Exploring York, PA and it’s Annual “Made in America” Factory Tours

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The annual “Made In America” factory tour guide is available every June in both print and online form

Every year in June, York, PA, USA, welcomes its visitors with the annual “Made in America” factory tour schedule. Area businesses, factories, wineries, and small shops open up their doors to welcome guests to an educational and behind the scenes look at how they create their products.

For us, it has become a family tradition we look forward to all year. By now, we have been to almost all of the locations on the schedule, some of them several times. In the shameless hope of enticing you to partake in this annual tradition, we are here to share our favorite tours and events. After all, the “Made in America” factory tour event in York, PA is as child friendly and family oriented as you can get!

One of the things to note about these locations on the list is that most of them are actually open year round. While they do create special itineraries and events for the “Made in America” tour week, they are also incredibly fun and educational on your own. Some of these we first encountered on the “Made in America” tour and later found ourselves visiting again.

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York County Heritage Trust Agricultural & Industrial Museum

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This little gem has been on my radar for years. And, yes, it took me until this year to actually visit. Housed in an old factory building, this museum is an excellent way to introduce kids to the tools of the farm trade and early industrialization. With large trains you can climb, a bus you can go inside, an old safe you can try to open, and a “working” mill, the York County Heritage Trust Agricultural & Industrial Museum was a hit with the kids.

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Learning how to churn butter

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Great display on the development of roads in the U.S.A.

I must admit that I never thought I would find my parents old telephone in a museum, but, there it was! That’s right. If you grew up in a time when your phone was connected to your wall, that very devise you used to talk to your friends (whose number you had dialed from memory) is now in a museum. Making the scene more surreal, there are actually printed instructions on how to use said phones! We enjoyed this museum with another friend and neither of the girls could figure out how to “dial” the phone by themselves. Once they did, however, they decided to spend a few hours playing phone. They dialed one another, rang up make believe numbers, and just generally behaved like pre-teen girls using a phone. It just so happens to be that this artifact filled exhibit looked a lot like my childhood.

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Using an old style phone, complete with instructions! By far the favorite exhibit!

York Time Institute

In a time when I know no one who uses a watch, the York Time Institute is a fascinating place to tour. This place is actually both a shop and a training school. Owner and master teacher Daniel Nied guides his students in a year long journey to learn not just how to repair clocks and watches and other time pieces, but also in how to make the actual parts themselves!

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Timepiece brought in for repair

Touring this shop felt like taking a step back in time and I did find myself reminiscing about old watches and clocks I once owned. It was fascinating to see the tools of this trade and how they can include large furniture size pieces along side miniature I-need-a-microscope-like-lens-to-see-this pieces. Watches, obviously, fit on your wrist and are small by design. Did you ever think about the pieces inside your watch? They are seriously small! I asked what happens if one of the miniature pieces fell to the ground. Calmly, and with the serenity that only a man who has been doing this for decades can have, he said you simply must grab a magnet and comb the floor for the piece- with patience.

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Tools of the trade: some are small and made to handle miniscule parts…

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… others are large sized pieces used to create new parts

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One of the Institute’s students demonstrating the small pieces to the kids

There are not a lot of people training to work on time pieces anymore. But the demand is still there (clearly it is only my friends who do not own watches and other timepieces). Mr. Nied mentioned that after the training period, his students will be prepared and able to take on their own clients and serve their various needs. I must admit that I went home and looked to see if I could find some of my old pieces.

Microtrac, Inc.

A newcomer to the “Made in America” factory tours, Microtrac, Inc. opened its doors for one day on the schedule. I worked my calendar around this one tour for the whole week.

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It turns out, Microtrac is involved in almost all our lives! Their day to day operations center around building these high tech yet small machines that measure particles in the nano range. I could go into the science… but truth be told, I might get it wrong. I can tell you this for sure:

  • The machines Microtrac build were the first of their kind. Hence, this company has been at the forefront of its tech world.
  • When you use cat litter, the amount of dust created, or not created, is a direct result of measurements taken by a Microtrac machine!
  • If you take a bite out of a certain brand of chocolate bar, the richness and smoothness you enjoy is thanks for a Microtrac machine that measured the size of a precise nano particle of chocolate for optimal results!
  • Particle sizing that used to take 30 minutes now takes 30 seconds thanks to Microtrac machines and technology

Clearly, we were impressed. Now only did we get to tour the factory space and see their machines in action, but we also got to go into the same laboratory that they use to train new machine buyers. I love it when science and fun and hands-on learning are combined and, on this tour, they were effortlessly joined to the delight of all visitors.

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One of the machines made by Microtrac

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On the left side screen you can see the small, even sized chocolate nano particles… on the right side you see the larger, uneven sized particles… these are two different types of chocolate on a nano scale. One is smooth and creamy, the one more coarse and not so easy to melt.

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Demonstration of how the lab used to separate different sized particles

I’ll also say that there were two gentlemen in our tour group who were asking a lot of technical and science related questions. They were both more than impressed with the answers they were given. I won’t pretend to know what they were talking about, but I do know that clearly the staff at Microtrac know their stuff!

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As a special bonus, Microtrac also served up a spread at the end of the tour. We enjoyed some lemonade, cookies, crackers and meats as we talked about all we had seen and learned on our tour. It was the perfect way to take in all the information in the end.

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Enjoying some refreshments courtesy of Microtrac

Teaching Museum for the Fiber Arts and Textiles

Another newcomer to the “Made in America” factory tours was this incredibly cute museum. Housed in a barn in the middle of a quaint country road, the Teaching Museum for the Fiber Arts & Textiles was like walking into grandmas house. Staffed by incredibly nice and knowledgeable people, the museum houses several old style sewing machines. The fact that these are loved family heirlooms that come with a personalized story makes this place magical.

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Walking towards the museum

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After walking around and gawking at the old machines, feeling like we took a step back in time, we went upstairs to discover that this farmhouse also contains several pieces of history. Beautiful hand made quilts and pieces, several of them from the U.S. Civil War era, are proudly displayed by the descendants of their makers. One of the ladies shared story upon story of her great grandparents and aunties and the traditions of their household. The quilts were once wedding presents and lovingly homemade thank you gifts. I couldn’t help but feel like a great piece of oral history was being passed down to me, and everyone else, by these amazing folks.

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Civil war era family heirlooms

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This particular quilt is pre-civil war era certified. The gold and green colors are period dated!

On the other side of the barn, an old style sewing machine gave my daughter her first real sewing lesson. Learning to use to needle and thread, she was delighted when she realized she could keep her creation.

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The fun continued downstairs when we walked into the wool and felt shop. For some added hands-on activities, the kiddo got to spin wool and feel it in both its rough and refined stages. She also got to learn how to make wet felt into different shapes! It was fun and educational and as amazing as we have come to expect from these tours. Mackenzie even left our name and email on the class sign up sheet. She has found a new hobby.

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We got to take coarse wool and spin it, separate it, and turn it into a fine, workable product

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Working to shape wet felt into cute little animals

Utz Quality Foods Inc.

The first time we went to Utz Quality Foods we discovered we love factory tours. This company has what should be the mold for a large scale, working factory tour. It is family and child friendly, safe, informative, takes visitors through the whole factory in a window filled raised platform, and gives you free chips at the end. What more could one ask for?

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It is actually quite impressive to see the machines and people working to get these tasty chips out to its customers. Of course, one of the things that makes it so impressive and educational is the fact that you can actually see everything. On so many tours you are, for safety reasons, confined to spaces far from the actual action. Little ones often loose out because of their height and limitations. But, not on the Utz tour. Children of all sizes get to see and experience the action on the factory floor- often getting waves from the workers below. The window filled walkway is large and roomy enough that families can relax and enjoy the self-paced audio tour, even if the baby wants to crawl around a bit or the toddler wants to walk ahead.

As visitors walk from window to window, the push of a button on the wall delivers a very interesting and informative talk about what you are seeing below. The whole process is enjoyable and pain free- not something you can always say about a factory tour.

And, again, at the end of tour, you can take a bag of free chips to enjoy. Having just seen everything that goes into making that  bag makes it extra tasty for us.

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An Utz Store is around the corner for purchases and let me tell you: go and buy a bag of chocolate covered chips. I know what it sounds like. Trust me, you will be hooked!

Sunrise Soap Company

Ever wonder how that bar of soap you use every day is made? Yeah, me neither.

But, when this tour became available, we jumped at the chance to find out. Of course, it turns out that there are a lot of chemicals in our typical body soaps. At Sunrise Soap Company, they were happy to tell us all about the chemicals the big companies use and all about the organic products they use to create their soaps. It was quite interesting and informative and, just when you think the kids are going to get bored with all the talk, the tour starts their live demonstration of how they make their soaps.

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Watching a variety of soap made by hand

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The kiddo really enjoyed the demonstration

Yes, by the end of the tour here you will want to buy one of everything. And that’s ok because you just saw them make it live! As a little bonus, the kids got to take a small piece home.

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Perrydell Farm Dairy, Inc.

Perrydell is a cute little farm that houses its own cows and makes its own milk and ice cream. Opened year round, the ice cream portion is something we are intimately familiar with. I’m pretty sure the first time we came to York we stopped to have some Perrydell ice cream.

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The cow barn is open to anyone year round. You can walk up and see them hanging out or pet the babies when they are in their corrals. There are scheduled feeding times and milking times if you wish to stop by and observe and, if you go during a particular time of year, you can even enjoy walking through the small and fun corn maze on site.

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Sonnewald Natural Foods

We love Sonnewald. I wanted to put that disclaimer in before we start raving about their amazing products, awesome people, and fun farm tour.

The Sonnewald farmland has never seen a drop of chemicals on its soil, and they are very proud of that fact. While it is not a certified organic farm, they are as natural a business as could be. The store is open year round and a definite stop for anyone wishing to tour their bulk foods room. Nuts and grains and chia granola mixes and all kinds of yummy and healthy treats abound at Sonnewald.

Outside, we were lucky to have one of the original owners descendants lead us on a tour around the grounds. You know it is going to be fun and different when you are asked to take off your shoes and let the energy pass through you (this is, of course, optional). The tour is as much about the family philosophy as it is about the naturally grown produce and wild blueberry tasting. There is something refreshing about learning as you walk on the grass and pick berries from the trees on the property, all while watching the kids run around and enjoy the fresh air.

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Walking on the farm we were instructed to just pick the berries and eat them fresh. The kids wasted no time!

Yes, we love Sonnewald Natural Foods and highly recommend them for any time of the year.

Harley-Davidson Motor Company

First, a disclaimer: you must be at least 12 years old to tour the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. While I understand the safety reasons, it does mean my own child has never been inside. I have taken the tour and it is great: informative and interesting, thorough, and definitely exciting to see the plant in action!

What children under 12 can do is tour the front of the house area. It is definitely worth a stop but be warned: touring the front of the house takes significantly less time than touring the plant itself. For this reason it is not really advisable to try to do both simultaneously with different age groups.

It’s quite a bummer since the plant really is worth a visit. Both sections are open year round too so this is one tour you can enjoy any time of the year.

For children under 12, the front of the house tour has several Harley bikes on display that kids can enjoy and learn from. After climbing on the bikes, seeing the different models, and maybe making observations about the differences between them, the under 12 crowd is done with their tour. Anyone older then gets to enjoy the machinery and technology involved in building a Harley step by step. It’s truly an impressive process and one that brings the assembly line and industrialization to life.

Bluett Bros. Violins

Inside this unassuming shop, a Master Luthier builds precise instruments with the utmost of dedication. The results are beautiful violins and strong instruments worth thousands of dollars and worthy of a museum exhibit.

During the “Made in America” tours, visitors to the Bluett Bros. Violins are able to learn about the intricate details that go into making one of these instruments. Not only did we learn a lot, but we got to see several violins and instruments in various stages of completion. The guides were more than willing to answer our myriad of questions and further elaborate on any topics regarding their talent.

I’m not sure this is the best tour with small children but anyone over the age of 6 is sure to enjoy a look behind the scenes at this tour.

Martin’s Potato Chips

Martin’s Potato Chips factory runs a behind the scenes, on the ground tour. What this means is that you get to walk around the actual machines. The trade here is that you don’t get to see the whole operation. It is a smaller tour than the Utz tour but fun and informative with very child friendly guides. The plus side of doing both chip tours is that you can compare the facilities, operations, workers, conditions, and, of course, taste of both chip production lines!

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Note the mandatory hair net at Martin’s. You know you are going to get close to the action when you have to wear the gear! And, the heavenly smell of fresh chips is amazing.

As you can tell, we have enjoyed all of our “Made in America” factory tours. There are pros and cons to everything in life, but I would definitely go back to every single one of the tours we have been able to enjoy. Every year there are a few newcomers and every year there are a few establishments that no longer offer tours. In the past we have enjoyed Alpaca tours and other farms that no longer participate in the program. But every year we take four days in June to explore York, PA and everything that these factories tours have to offer. We have learned new things, been impressed with the technology in the area, and been awed by the traditions many of these businesses continue to practice.

Of course, I know that sometimes people are just passing by or only have a day to dedicate to the “Made in America” factory tours. Should this be case, we have discussed the tours at length and made a list for you to consider:

Our Child-Approved, Favorite to Least Favorite, “Made in America” Factory Tour List

  1. Utz Quality Foods, Inc.
  2. Teaching Museum for the Fiber Arts & Textiles
  3. Sunrise Soap Company
  4. York Time Institute
  5. Microtrac, Inc.
  6. Bluett Bros. Violins
  7. Perrydale Farm Dairy, Inc.
  8. Sonnewald Natural Foods
  9. York County Heritage Trust Agricultural & Industrial Museum
  10. Harley-Davidson Motor Company
  11. Martin’s potato Chips

We schedule our little nomadic lives around certain events and we know we will be around for the “Made in America” factory tours next year. Maybe we’ll get to see you there!

In the meantime, “like” us on our Facebook page, Border Free Adventures, for more pictures, stories, videos, and fun information as we travel around the world and Worldschool our daughter.

 

 

 

 

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