“How many of you had eggs for breakfast?” my mother would ask a group of squirming school children or scout group on a field trip, and a few would raise their hands. Their tour of our family’s poultry farm began with a visit to the chicken coop, where they saw the wooden nests along the wall, the watering and grain troughs in the center, and hundreds of chickens walking around.
Holding their noses and plugging their ears, the children asked question after question. “What do they eat? Can they see? Do they have friends?” And so on, and my mother would answer as best she could.
They’d walk past the pond, where we skated in winter and swam during the summer, which provided water for the chickens when the wells went dry. Mom, a biology major, used the opportunity to discuss ecology.
Next they’d tour the processing room, where the eggs were loaded by hand onto a conveyor belt, washed, dried, and would pass through a darkened booth, shrouded in black fabric, to be “candled.” As they rolled through, a light illuminated the inside, and the worker (often me or my sister) would examine each egg for defects, like blood spots, ill-formed yolks, and other concerns that made the egg unsuitable for consumption. These were removed and the remainder continued on their way to be “graded,” or sorted by weight, and packed into cartons or flats for delivery.
When the children climbed back onto their school buses, they knew how eggs ended up in the cartons in their refrigerators.
Any travel we did as a family usually included some sort of factory tour. My parents wanted us to understand how things were made. I remember watching glass blowing, root beer bottling, corn flake baking, newspapers printing, and the best, chocolate making. The smells alone were intoxicating. We were often given free samples at the end of the tours.
Years later, as my own children grew; we tried to share these experiences. Sadly many factories have closed or limited their tours to a small viewing area due to insurance concerns. Far too often, these once educational tours have become tourist traps that end in the gift shop. I remember when my sister-in-law worked in the Crayola Factory, in Easton, PA. There’s very little about production, and quite a lot about art projects using new products you’re then welcome to purchase.
Seeing the PEZ Center sign off of I-95 in Orange, CT last week piqued my curiosity—and cynicism. Would it be worthwhile? Would I learn something I couldn’t find on the Internet? The $5.50 admission entitled me to a $2.00 credit toward purchases.
Invented in Vienna, Austria in 1927 as a breath mint, the candy evolved into a tiny, brick-shaped sugary confection and comes in many fruit and other flavors. It’s best known for its dispenser: long plastic rectangular tubes with a mechanical head that when bent back, reveals a candy. The dispensers, designed to honor every holiday, television show, Disney character, and even Presidents, have become collectors’ items.
There’s a limited museum, chronicling PEZ through the decades, a small window showing assembly-line packaging, cases of old dispensers, and a huge shop. I bought a witch with my $2 credit to include in my daughter’s Halloween care package.
As a factory tour, this is a disappointment. As a bit of nostalgia, a little history lesson about how one idea spawned another, this isn’t so terrible; however, it’s overpriced. And really, you can learn everything you need to know about PEZ on the Internet.
It won’t be on my list to take the grandchildren. We’ll look for farms instead.