Waltham, Massachusetts – August 2019 – Simple Elegance of Early Mechanical Devices

The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation in Waltham, Massachusetts has a collection of machines and artifacts from the industrial revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is located in the former Boston Manufacturing Company textile mill, which predates those in Lowell.

The visit to the museum provided a great opportunity to show the simple elegance of the early manufacturing.

Much, but not all, of the collection is dedicated to the former Waltham Watch Company.

Lowell, Massachusetts – August 2019 – The Early Textile Industry in America

Lowell, Massachusetts was an early center of the textile industry in America. It was one of the first real industrial centers, with large cotton mills being built along the waterways.

By diverting the river into numerous canals they could power the machinery for the mills. The canals remain to this day, in various states.

One of the former mills houses a museum that shows the power plant that used the water to generate the power to run the machines.

Because of the flammability of the dust, they used wooden gears that didn’t create sparks.

It is when you go into the main production floor exhibit that you get a true feel for the sheer size of the operation.

While we were there they ran 2 of the looms, which was incredibly loud. One could only imagine what these young ladies went through with 200 of them running at the same time, while working their 12-14 hour, 6 day a week job.

The National Park Service runs a replica trolley around town to shuttle visitors between the sites. A visit to Lowell is educational, and worth the visit if you are in Massachusetts.

Avery Island, Louisiana – May 2019 – Hot Times at the Tabasco Factory

Tabasco is known the world over for giving kick to many different foods. All of this spice comes from a small factory in southern Louisiana.

The grounds are beautiful, and the Tabasco Company offers a complete look at the history and production of their product.

The visit starts in the company museum.

The self guided tour takes you from building to building. Along the way you pass some Tabasco themed artwork.

While most of the peppers used in the production are grown offshore, there is a greenhouse that they grow the plants to assure quality control, and provide seeds for their sources.

The barrel house is where the mash ages.

The blending of the salt, pepper and vinegar takes 28 days.

The bottling line was the most interesting. A small group of workers oversee the entire process.

Below a quality control worker monitors the process.

The bottles fly along their path.

Yet she can spot an issue, and pull the bottle from production.

An overview of the bottling operation.

More quality control.

The workers seemed at ease with the stream of people watching them through the windows.

These innocent little bottles give so many so much pleasure, and to some serious heartburn.

Their product is shipped worldwide – today it is going to Portugal.

Just outside the line are some giant bottles.

The factory tour was interesting, and well designed.

Morgan City, Louisiana – May 2019 – Offshore Oil Rig Museum

Deep in the bayou country of Louisiana is the town of Morgan City.

Located on the Atchafalaya River, it is located less than 20 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. With the offshore oil industry centered off of Louisiana and Texas, Morgan City is an important industrial town of support companies.

One of the highlights of Morgan City is The Rig Museum. This museum has a nice collection of diving and submersibles that has been used in the industry since it’s inception.

While outside are some retired items.

The highlight though is located outside in the river. It is the world’s first offshore oil drilling platform.

The rig is named Mr Charlie, after the financial backer of the venture when they started up in the 1950s.

While it might be dwarfed by today’s platforms, the main deck is still an impressive 50’+ above the water, offering a great view of the bridges and docks of the river.

Our guide, industry veteran Bryce, was very thorough in explaining the design, and use of the rig. Here he shows us a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) used in the construction of platforms.

Everything is supersized in this industry, including this massive hook.

The drills bits aren’t available at the local Home Depot.

The pipes come in 30′ lengths.

The drill itself – with all of the large equipment, all of it in movement in the ocean, an oil platform is a loud, dirty, dangerous place for the crew to work.

Drilling requires pressure and water.

Drilling mud is also used to carry rock cuttings to the surface, as well as lubricate the drill bit. There is a massive storage for this that at times requires somebody to descend this long ladder into the mud hold.

Oil platform workers work 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. If the weather is poor and a boat can’t come pick you up, or the helicopter can’t land on the helipad atop the rig, you throw your stuff and you into this cage and hang on as they hoist you into the air.

Our time with Bryce at the Rig Museum was insightful. The next time I stopped to fill the car up with gasoline, I thought more about the work that went into getting that product to market.

Chicago – February 2019 – History Museum

Amazingly the Chicago History Museum was founded in 1856, just a few years after the settling of the town. Although twice destroyed by fire (once during the Great Chicago Fire), they still have a vast collection of artifacts celebrating the history of the city.

During our visit to Chess Records I had heard that the History Museum had a nice exhibit on the Chicago Blues, which was our encouragement to go to the History Museum.

In the display is this map showing the amazing collection of recording studios and clubs that featured the blues that have existed in Chicago over the years.

Raeburn Flerlage was a famed photographer of the blues scene from 1959-1971, although his career in music lasted much longer.

His photographs were used for many album covers.

Included in the collection is a copy of what is generally acknowledge as the first blues record of all time, St Louis Blues by W C Handy, from 1925.

The south side of Chicago was the hub of the blues, with Maxwell Street being the epicenter.

All of the blues greats were celebrated here, including Muddy Waters.

In the 1950s record companies were only allowed to have so many records in radio station airplay rotation at one time, so they would just start another record company.

This record of Koko Taylor’s Wang Dang Doodle is on Checker Records, the sister company of Chess Records.

Moving on from the blues display we checked out Chicago – Crossroad of America. This documented Chicago as the transportation hub of the country since the early days of the railroad.

Also on display was one of the original El cars from 1892.

A number of focus displays included one of the infamous gangland activities during prohibition in the 1920s.

Keeping with the infamous Playboy Magazine started in Chicago, as did the original club with the hostess (bunny) outfit on display.

As noted in other postings, Chicago was always mail order center of the country.

Another section celebrated entertainment events in Chicago including the 1893 World’s Fair.

As well as the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair.

Finally there was a small section celebrating the professional sports teams of Chicago – baseball’s Cubs and White Sox, football’s Bears, basketball’s Bulls and hockey’s Blackhawks.

Chicago – December 2018 – Ravenswood Architectural Artifacts

A trip up the El’s Brown Line took us to the Ravenswood Architectural Artifacts. Located in 80,000 square feet of an old industrial building, they have high end ‘artifacts’, many costing into the thousands of dollars.

They even had a couple of small cars, like this great Fiat.

The collection was unique, and large.

Where else can you find that mummy you were looking for.

Some sculptures from the top of old buildings.

One of those not really sure what they are piles.

Need a sign for the toilet?

Or a letter?

Forms for making masks.

A fireproof suit for working around a blast furnace.

Glass ornament – perhaps it once had a purpose other than decorative.

What a cool collection of ‘stuff’.

Well worth the visit – the Ravenswood Architectural Artifacts. Just off the Brown Line at Montrose.

Hawaii – November 2018 – Day 18 Art and History of Maui

Day 18 of the Hawaii trip is a travel day, so we stayed fairly close to the airport for our late afternoon flight. We found a number of interesting artistic and historic sites to visit.


First up was the Sacred Gardens. This location seemed to be part gardens, part religious, part cosmic and more.




They did have a ‘Buddha Garden’, with some nice sculptures.




Their claim to fame though is their labyrinths.




Just down the road is the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center. Situated on the grounds of a former sugar plantation owner, there are a number of buildings for various uses including a tiny high school.

The grounds are immaculate.




Makai Glassworks is located in another former sugar plantation. We were able to observe the artist at work.








In the same area, but off the tourist path, is the Dingking surfboard shop.




A true find, they make custom surfboards.




In addition to the surfboards, they do other custom woodwork including this great canoe.




But their specialty is surfboards.




Our next stop was the Surfing Goat Dairy, and as our directions had us turn into the road we were amazed that a dairy would have such a fancy entrance – until we realized the entrance was for a neighborhood of multi million dollar houses, and the dairy was off to to the side.



But they did have goats, and surfboards.




While most of the employment in Maui now is tourism, they once had thriving businesses in agriculture, primarily the sugar plantations and pineapples. They even once had railroads to bring the goods to the port, as evidenced by this former railroad office.

In my 3 weeks in Hawaii I did not see 1 railroad track (although there are apparently a couple of historic railroads around).




Sugar cane processing was once a big business, but it is all now gone. This was the last processing plant, and it closed a few years ago.




The history is celebrated by a museum housed in the former superintendents home.




The interior has a nice display of the people and lifestyles of the plantation life. Outside they have some of the equipment used in the processing.

This truck and trailer was used to bring in massive amounts of the sugar cane into the factory.




While these large claws picked up the cane in the fields.




A quick stop at Target – where they are ready for Christmas Hawaiian style.




And a great Hawaiian pizza – and it was off for our flights to Kauai.







Cleveland – July 2018 – “Fuel Cleveland”

Fuel Cleveland is an effort to bring together motorcycle art, culture and design. In existences for just 3 years, the annual event has become huge.

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Cleveland has always been a center of transportation manufacturing, with the famed ‘Cleveland’ motorcycles being produced between 1902 and 1929.

Today the name has been revived by the Cleveland Cycle Werks.

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The show has a limited number of motorcycles inside, but is attended by thousands who arrive on their own bikes.

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The collection on the street where we parked was better than most shows, and that was just the beginning.

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As previously noted, art is a critical part of this show. This photographer specializes in using the old school camera, developing his own film. He came to the event from New York City.

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Inside were some of the best bikes. The restorations are amazing.

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While many are customized choppers.

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Held in an old factory on the east side, the setting was perfect for this event.

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Many of the custom jobs had death as a subject matter.

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The art was mixed in throughout.

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There were plenty of colorful people as well.

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Your usual retro living room based on motorcycle parts.

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Even the vendors had character.

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While most of the bikes were Harley Davidson’s, I did come across a few others including this great old BMW.

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Next up was the Skidmore Garage. A working garage specializing in old bikes, most were up on the stands for easier access.

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This bike, called Junk and Disorderly used random, non traditional motorcycle parts. Note the seat is made out of an old tire.

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The mix of the custom bikes and eclectic art of old gas tanks provides a good idea of the atmosphere in the Skidmore Garage.

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The Detroit Brothers have an interesting approach to gas tank accessories.

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Hells Angels softer side – a pink chopper.

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There were numerous helmet design artists on hand.

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Even the air cleaners looked cool.

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This area of the east side of Cleveland was always an industrial neighborhood. While most of the industry has left, there are still a number of buildings remaining. The neighborhood definitely added to the gritty feel with the bikes.

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The parking lot was packed with bikes and riders.

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The classic winged Harley logo.

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Old bikes and old factories – a perfect combination.

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Even more – bikes everywhere.

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Lining the tree lawns along the street.

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A sweet cherry red chopper by itself in front of the building across the street.

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Welcome to Cleveland.

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By now we were dog tired and headed home, just not in a dog chariot – we took the car.

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Nazareth, PA – June 2018 – Martin Guitar Company Factory Tour and Museum

The Martin Guitar Company has been making guitars since 1833. The current CEO is the 5th generation of Martin’s to run the company.

The business started in New York City but moved to Pennsylvania after a few years, being located in Nazareth ever since.

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As you enter the facility you are immediately greeted by the company museum.

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The museum houses over 130 guitars from the 1830s until now. It is striking to see how similar they are from 200 years ago.

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In addition to the guitars they have some components from over the years.

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The craftsmanship is amazing.

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Martin also makes ukuleles and mandolins.

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The museum housed some custom ones, including one from the Grand Ole’ Opry.

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Having finished the museum portion, we headed out on the factory tour. The guide handed each person a headset and we headed out. First stop was where they are ‘booking the wood’, basically splitting it and attaching the pieces so the grain matches and is wide enough for the body.

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Nearly all of the manufacturing is done by hand.

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After formed they sit for an extensive amount of time with their collection of clothes pins to hold it together.

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The build process involves weeks and months of time as components dry.

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Fret board assembly.

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It was amazing the workers could focus with the continual tours walking by taking their photos.

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A polishing/sanding station.

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Closer to being completed, but still more waiting – it takes months to get a custom guitar from Martin.

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One of the few automated functions – a polisher.

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Note someone from a tour watching the worker.

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This person was applying the detail around the edge of the body of the guitar.

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Similar to this worker – their lighting has been custom built to provide the optimum view.

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The work continues….

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Throughout the plant….

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Applying the strings.

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And a final polish.

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Before a test drive!

The visit to the Martin Guitar Factory Tour is easily one of the best we have done. Having the chance to walk the factory floor and take great photos of the quality work and hard working craftsman was fantastic.

If you ever get the chance to go to Nazareth, Pennsylvania and visit them – it is well worth the effort.

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Bethlehem, PA – June 2018 – Steel Stacks

From 1915 until 1995 the Bethlehem Steel Works was one of the largest steel factories in America. As with much of the steel industry in America the facilities became aged and expensive and close.

Rather that tear the factory down Bethlehem took a novel approach and developed portions of it for a number of uses. Today their visitor center greets you as you arrive.

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Nearby they have added an amphitheater and the local PBS station.

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While next door are vacant buildings.

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The tallest stacks are over 200′ high.

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The entire facility is massive.

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Featuring a huge engine room.

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An elevated walkway parallels one side of the entire complex.

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It is always amazing how fast nature can take back over in inhospitable locations.

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At the south end are more vacant buildings along with a new Sands Casino – a bizarre mix.

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One last look at the vacant mill.

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And the nearby buildings.

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But some have been redeveloped into condos.

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