This past week I was lucky enough to be invited on a trip to Warroad Minnesota to take a tour of the Marvin windows facility and learn a bit more about the windows and doors that we primarily use on all our projects, how they are made, history of the business and other interesting tidbits along the way.
The trip was set up by John Schiltz Sr and John Schiltz Jr. at Voyageur Lumber in Ely along with our sales rep Eric Filby.
I had gone on this trip quite a few years back and I kept asking myself if I really wanted to do this again, after all, how many times can you tour a factory, but I was very happy that I decided to go. We were actually supposed to go last year about this time but we had a significant snow storm and the trip was called off.
A lot of it was repeat stuff but so much I had forgotten and it was just amazing to see the plant and contemplate it’s huge significance in this small rural community so very far from anywhere…
The funnest part, of course, was the flight, you can tell that by the fact that most of the pictures I took on the trip are of the plane, (though it didn’t help that they told us to please keep cell phones and cameras in our pockets while touring the plants).
I don’t get to fly in small planes much and it is so much more enjoyable that flying commercial flights mainly because you can see the ground you are flying over.
So… we all got to the Ely airport on Tuesday morning, the plane arrived about 8:30 and we got on board.
I think they said this was the largest of the four planes in the Marvin fleet. It is a Beech 1900c., (said as if I knew something about planes).
While I am thinking of it, here are a couple pictures of the plane at the Ely airport:
Once we got off the ground, the pilot turned and offered us all coffee. I don’t believe there were any takers. Hey, just for fun, here is a picture of the inside:
Needless to say, every seat is a window seat, so I suppose it would be silly of me not to post some pictures here looking out the window:
We spent a short time above some clouds but for the most part it was an absolutely beautiful clear day.
…about 35 minutes later… clear blue sky as we got off the plane in Warroad and grabbed our bags… of course a picture of the plane might be in order here… or of the clear blue sky , depending how you look at it.
I was a little negligent in taking pictures while there unfortunately, but one of the new things since the last time I was here is the Marvin Visitors Center. We went through the museum and got the whole story of the Marvin family from the late 1800s through today. More info on that here.
As I said, the cameras and phones had to stay in the pockets for proprietary consideration so I didn’t take a lot of pictures other than the plane.
Our tour guide and instructor was a guy named Lonnie Swanson who’s most impressive quality was his ability to remember all of our names immediately as well as apparently knowing the names of just about everybody in the entire Marvin facility.
We sat through a few “classroom” type sessions where he was also able to keep us entertained and interested.
We spent some time the first day walking through the wood processing plant, amazing laser mapping of the rough wood as it comes in and is cut into pieces around all the imperfections making the very best use of the wood. There is a remarkable lack of waste here. Almost everything is used and the scraps are used in the wood fired boiler that heats the plant, (along with other wood/biomass from other sources in the area). Mostly the Ponderosa Pine, but also the Doug Fir, Walnut, Mahogany, Cherry, in quantities far in excess of mere mouth watering for a guy like me.
Later the first day we walked through the Casement part of the plant where they assemble the casement line of windows, and, after a museum tour, we were joined for dinner at the Legion by the President of Marvin Windows, (a 3rd generation Marvin), Susan Marvin. Fortunately she sat by some of the more “colorful” members of our group, (rather than by guys like me), and so, I think, appeared to have a good time. Though I was aware John Sr was a little uncertain how that would go, I think he would say we all behaved well and didn’t embarrass ourselves. Of course, exemplary behavior is what you would expect from a group mostly of contractors from Ely… but you never know…
That evening we took a quick tour of a car collection owned by one of the Marvins. A place called The Shed. I have to say, I was a little disappointed. I just don’t think of Chevy Camaros and Novas as “collectable”, I don’t care what kind of engines are in them. Fortunately there were enough vintage Cobras and T-birds and Corvettes to keep it interesting… I would agree that the sheer magnitude of the collection was impressive… and our tour guide was a colorful little character who was mildly entertaining.
Way in the back I finally found something worthwhile… a Dodge Coronet, looks like about a ’68 or 69. Very nice but apparently my camera hand was a bit shaky at that point.
So, yes, I guess my pictures consist mostly of cars and planes… well if you read over my past blog posts there is a good chance you will see many Marvin windows there.
The second day we talked about Integrity Windows, and, again, Lonnie did a pretty good job of keeping us entertained, though we were a bit quieter than the day before, many of us, apparently having stayed up a bit late the night before at the hotel bar.
A word about that… I don’t believe I have ever had beer served to me in the gallon sized containers they used for mugs in that bar.
I had a great time getting to know to some people from Ely who I had not really known at all as well as talking to some folks I did know, but just don’t socialize with under normal circumstances. Actually, now that I think about it, I really don’t socialize with anybody under circumstances normal or otherwise… but enough about that.
It was a very relaxing evening and though we did a good job of avoiding the potentially contentious subjects, I think, for a small group of contractors and builders and designers from Ely, we worked diligently on solving many of the worlds problems with, I believe, a surprising degree of success. I think I managed to stay uncharacteristically calm, even on the subject of local politics. Of course the meaning of the word “calm” here might be somewhat subjective but I didn’t feel like anyone was avoiding me the next day. No more than usual anyway.
Later that second morning we toured the “round tops” and “custom” part of the plant. The amount of hand work on some of these is quite impressive. They will build pretty much anything anybody can design and they had a few project going with pretty wild shapes and curves.
Just building them one at a time.
If I was working there that would be the place I would want to be. It just looked like fun work.
Always something new and different, and every unit just one at a time.
Then we made our way back to the hanger and headed home. Here I have some more pictures of the plane in-case we didn’t get enough of these before.
I sat on the same side of the plane, (starboard), so, this shot is vastly different from the earlier shots in that I was looking out the windows on the south side of the plane instead of the north:
Overall, I am glad I went on this trip. It’s good to take some time out and get away from the daily work routine for a day.
I wondered how they could afford to do this sort of thing and they explained that Marvin just decided to put their money into this sort of marketing more than paying for as many commercials etc as other window companies. I would have to say it is effective. In general, most commercials are pretty insulting, and here, I felt we were treated respectfully by members of a family owned company that put a great deal of pride in their product, their history and their community… this tiny town of 1300 people on the Canadian border in the middle of nowhere, (there are 2200 employed at the Marvin facility in Warroad alone. Do the math!?!)…
I was impressed and am thankful to have been invited.