Touring U.S. Auto Plants - 2 Kinds of Plant Tours in South Carolina's Upcountry
By Tom Adkinson
Less than 20 miles apart from each other in South Carolina’s Upcountry are two visitor attractions that may seem polar opposites, but they could appeal to the same person on the same day with two quite different plant tours.
One is a cacophonous manufacturing facility – 55 acres under one roof populated by 7,000 employees, 383 robots and seemingly endless conveyors – and the other is a quiet garden, a 10-acre retreat from a noisy world.
The manufacturing plant has a name known around the world, BMW, while the garden’s name is known to the modest few who live nearby or seek it out. The BMW plant is in Greer (between Greenville and Spartanburg), and the Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve is in Spartanburg.
Let’s start with BMW, partly because you have to make plans to see a marvel of German manufacturing roll off the assembly line, while visiting the Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve is a drop-in-any-old-day activity.
It was a huge deal in 1994 when the first BMW, a 318i, came off the line, because it was the first BMW made in America. Today, the South Carolina plant remains BMW’s only plant in North America. In one part of the giant facility, X5 Sports Activity Vehicles and X6 Sport Activity Coupes are the products, while X3 Sport Activity Vehicles are made in a newer assembly hall nearby.
Seeing the process is an exercise in amazement. You view the whole operation in a small group while touring a building that covers 2.4 million square feet. You wear special headphones so you can listen to a tour leader’s step-by-step narration.
Early on, you meet Broomhilda, a robot who handles “filing.” She pulls car frames out of a multi-story stacker and zips them along the way to be painted, receive 7,500 spot welds and be completed exactly to order. The amazing takeaway facts are that every vehicle has its own DNA – it’s not exactly like the one in front of it or the one behind it – and every one is paid for before it’s built.
An easy drive, whether in a BMW or some more humble brand, of less than 20 miles on U.S. 29 delivers you to another world – the Hatcher Garden and Woodland Preserve. It’s a botanical oasis with an intriguing pedigree.
In 1969, retirees Harold & Josephine Hatcher bought a house and one acre of gullied, worn-out land. They dreamed of creating a public green space and started planting. Then they planted some more, and then even more – 10, 000 trees, shrubs and flowers.
Area garden clubs, a technical college, the city and others got interested, and the Hatchers’ green space grew to 10 acres. The sloping landscape features trails, streams, ponds, benches ideal for a quiet stop and open gathering places. It’s quite common to encounter a meditating widower, a curious school group and a wedding party all on the same visit.
The Hatchers eventually donated their botanical retreat to the community for perpetuity, essentially giving away their life savings. They weren’t wealthy in a monetary sense, but they certainly were wealthy in community spirit and a belief in nature’s beauty and power.
• Go to www.bmwusfactory.com for details of BMW’s $7 plant tours and the free access to the site’s BMW Zentrum Museum, and visit www.hatchergarden.org for details of Hatcher Garden’s version of a plant tour. To plan a visit throughout this corner of South Carolina, go to www.TheUpcountry.com, and to research destinations throughout the United States, go to www.TRIPinfo.com.