An hour or so West of Houston is the small town of Brenham. It is well known throughout Texas as the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream, where the cows are reported to believe that Brenham is Heaven. The commercials are filled with images of good-looking models and good looking cows. The company tagline is:We eat what we can, and we sell the rest.
Like all factory tours, the Blue Bell Ice Cream Tour takes a bit of the romance out of the ice cream dreams inspired by the commercials. It is a manufacturing plant filled with shiny steel tubes, containers, conveyors, and all manner of baffling automation. Giant machines take the raw ingredients and transform them into store-freezer-ready containers. The employees do such dull, repetitive work that they need to change what they are doing every twenty minutes.
The best part of the five dollar tour was the cup of ice cream served at the end. Blue Bell does make some very good ice cream. I had the birthday cake flavor, which had actual cake mixed into it. Odd, but good.
There were no cows to be seen, happy or otherwise, at the Blue Bell factory-unless you want to count the bronze sculpture out front. We were part of a tiny tour of only four people-a bit of a drop from the madness of a few weeks back when each tour was fifty people and they were scheduled every ten minutes. Our tour guide seemed happy enough with the lighter pace.
Aside from large rooms filled with complex machinery, the tour consisted of our guide pointing to a number of large photographs and telling us about their subjects. One feature an old woman in a horse drawn buggy who used to be a regular fixture in Brenham. She was also the subject of a short film-though I don’t recall her having any connection to Blue Bell.
The Gift Shop is filled with the usual assortment of gift shop items with the Blue Bell logo stenciled, silk screened, and pasted onto them. I was tempted by a painter’s hat, but didn’t really want to spend the $16 for it. The Wife got a magnet in the shape of a half gallon of Blue Bell ice cream that didn’t cost too much. There were a lot of ice cream scoops and ice cream bowls.
The gift shop had a nice Victorian feel to it. Lots of stained glass and wood working. The outside of the tourist part of the plant had a brick façade and there was a 1920s style ice cream truck parked out front. Blue Bell ice cream goes back to 1907 and there were a lot of old ice cream cartons and advertisements, as well as some antique ice cream scoops.
The Tour lacked the magic of Willy Wonka, but it was pretty impressive how quickly they can bang out a half gallon of ice cream.