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Easter an Eggs-citing Time for Maine Wood Manufacturer
03/27/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Next Monday, more than 35,000 people will descend on the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll. It's an event that dates back to the 1870s, and one of the traditions that's been added in years since is the handing out wooden Easter egg keepsakes. As it happens, those eggs are made in Buckfield, Maine. Patty Wight takes us to the manufacturing plant that, despite widespread industry decline, still survives - and thrives - on making these every year.

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Easter is an Eggs-citing Time for Maine Wood Manuf Listen

In the depths of February winter, while snow still clings to tree branches and the color pallette is muted and muddy, workers at Wells Wood Turning and Finishing think spring. That's because February is time to make wooden Easter eggs for the White House.

"As you can imagine, it can get a little cold and dreary, as we have today, and it's nice to see this flash of color coming through the mill," says Alan Chesney, the co-owner of Wells Wood Turning and Finishing. For seven years now, his company has been the one to crank out close to 100,000 wooden eggs for the White House every Easter.

By the time the White House gives final approval for egg color and design, Wells Wood Turning and Finishing has little more than a month to complete the job.

Easter eggs 1 Clipped wood will soon transform into eggs while running through the lathe.It starts in their mill. "I love going into the mill. I find it absolutely fascinating to watch things being created through a piece of wood," Chesney says.

Chesney opens the door to the racket of machines churning out everything from tool handles to rolling pins. Over to the left are the eggs.

"We're going to take a walk down what's known as Spool Alley, which is a series of spool machine lathes, and that's where the eggs are made," he says. "So let's go take a look."

"Spool Alley" is home to a multi-step lathe where the eggs first take shape. At the top of a ramp, a worker cuts cylinders of birch or maple to a width about the size of your palm, then the cylinders (left) roll down through a series of steps that turn and transform them into eggs.

This is one of the quicker steps in the process. From piece of wood to finished Easter Egg takes about 10 days. Employees often work overtime and on weekends to meet their deadline.

"If it requires us to work all night on the Easter Eggs, we will work all night on the Easter Eggs. That's what it takes to succeed in today's business environment," Chesney says.

Patty Wight: "Has that happened, where you've had to work all night on the Easter eggs?"

Alan Chesney: "Uh, yes it has."

Patty Wight: Is it going to happen this year do you think?"

Alan Chesney: "We hope not."

Easter eggs 4 Eggs stay in drying racks up to 12 hours before another coat is applied.One of the most time-consuming steps is the painting of the eggs. A series of open rotating metal barrels tumble and coat the eggs in bright shades of pink, yellow, blue, purple, and green.

These eggs will get anywhere from 5 to 10 coats of paint before they're ready for the logo: an image of the Easter Bunny jumping rope. It ties in with First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" exercise initiative. Some eggs also bear an image of the Obama's dog Bo, and are signed with a paw print.

Wells Wood general manager John Pietroski says these eggs are, by far, the most popular item for himself and employees to make.

"I'm very proud of them. I truly am," he says. "It's a little piece of artwork. Everybody here takes so much pride. We don't want to send out one bad egg, and there's a lot of eggs that go own there. And we always get them done, we get them done on time, and they are beautiful."

For production supervisor Ellen Bragg, the eggs bring a burst of color to the plant, but it's really all about the ultimate destination. "It's exciting thinking you're making something that's going to the White House, and it gets displayed all over the Internet. It's exciting to think that this small little town made something."

Something smooth and colorful from Buckfield, Maine, that will soon be in the hands of thousands of kids at the White House.

Photos and video by Patty Wight.


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