slugger Company, where you will see how baseball bats were made in the past, and how they are made today.
During your tour, bats will be made all around you, and your tour guide will instruct you on the processes used. Tours typically run a minimum of 25 people, and max out at 45.
There is a fee for the tour, but with your admission, you will receive a Louisville Souvenir Mini Bat — fabulously fun RV-sized memorabilia.
The Louisville Slugger factory does not have any private parking, so it is recommended that you bring your toad or tow vehicle to the factory. You can bring your RV, but parking is per space in the flat lots behind the factory, and charge is $6 for every site you use.
For more information, visit www.sluggermuseum.com
Steinway Pianos in Long Island City, N.Y.
Almost everyone has heard of Steinway Pianos. So, if you are serious about music, this three-hour, top-rated, intensive tour is for you.
Learn what goes into building the elite Steinway, from wood selection and conditioning, to assembling of the piano, to the final sound adjustment after the piano is completed.
Photos are not allowed, and you must call to reserved you spot as only a limited number of these unique Steinway piano tours are offered. Because of the intensity of this tour, it is not recommended for young children.
For more information, visit www.steinwaypianos.com.
Herr’s Chip Factory in Nottingham, Pa.
There are few food brands known better in New England than Herr’s. Famous for their snack foods, Herr’s tour will cover the history of Herr’s, the chip making processes, samples, and a stop by the souvenir and gift shop.
Herr’s Chip Factory offers guided tours Monday through Friday. To ensure that you are able to view the actual process on the production floor instead of via screens, plan your tour Monday through Wednesday.
Tours last an hour, and route through three different buildings, so go prepared to walk and be between buildings. You may want to bring a jacket or umbrella.
For more information, visit www.herrs.com/SnackFactoryTours.html
Bristol Speedway in Bristol, Tenn.
Who knew that speedway tours could be considered field trips? While this is not a factory tour, this experience is one of the top requested field trips in our RV.
Guests learn about both drag racing and lap racing, and will tour the track, pit row, and even up in the fan boxes.
Tours begin at the Speedway gift shop and are conducted seven days a week, with reduced tours on Sunday.
For more information, visit www.bristolmotorspeedway.com
Martin Guitar in Nazareth, Pa.
Another intriguing tour for musicians is the Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth, Pa. This field trip delves into the history of guitar making, from old-world tools and methods to modern day processes.
Also available around your tour is the free Martin Museum self-guided tour, the 1833 Shop (great for picking up souvenirs. or a new guitar), as well as the Pickin’ Parlor and the Play Me Wall, where guests are encouraged to try out different Martin Guitars.
Tours of the Martin Guitar Factory are conducted Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. with a maximum of 15 guests per tour. Tours last approximately one hour, and unlike many other factory tours, still photographs are allowed (no flash).
For more information, visit www.martinguitar.com.
Airstream factory in Jackson Center, Ohio
Ever wonder what makes those Airstream trailers so unique and coveted? Now you can discover just how that icon is made, from shiny shell and exclusive furnishings, right down to every last hand-installed rivet.
Tours are offered Monday through Friday at 2 pm, and last 45 minutes. They are conducted after production for the day is wrapped up, so you won’t see the staff in action, but you will get to view the process.
Tours require walking two-thirds of a mile, and ear and eye protection is provided.
For more information, visit www.airstream.com.
Hershey’s Chocolate World in Hershey, Pa.
As we went to press, we just had to add one more spot to our list. Although not a formal factory tour, people visiting “The Sweetest Place on Earth” in Hershey, Pa., can enjoy a ride through a display that shows how chocolate is processed from cocoa beans into the delicious treats for which Hershey’s is known around the world.
The 10-minute tour is free and each guest receives a sample candy bar upon exiting the ride. Guests can peruse the gift shop where they can buy Hershey-branded souvenirs and purchase candy at relatively low prices. There is a cafe in the gift shop, too.
People who have more time and want to spend some money can add on more experiences, such as making your own candy bar and taste testing various types of chocolate.
The tour is suitable for people of all ages and abilities. For more information, visit www.hersheys.com.
Part of the fun of RVing is the ability to enjoy all types of adventures. What better way to remember a journey than by taking a field trip to a factory for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how things are made.