Watch it Made in Kansas City
Have you ever wondered what the secret is to making a violin sing? Do you want to know how robotics are used to manufacture motorcycles? How can a piece of glass become a miniature work of art? What makes fudge so creamy? And, how are those gift bows on packages made so perfectly? The answers to these secrets and more are revealed on tours of Kansas City’s original companies. Come along for the adventure!
Harley-Davidson Vehicle & Powertrain Operations Plant
The Facts: 11401 N. Congress Ave., KC, MO. 816.270.8023. FREE tours Mon.-Fri., 9:00-1:30, for visitors 12 and up. www.Harley-Davidson.com
The Experience: It’s not every day that we get to see an American factory assembly line process in action, and the Harley-Davidson Factory is an incredibly efficient and fascinating tour for just such an experience. At the factory, workers build complete motorcycles from start to finish in 45 minutes (plus paint drying time). The tour begins with a short video, then each visitor is given safety goggles and a radio to clearly hear the guide on the factory floor, where you witness the entire process from robotic welding, to laser-cutting and frame-bending, to polishing and assembly. In the visitor’s center, you can sit on current production motorcycles and visit the gift shop.
Tips: It is best to make reservations to avoid the potential wait walk-ins sometimes encounter. See their site for rules before visiting.
The Facts: 5842 Merriam Dr., Merriam, KS. Call 913.403.8999 to schedule a free tour. www.KCStrings.com
The Experience: There is only one shop in America where professional level violins, violas, cellos and basses are crafted and it is located right in Downtown Merriam. In 1992, master luthier (maker of stringed instruments) Anton Krutz, his father Misha (retired bass player for the K.C. Symphony) and business partner and craftsman Rick Williams opened K.C. Strings where more than 20 craftsmen make world-class instruments. On the tour, Anton shares many of the traditions of his craft, but there is one secret he will never reveal: the formula for his signature opaque layer of mineral varnish, perhaps the most significant factor in the sound quality produced by his instruments. Visitors are shown each step in the process from the room where slabs of wood are stored for drying, to the wood working where master craftsmen shape the pieces of each instrument and ultimately assemble, varnish and sell them to orchestras around the world. The shop sells instruments for each level, from student to master musician.
Tips: The tour offers an in-depth view into the science of stringed instruments and it is a wonderful outing for older children, teens and adults.
Moon Marble Company
The Facts: 600 Front St., Bonner Springs, KS. 913.422.1432. Open Tue-Sat., 10:00-5:00. www.MoonMarble.com. Free marble making demonstrations Tue., Fri. and Sat. (10:30-4:00) when a glass artist is available.
The Experience: Moon Marble is a magical toy store overflowing with the coolest toys around. Like Alice slipping through the rabbit hole, you'll discover gizmos and gadgets labeled “Try Me.” The highlight is watching marble making demonstrations! The demonstration begins with a short video explaining how factory-made marbles are manufactured, then a glass artist makes handmade marbles right before your eyes. Best of all, they display the process on a large screen so it is easy to see. The artist explains the history of marble making, how the process works and each step as the glass is fired and formed into a work of art. And, of course, marbles are available for purchase. From collectible works of art to marbles for play, they have it all. Children can fill a tube with marbles ($3-5 depending on size) specifically selecting favorite colors and designs, then reach into "Mr. Big Mouth" to choose the perfect shooter to cap off the set!
Tips: Call ahead to verify demonstration times. For more read our Bonner Springs Day Trip tips.
Chip’s Chocolate Factory
The Facts: Crown Center (2nd Floor) 2450 Grand Ave., Suite 239, KC, MO. 816.421.0012. www.ChipsChocolateFactory.com
The Experience: A visit to Chip’s Chocolate Factory is a treat for the senses! From the delicious aroma of warm chocolate to the tasty samples, to the beautiful artistry of fudge makers preparing handmade confections in copper kettles and forming it on marble slabs, Chip’s is a delight for all ages. Kansas City Fudge was originally developed by the Chip’s team more than 27 years ago. With a vision for entertaining and educating, the shop was designed for live demonstrations, which are offered daily. Visitors also can schedule a private tour for groups for a full experience in “Chocology” with tastings and souvenirs.
Tips: Be sure to visit the special FREE exhibits for kids on Crown Center’s 1st floor or play in the fountains to complete your day!
Hallmark Visitor’s Center
The Facts: 2450 Grand Blvd., KC, MO. 816.274.3613. Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10:00-4:30; Sat., 9:30-4:30;Sunday: Closed. www.HallmarkVisitorsCenter.com
The Experience: In 1910, 18-year-old J.C. Hall came to Kansas City selling postcards out of two shoeboxes (yes, that is the secret behind the name of the “Shoebox” card line). His brother, Rollie, joined him and they founded Hall Brothers Stationery Company, now known as Hallmark. The Hallmark Visitor’s Center tells the history of Hallmark, but the highlight of the tour is watching the production processes on Hallmark cards on factory machines. And don’t leave without pressing the button where you can watch as a gift bow is made right before your eyes as a free souvenir to take home.
Tip: Don’t forget to visit Kaleidoscope, next door to the Visitor’s Center, for free hands-on art fun for kids! See www.HallmarkKaleidoscope.com for a schedule.
Bonus TIP: See our KC Farm Tour article to learn about Shatto Milk Company, where you can watch milk bottling and cheese making, and Green Dirt Farm where you can see a sheep farm and cheese making.
Kristina Light enjoys discovering the Best of Kansas City with her family and sharing it with KC Parent readers.