Miles Today: 212.4
Total Miles: 7945.3
Days on the Road: 134
Things That Are Stupid About Yooperland
Everything, but they have free bathrooms.
Giant Chain Saw,
Awww, It Thinks It's People
We almost nixed the whole plan, despite the fact we'd driven miles out of our way and camped within a few miles of the place. The morning was almost over and we hadn't even unhooked our various hookups, unpopped the top or had any coffee. Ah hell, we'd come this far hadn't we?
Pet caskets. Yep, what landed us in the southeastern corner of the U.P. was the draw of Hoegh Industries and a tour of their pet casket manufacturing facility. Not only is Hoegh the largest pet casket manufacturer in the world, rumor has it they're also the largest casket manufacturer, period. Color us impressed.
Our tour started before we even entered the building when, as we later learned, the receptionist spotted our foreign automobile and out-of-state plates and intercommed the warehouse to send out the tour guide, who also happens to be 1/7th of the workforce. So much for the whole undercover tourist gig. Our amiable guide, Jeff, met us in the lobby and promptly rattled through the requisite casket maker repartee, saving us from later saying things like "You must really make a killing with these profit margins" and "A bird in the hand is worth two in the casket".
All joking aside, Hoegh Industries was one of our favorite all-American tours so far. Not only was our guide someone we'd vote for if he ever ran for county commissioner and we were constituents of that county, the tour itself was unscripted, up-close and we never felt like they were pushing product. Not once did they offer a two-for-one deal or tell us that an unlined hamster casket could be ours today for the low, low factory-only price of...well, just what do pet caskets go for these days, anyway? I believe their largest casket, appropriately known as "The Great Dane", retails for somewhere around $150. Prices tend to fluctuate if you spring for the lace-edged cloth linings or add a memorial plaque with your deceased pet's picture. Their smallest casket, for a hamster, goes for significantly less.
Not to be overlooked are the less-orthodox and unintended uses of these small plastic boxes. During our tour we spotted at least a couple of the bird-sized containers being used to hold tool scraps and pencils. One of the factory guys snickered to us that they're great for camping, and - and you sitting down? - our guide guardedly told us that the majority of their sales are to the "human industry". Are you thinking what we did? Infant caskets? And the thought did cross our minds that non NBA-sized bodies could probably fit in the Great Dane box. Just as when Edison invented the phonograph primarily as a device to record and replay telephone messages before the music industry co-opted it for rock-and-roll, this seems to us just another case of history repeating. (The convoluted point of that last sentence is just that people tend to find uses for things that the inventors never envisioned or intended. Of course, in this case, these caskets were intended to have dead things put in them, just not necessarily people.)
On a budget? Not-so-fond of that not-so-tall relative that just kicked it? You might want to think about this: The Great Dane costs about $150. An infinished pine box intended for a human starts at around $1750.
All joking aside again, it's always great to see people taking pride in what they do, and the skilled and friendly folks at Hoegh certainly have reason to be proud. They've got an efficient little production line, unquestionable control of an obscure market, and, we can only speculate, quite a few satisfied, if weepy and a bit pathetic, customers.
Want more? There's more.
© 2002, 2003 Anthony Hecht and Liz Jones. All rights reserved.