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Monday, February 2, 2015

York, Pa., the nation's waist basket

Once the nation's capital -- for 353 days during the Revolutionary War -- York now gives us something near and dear to far too many Americans: love handles.

If not for York, the junk food shelves would be barren or, worse, filled with health foods. Here, factories year-round are busy producing tons of chocolates, candies, pretzels and chips, chips, chips!

This year, the visitors bureau began referring to the city as the "Factory Tour Capital of the World." Most of the food factory tours here -- and in Hanover, 20 miles to the south -- are available all year, but calling ahead for reservations is a good idea.

The Hershey name may be more familiar around the world, but you have to go to York's Wolfgang Candy Co. if you want to see candy actually being made. Hershey's tour is little more than a mobile slide show perfumed with faux chocolate.

Not so at Wolfgang's. Family-owned and family-managed since its founding in 1921, Wolfgang's is one of the leading manufacturers in the lucrative niche market of candy sold for charitable fundraisers. If you buy candy from a kid for a Christmas, Easter or Halloween fundraiser, it is probably a Wolfgang product.

Even if you do not have time for a tour, stop by the company's E. Fourth Avenue offices to enjoy a root beer float and some Bavarian ice cream in its Sweeten Haus Center.

You are likely to need a reservation if you want to crawl along the catwalk above where Snyder's of Hanover packages its popular Sourdough Hard Pretzels. But unlike most of the York tours, you will not see any product being made at Snyder's. 

The company considers its processing an industry secret.

Dawn Food Products, on Concord Road, allows visitors -- no jewelry in the production area, please -- to view the production of cakes from start to finish. This 25-minute guided tour concludes with a generous sampling.

Martin's Potato Chips, on Lincoln Highway, takes visitors from the huge potato-filled storage area into the fragrant frying room, where they get to see and taste the chips minutes after they have been lifted from the boiling vats.

Still hungry? Take a Chip Trip through Utz of Hanover to watch as the factory makes about 12,000 pounds of chips per hour, as well as three kinds of pork rinds: regular, BBQ and Hot & Spicy.

Like most of the York factories, Utz has an outlet store, at 861 Carlisle St., where customers can pay for premium chips at generic prices.

Founded here in the 1930s, peppermint patties once were a York fixture, and many residents remember gorging themselves on peppermint patty "seconds," candies that did not pass the demanding snap test: If a randomly selected candy did not break clean in the middle, it was a second and had to be sold at the factory gates for pennies a pound.

York Peppermint Patties was bought out and moved to Reading in 1988, but you can still get seconds from Stauffer's Cookie Factory Outlet at 375 S Belmont St. The company claims to be the world's largest producer of animal crackers.

And because it would not do to serve all these snacks in something as pedestrian as the plastic bag they are sold in, York County is also home to Susquehanna Pfaltzgraff, the oldest manufacturer of casual dinnerware in America.

Of course, York is not just for snacks. It is becoming a popular East Coast destination for urban golfers who want a long weekend of fairway fun. The best of the bunch for an all-inclusive experience might be Heritage Hills Golf Resort & Conference Center. It has in-room hot tubs and a challenging 18-hole course. Springwood Golf Course, on Chestnut Hill Road, was named by both Golf Magazine and Golf Digest as one of the 10 best new courses when it opened in 1998.

And the most famous product to come out of York has nothing to do with the kinds of foods the nutritionists warn you about. You cannot eat it, unless you count the dust its big, spoked wheels kick up off the pavement.

For York is home to the Harley-Davidson Final Assembly Plant, a place that could teach the Marines a thing or two about esprit de corps.

Tours begin in the Antique Motorcycle Museum, with its many cycles built since the company's founding in 1903 by William S. Harley and William Davidson. The company began in a tiny Milwaukee garage and was moved to York in 1974. Here it produces about 50,000 "hogs" each year.

Why York? Who knows? Maybe the tough Milwaukee men and women who built the bikes had a sweet tooth. Or maybe they got bored with beer.

Owners who have ordered bikes often make a pilgrimage to York to watch their own machines being built; each purchase has a serial number coinciding with the bike's parts.

Finally, York provides a way to counter all that caloric consumption. The York Barbell Museum and Weightlifting Hall of Fame celebrates York Barbell Co., founded in 1935.

• York’s Harley-Davidson tour was named by Smarter Travel Media as one of the best factory tours in America. It features a Kids’ Rally section for those 12 and under.
• Estimates are that Americans eat 1.2 billion pounds of chips every year.

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