|In Arizona's second largest city where the Old West meets south of the border, having spent a couple of weeks here 2 years ago and seen most everything we wanted to see we thought we had "done" Tucson and probably wouldn't be back. A call from our son who was going to be in Tucson on business changed all that in a hurry! We weren't about to pass up getting to see him. As it turned out we were in for some unknown surprises. Kim's boss asked if we would like to take a tour of the manufacturing plant for Universal Avionics in Tucson, where they are headquartered. Absolutely we jumped at that chance! We soon learned that while Kim works in the Redmond, WA Office and Tucson is the head office the company has several other offices around the world but all the manufacturing is done here. Knowing they made "black boxes" for airplanes we were amazed to learn they make 2000 different products for airplanes and everything is computerized and digitized except the testing process. The machines can manufacture between 5000 and 30,000 units an hour depending on the product and are re-set several times a day to make whatever products have been ordered. All being done in an assembly line fashion they start out with circuit boards, then add the components, the largest approximately 1 1/2 inches square to ones that are no bigger around than a human hair. The components are soldered on both sides of the board, most by automation but some still by hand. Everything runs on little train tracks from station to station and while we were not allowed in the manufacturing area, we we allowed to walk around the perimeter and see the different stages each product goes through. As each item is being completed, it is run through a testing process before being packaged and shipped to the buyer. Because the components are used in aircraft, the company deals with the FAA, as well as the airlines, so every part made from the components ordered has to be cataloged and kept in a database so if the aircraft later has an issue, Universal can trace the parts back to their suppliers. The office in Redmond where Kim works is the engineering wing of the company and designs all the new products which are then sent to Tucson to be manufactured. Not a place where just anyone can visit, we were very fortunate to have been invited into Universal's world for a behind the scenes tour of their manufacturing. Of course we were not able to take any photos which we certainly understood. Then it was on to see the "Rattlesnake Bridge" which is a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that crosses a busy four lane street into downtown Tucson. Shaped just like a Diamondback rattler, you can walk in its head and out by its tail. As you exit the bridge by the tail, the buzz of a rattlesnake welcomes you...a little eerie because there are rattlesnakes all over down here so you are watching where you step at all times. The bridge was completed in 2002 and is 280 feet long. A fun and unique sight to see. From there it was on to the Stewart Boot Manufacturing Company where all boots are custom made just for you. The company has been making custom boots since the 1940's and has been located in Tucson since 1955. The company boasts lots of "big" names who wear their boots from Clint Eastwood to Robert Wagner. The process starts with the owner himself greeting you with a tape measure wrapped around his neck, taking lots of measurements and drawings of each foot. You are then taken to a huge room where tables and tables of leather of every kind from horse and cow hides to exotics like ostrich, stingray, elephant and alligator and colors await you choosing the perfect one for you. A "last" (foot form) is then made of your exact measurements and leather glued on in places where you have special needs, each foot having its own uniqueness. Victor can also make boots to clear up plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. The leather pieces are then cut (14 for each boot), lined then glued and stitched together before heading to the area where the soles and heels are put on. Only after the entire boot is made around your mold (last) and polished is the "last" removed, labeled and kept for your next pair of boots. Each pair is completed in approximately 90 days. The quality is so superior, it lasts for many years and they say "you may need a repair in 15-20 years!" The cost of a custom pair of boots starts at around $650.00 and goes up depending on the leathers you choose, the most expensive being alligator on the carte (vamp) and horse hide on the boot calf. The 2 most unique customers they have had are one customer ordered a pair in every leather (well over 50 leathers) and another ordered a pair with not only the carte being made out of alligator but also the top (calf) which brought the total price of the boots to over $6500.00. If you are in the Tucson area this is a great place to put on your "bucket list" even if you aren't in the market for a new pair of boots. And if you are, they are definitely the place to go. Stewart Custom Boot Co. is located at 30 W. 28th Street in Tucson. Since Mike wears boots, he spent a lot of time "drooling" over just what he would order if he had the chance (and the money). Since he had spent all morning yesterday in the dentists chair repairing a previous root canal, that won't be happening any time soon. Sorry I haven't updated the blog in some time and will go back and update with all the fun things we did while we were in Yuma with friends.