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.








Waterbury, Vermont – August 2019 – We All Scream For Ice Cream

Welcome to Vermont!



When in Vermont you must make a stop at the original Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory for a tour and samples!



Even though there doesn’t seem to be anything proprietary they don’t let you take photos of the production floor, but do have a lab set up.



They make up for it with free samples at the end!



Much of the tour is the marketing they have used over the years.



We finished our tour and headed outside to check things out.



The famed Flavor Graveyard – Ben & Jerry’s is known for their unusual flavors, and often they don’t work out.



Each of the discarded flavors get’s it’s own head stone (not sure if it is from Rock of Ages Granite Quarry).



As with the quirky names all their flavors get, the head stones have little rhymes to explain what happened.







They have a few larger items from their early days.





It was fantastic ice cream!






Barre, Vermont – August 2019 – Rockin’ Out in Vermont

While New Hampshire may be known as the Granite State, Vermont has their fair share. Their statehouse is a great example of Vermont granite.



Just outside the nearby town of Barre is the Rock of Ages Granite Company.



It is like many of the old company towns I grew up seeing in Pennsylvania and Ohio, only instead of coal it is granite – everywhere.



When you arrive at the top of the mountain and look down you see this massive pit. It is 600′ deep, but 300′ of it is under water.



Everything is super sized here, as they cut away giant chunks of granite for processing.



This quarry has been used for over 100 years. Their tools today are much better than the early days, which have been left behind. In the early days they climbed down these sketchy looking ladders to use drilling and dynamite to break the granite apart.



The years of removal have left interesting patterns on the quarry walls.



The tall yellow tower was used to bring the multi ton pieces up to the surface.



It was dangerous work.



As we made our way back down the mountain we passed their stockyard. Nothing was behind fences as the threat of something carrying away a rock weighing thousands of pounds without getting noticed is fairly low.



It wouldn’t even fit in their pickup truck.



We arrived while the factory was on lunch, so we spent some time bowling on the granite bowling lane, with granite pins. They claim that they used to use real bowling balls, but the pins would break the balls, so now they use foam.



The factory is quiet…. for the moment.



The crew has returned. With the weight everything is moved with cranes.



The granite business has gone down tremendously over the years. In the early years much was used in the construction industry (all those cool Art Deco buildings), but now it is relegated to mostly head stones. Even those aren’t used as much as in the past.



This day all the work we saw was on the aforementioned headstones.







Artisans still do the detail work.


And someone named David is about to get his headstone.





New Ibiera, Louisiana – May 2019 – Conrad Rice Mill

New Ibiera, Louisiana has long been a center of rice production. On the east side of town is the Conrad Rice Mill, the country’s oldest rice mill still in production. They have been processing rice here since 1912.



The production facility consists of a few old metal buildings, which have a great weathered look.











Next door is a general store that they start their tours from, as well as sell a number of their products. Our tour was lead by a veteran of the more than 40 years with the company.



The interior looks like it should – nearly all vintage equipment.





While there are a number of different types of rice grown and processed, the Conrad Rice Mill only processes short and medium.





It is always good to see buildings continue to be used for their original purpose into a second century, and with new owners it appears the Conrad Rice Mill will continue for years to come.






New Orleans – May 2019 – Mardi Gras World

New Orleans does parades better than any other city in America, possibly the world. For Mardi Gras season alone there are more than 75 parades.

Making the props and floats for the parades is a big business. The largest company in this industry is Kern Studios.



In 1947 Blaine Kern was hired to make a float after someone had seen his work on a mural. From there the business took off, not only for New Orleans parades, but other cities, as well as Universal Studios and others.



Housed in a 300,000 square foot warehouse along the Mississippi River, the company produces amazing props.



It is here they come up with the idea, and with some creative construction methods, build their visions.



Today most are made out of Styrofoam, covered in paper mache.



From this base, and with talented artists they complete the huge pieces.




The final floats are massive. Because the Mardi Gras parades can last hours they even have porta potties hidden in the middle as the float participants can be on them for 5 hours +.



Below are some examples of their finest work.



































Mardi Gras World is a fantastic photo op.






Vance, Alabama – May 2019 – Benz in ‘Bama

As you are driving down the interstate in rural Alabama one of the most unlikely road names you expect to see is Mercedes Drive!



That is until you exit and find car carriers leaving with new Mercedes Benz SUVs.



Over the last 25 years most non domestic car makers have built factories in the U.S., and Mercedes is no different. Their facility here is first class – an almost 4 million square feet manufacturing plant…



A state of the art training facility…



And a beautiful visitor center.



Normally you can go to the visitor center and take tours of the factory but they are retooling and the tours are shut down.

The visitor center however remains open with their museum to tour.



It features some recent models from AMG.



Lewis Hamilton’s Petronas F1 car.



The display included a concept car.



The museum portion have some very early examples of Mercedes.



The classic 1970s MB look.



The pre war years were very stylish.



It was disappointing that the factory tours are unavailable, but the small museum was worth the stop.