Made in York County: A factory-tour mecca

In York County, Pa. they make stuff: pretzels and pottery, motorcycles and milk, wallpaper and wine.

When you bill yourself as The Factory Tour Capital of the World, you’ve got to deliver. And York County does in grand style this month with its Made in America event from June 20-23, where 17 factories open their floors to allow visitors to see the inner workings, in many cases, for free.

Sparks fly as the frames of Harley-Davidson motorcycles are welded together. Cream centers are enrobed in chocolate at the Wolfgang Candy Company. Potatoes are transformed into warm, salty, crispy chips at Martin’s and Utz. Dough is shaped and twisted in pretzels at Snyder’s and Revonah. Oils and herbs are combined into fragrant cleaners at Sunrise Soap Company. Alpacas are shorn and their wool turns to yarn at Painted Spring Farm. Cows are milked and then ice cream is churned at Perrydell Farm Dairy and Sweet Willows Creamery.

What’s not to love: seeing raw ingredients turn into marvelous machines, handy homegoods, and scrumptious snacks.Some stops even feature samples and tastings, including Miss Lucy’s Dog Treats, which are tasty enough for people to savor as well as their pampered pets. Some stops beg a longer linger, like the Codorun Farm gardens of the Accomac Inn restaurant (where you can indulge in real farm to fork freshness over lunch, dinner, or their decadent Sunday brunch). And some stops are exclusively for grown-ups, like the brewery and winery tours made famous by the York’s popular Susquehanna Ale Trail and Mason-Dixon Wine Trail and Wine Just Off the Vine events.

In an age of cheap, throw-away imports, it’s a delight to witness American craftsmanship at its best. In York County’s factories, there’s still a sense of the handcrafted, as machines are employed in the most repetitive of tasks.

Seeing the people who ensure each piece of candy, each bar of soap, each blanket, each fender is created to perfection turns the idea of mass manufacturing more real. Even more enjoyable are the tidbits of information shared by the tour guides: that the original Wolfgang Candy home has liquid chocolate running through its plumbing or that the ancient clicking and clacking looms at Family Heir-Loom weavers were acquired through a bit of serendipitous dumpster diving outside a Philadelphia textile school.

In a society where we are so far removed from the creation of so many products we use each day, it’s a wonder-filled experience to see a violin or motorcycle come to life. Wine tastes sweeter when you’ve spent time in the cellar where it ages. Pretzels never taste as good as when they come right out of the stone hearth where they’ve baked. The smell of potato chips cooking can never be captured in a bag.

Inspired to visit? Come in your walking shoes. It’s safest to wear closed toe shoes with flat heels, and may even be required in some factories. Be prepared to don hairnets and earplugs and safety glasses, as well as to remove your jewelry and leave your cameras behind. Some sites are wheelchair friendly, others require you keep your wits about you as you move past working machinery and wiggle through close quarters. Not every site is open to children, so do your research or make provisions. And not every factory is in production every day, so plan accordingly and make reservations for your must-see stops, especially if you’d like to be part of the exclusive Harley-Davidson Steel Toe Tour (which comes with a $35 fee).

While many of the factories are open year-round, visiting during the Made in America event ensures greater accessibility as well as the bonus of special package deals at local hotels. The event also features a Visit and Win promotion, where visitors get a passport stamped at each location, making them eligible for prizes. Visit yorkpa.org for more information, including a downloadable passport and interactive itinerary planner.

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