Made in Fort Wayne

Around the world, all the time, in your home, in your hands

Three Rivers Distilling Company, photography by Neal Bruns
Travis Kraick, Stephen Blevins, Aaron Pence of Three Rivers Distilling Company, photography by Neal Bruns
Three Rivers Distilling Company's Early Bourbon, photography by Neal Bruns
Kristy Jo Beber, photography by Neal Bruns
Kristy Jo Beber's pottery, photography by Neal Bruns
Scott Swymeler of BAE Systems, photography by Neal Bruns
A model Boeing aircraft at BAE Systems, photography by Neal Bruns
Megan Elizabeth Sutton of The Narwhal and the Manatee, photography by Neal Bruns
The Narwhal and the Manatee skincare products, photography by Neal Bruns

There have been televisions and potato chips.

What we think of as the gas pump was invented here – and then manufactured here by two different companies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Lights designed to illuminate warehouses and cities have been made here as well as jukeboxes.

To this day magnet wire, metals, adult erector sets, aluminum castings, popcorn and motors are all made here.

We are a city that makes things.

And we have a long history to prove it.

This month, we celebrate our ingenuity and manufacturing know-how by featuring just a few of the cool and unique things that get made here – and they run the gamut from products you’d taste to things you’d put on your skin to the arts and electronics that keep you safe.

We brew beverages. We make skin products. We’re artists and we’re engineers.

These are just a sample of the impressive range of things made in Fort Wayne.


Three Rivers Distilling Company

For weeks afterward, Travis Kraick couldn’t get the vision out of his head.

While he did some contract work for the military in Iowa, his wife tried to come up with some things to do during his off time. That’s when she found the Mississippi River Distilling Company, which offered daily tours.

Kraick expected something along the lines of a big operation. Think Jim Beam or Jack Daniels. Instead, his eyes were opened to a small company begun by two native Hawkeyes who had quit corporate careers to take up their artisan craft. He didn’t know a thing about distilling, but one thought kept running through Kraick’s head:

Why isn’t there something like this in Fort Wayne?

Some time later, Kraick called Stephen Blevins, a buddy – and bourbon lover – he met while serving in the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard and asked if he’d be interested in opening a distillery here.

“I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me that very question,” Blevins responded.

That’s how the Three Rivers Distilling Company, the first-ever legal distillery in Allen County, was born.

This past April, a few years after that call, the distillery opened its doors at a 7,100-square-foot brick building on East Wallace Street just south of downtown. You can find its vodka, gin, rum and 122-proof corn whiskey – named in honor of the men and women in the 122nd Fighter Wing – in liquor stores all over the city. By the time you read this magazine, the distillery’s bourbon should be for sale as well.

The road to now, though, was never easy.

“I knew we really wanted to do this. We wanted to make this happen,” Kraick said. “But then we had to figure out, ‘How do you do this?'”

First they had to research. Distilling liquor at home is illegal in Indiana without a permit, so Kraick and Blevins surfed blogs and message boards while visiting other distilleries and distilling conferences to get to the heart of the science behind the spirits.

“We overwhelmed ourselves with information,” Kraick said. “We wanted to know every aspect of this business.”

They bought their first still – they broke no laws, Kraick said – and put it in a garage. Kraick called it “beautiful” and said it continued to inspire them as they put a plan together, which included cutting through red tape and looking through zoning and building code laws.

Months into this endeavor, Blevins received a job offer two hours away in Jackson, Mich., which he couldn’t refuse. Still, he assured Kraick the distillery would happen in the future and that nothing was changing.

“Before he left, we’re by the moving truck and he said to me, ‘Just so you know, the dream isn’t dead,'” Kraick said.

Blevins made constant trips back to Fort Wayne to work on the business. They found their space on East Wallace Street, which had long been neglected, and had 24 hours to clean it up and make it presentable before meeting with someone who would become a major investor.

Kraick called that meeting surreal, like something out of the television show “Shark Tank.”

The investor came through with much-needed funds, but then Kraick was deployed to Africa for six months, taking him out of the loop save for phone calls and emails with Blevins and others who were getting the business off the ground.

When he came back, the fruits of his labor were waiting: An open distillery, a group of employees excited to be a part of something unique and thriving – and a bottle of liquor from one of the first batches the company ever produced.

“To lay my eyes on the finished product, it was rewarding,” Kraick said. “I’m not sure what other word I could use. It was so incredibly rewarding.”

Someday, Kraick hopes, the company will have a permit to serve alcohol at the distillery itself, and there are dreams of having distribution throughout the country. Maybe those sound like big dreams.

Then again, up until a few years ago no one dreamed of a distillery here in Allen County. All it took to make it happen was keeping that dream alive.


Kristy Jo Beber

Her kiln weighs roughly 4,000 pounds, came from someplace in New York, needed to be forklifted into her studio, heats up to more than 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit and took a huge chunk of her savings to procure.

That day in 2009 was a big one for Kristy Jo Beber.

“That was exciting,” said Beber, who uses the kiln to make stoneware pottery and sometimes holds open houses at her studio in Leo. “I remember when they were bringing it in, and you just see your life savings teeter a little bit on those fork tongs. But it was exciting.”

From an early age, Beber knew she wanted to be an artist.

The question always was: what kind of artist?

She came from a long line of creative family members. Her grandfather made oil prints, and her mother is a graphic artist. When Beber graduated from Snider High School and enrolled at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, she already knew art was her calling.

First she tried photography.

Then she took a ceramics class, discovered clay and found her place behind a pottery wheel. In a sense, she found her home behind that wheel — morphing clay into something tangible, something of her own and something she alone created.

With clay, she said she found a kind of therapy. The soft and tactile quality made her feel a connectedness to what she was creating.

“I completely forgot photography,” she said.

Getting her own wheel was just as exciting as when she got her kiln – a tool for her art she could call her own.

She made many of her earlier works while teaching at IPFW after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Indiana University, using a kiln there. Her own kiln in her studio allows her to create dozens of works at once, firing up rows of pots and plates stacked in rows at the same time.

Her designs are drawn onto a variety of pots she makes using glaze. Many are patterns or trees which add a bit of whimsy to the warm, textural clay body, which is left exposed as a backdrop for her designs. Some of her pottery and plates have fish, birds and other animal designs among the trees and patterns.

Today, she showcases her work at 12 to 15 art fairs throughout Indiana and the Midwest each year. Her work is also regularly on display and for sale at the Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, a shop owned, managed and staffed by a group of local artists.

The gallery is devoted to highlighting work from those artists as well as works from other artists throughout the region, with month-long exhibits a feature there. Beber works as the shop’s public relations director, spreading the word of the gallery to anyone she can.

“It’s busy,” she said of juggling her art and the work.

But then she finds herself in her studio, behind the wheel, using her foot to mash down on the button on the floor, molding the clay into a new creation, something that’s never been and only exists because of her imagination.

Then it’s to the kiln. Two-thousand degrees-plus Fahrenheit.

And she’s home.


BAE Systems

Next time you step onto a Boeing 747, look immediately to your left.

See all those buttons and controls and the flight deck in the cockpit? Made in Fort Wayne. See that touch-screen apparatus with the phone attached? Flight attendants use that to control and monitor the cabin, and it’s said the phone handle is the most replaced part because those attendants use it to break up ice since ice picks are not allowed on airplanes.

Oh, and it’s made in Fort Wayne.

That’s just a sample of what gets manufactured at BAE System’s state-of-the-art, 330,000-square-foot facility at Ardmore Road and Airport Expressway – close enough to see planes taking off from Fort Wayne International Airport as well as the A-10s from the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard.

Which is partly by design; many of the conference rooms inside the facility are named after well-known airports and feature tables designed from airplane engine or wing parts.

“We wanted to make sure people remember what we’re building,” said Scott Swymeler, the director of manufacturing controls and avionics solutions at the facility. “We wanted to keep people’s minds on what they’re doing.”

While the defense, security and aerospace company’s main headquarters is in London, there are sites all over the globe. The company boasts that every second, an airplane takes off thanks to products designed by the company at sites like Fort Wayne.

Here, Swymeler said the “bread and butter” product produced is a full authority digital engine control, or FADEC. These controls act as a fuel gauge on some aircraft engines – performing fuel metering and other tasks to optimize the engine’s performance.

More than 25,000 engines have FADECs installed, including aircraft belonging to Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier and Embraer. These devices are also designed to withstand arctic cold as well as the extreme heat of a Middle Eastern desert.

“Our products are extremely reliable,” Swymeler said. “They have to be.”

BAE Systems fully moved into its current facility right around Christmas 2015 after operating inside a World War II-era building on Taylor Street for about 15 years. The new building was designed to be flexible should manufacturing needs change – meaning layouts can be shifted if needed.

It also allows employees to move freely.

Office space is open. Many choose to work on the manufacturing floor in order to create more of a team atmosphere and to coordinate with others as needed, plus there’s a cafeteria open to the public as well as a workout room for employees.

“When we were designing this, we looked to some heavy hitters like Google to see how they did things,” Swymeler said.

The company was also the first to introduce “fly-by-wire” technology to the commercial market. That technology replaced heavy mechanical control cables found in traditional flight control systems and instead uses electrical signals generated by a computer and transmitted through wires.

It essentially takes weight out of the aircraft to provide safe and precise handling.

The facility in Fort Wayne is also the company’s U.S. aftermarket service center, providing a broad range of spares, repairs and overhauls on parts for customers all over the globe. That’s why Swymeler knows the phone handle flight attendants use to break ice is the most replaced product.

“You’d never think of something like that,” he said.

Just like you might never think, as you step on a plane, about the origin of those buttons you’re using above your head to turn a light on, or the complex controls on the flight decks you’re seeing, or even soon, some of the televisions and smart technology in front of your seat.

But they come from somewhere. And a lot of them come from here. Made in Fort Wayne.


The Narwhal and the Manatee

What began happening to her daughter’s skin creeped Megan Elizabeth Sutton out.

Agatha was a happy and healthy baby otherwise, but, as Sutton recalls, the girl’s skin was “throwing temper tantrums.” She had what looked like eczema, according to Sutton, and no matter what skin care product she used, nothing worked.

The breakouts were so bad at times, Sutton began to wonder exactly what was going on:

Was there something in the carpet? The shampoo? Was there something in sunscreen?

That’s when Sutton began reverse engineering skincare products, looking to see what may be causing her daughter harm. After that, she began making her own concoctions, many of which her friends asked her to make for them.

Eight years later, the Chesterton native has a storefront window along West Wayne Street in The City Exchange Shops, a thriving business of skin-care products made here as well as a very healthy and clear-skinned Agatha.

Opening such a business is “certainly not for the faint of heart,” said Sutton. “So much has happened in such a short amount of time, and it can be a roller coaster.”

The bath boutique opened this year after the idea had percolated for many. Sutton’s decision to go forward with the business came on the heels of the death of a close friend – making her see we have a limited time here.

She also received exceptional support from her husband and opened the store with Traci Henning-Kolberg, though Sutton was slated to be the sole owner earlier this year.

“I just thought, ‘If I’m going to do things, let’s do it,” said Sutton, who studied communications at Manchester University and Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. “We went from nothing to a storefront in six months.”

Fort Wayne was the perfect city for such an endeavor, she said.

There was a support system, she said. The city is always encouraging entrepreneurs, and it provided her the opportunity to live the lifestyle she wanted to live. It was a no-brainer she would open her store in Fort Wayne.

Everything Sutton uses to make her products is as local as possible. The lineup includes herbs provided by her mother from back home in Chesterton and even coffee, which she gets from Old Crown Coffee here. Sutton uses fair trade and fair wage products, two things that are extremely important to her.

She likened making her products to baking, which she did much of while growing up on a farm.

An added attraction to the boutique is that customers can come in and use ingredients to mix and make their own concoctions. There are even some special events and classes showing customers the basics of making a lotion for their skin.

“People love that,” Sutton said. “They get a sense of ownership with that. You get to make it your own.”

All products made by Sutton are fresh. Everything put together at the beginning of the week is expected to be out the door by the end, so the cycle can begin all over again and nothing overstays its welcome.

People who are experiencing problems with their skin are encouraged to come in and talk about the products they’ve used.

Sutton has researched most – she strongly encourages everyone to do their research – and is likely able to come up with a product for just about any individual. That’s something a lot of big-time corporate skin-care businesses will never offer.

Which somewhat plays into the name of the business.

The narwhal and manatee are both lumpy creatures of the sea. But sailors somewhere began calling the narwhal the unicorn of the sea due to a large tusk coming out of its head. Manatees were called mermaids of the sea going back to ancient myth.

“We’re more than meets the eye,” Sutton said.


Making history

• It was made here in 1939. A man named Wilbur Morrill designed a motor that would power the first electric garbage disposal. The appliance was eventually named “Bill Morill’s Electric Pig” and manufactured at General Electric’s plant on Winter Street.

• You may know Bowser Avenue on the city’s southeast side, but you probably don’t know it’s named after Sylvanus Bowser, who invented what we now know as the gasoline pump in 1885. Bowser’s invention came before automobiles and was initially used for kerosene lamps. When cars became a thing, though, S.F. Bowser & Company began producing the pumps for their gasoline.

• Most people have heard of General Electric. But it ended up in Fort Wayne after buying what was known as Jenney Electric, which produced an Arc Light System used for street lighting in several cities during the late 1800s.

• A little fact lost in the history of video gaming is that Magnavox released and sold one of the first commercial home video game consoles. The Odyssey was first produced in the early 1970s, before Atari. The Odyssey Two was an update that was discontinued in the late 1970s.

First appeared in the February 2017 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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