Eyewitness reports from Vermont say that this has been an especially good autumn for colorful foliage, and it's not too late to see the vivid hues of fall in southern Vermont. If you drive up scenic Route 7 north of Bennington, and have an interest in field sports, you may want to visit the home of the Orvis Company in Manchester, where the firm has been making fly-fishing rods since 1856.
The products of Orvis have greatly expanded since the company began. In fact, many people know Orvis now more for its widely sold line of clothing than for its fishing rods. However, the tour in Manchester is solely about the company's original core business of producing equipment for fly fishing. In addition to still crafting rods of the traditional bamboo, the company now also makes modern carbon-fiber rods. These are the industry standard for modern anglers who still enjoy the peaceful ancient pastime of fly fishing: wading into cold streams to catch trout with special rods and a wide array of lures exquisitely crafted to resemble insects.
You begin the tour by walking through hallways that display pictures of rod manufacture over the past century, while your guide talks about the history and craft of this profession. Most of the rods Orvis sells are made of various graphite composites, using materials and technology pioneered by the aerospace and defense industries. These techniques yield a powerful rod that is still sensitive enough for accurate line control and casting. The graphite needs to be stored in freezers in flat sheets. These are then turned into blanks that are cut into shapes, molded, and baked for almost two hours at 250°F. After sanding, the high-end rods get three coats of finish, finely polished with a final layer that blocks ultraviolet light. In the assembly area, 10 to 20 people put on the butts, cork grips, and guides.
You also see craftsmen fixing rods. Although Orvis rods rarely need repair and come with a 25-year guarantee, freak damage occasionally occurs in the wild—for example, when an angler is forced to use a rod to repel a bear! After such episodes, owners can send their rods to the factory for repair (with or without a good story).
Following the tour, you can take a lesson in casting at the edge of the nearby pond, which is stocked with trout, though hopefully no bears.
All of New England is gorgeous in the fall, and trees in the southern areas are showing peak autumn colors right now. For more ideas on factory tours in New England or anywhere else in the US, see our book Watch It Made in the U.S.A.
Posted By Karen Axelrod Oct 23, 2008