Category Archives: NAFEM

Road Scholar Trip to Panama, Nov. 11 – 17, 2018 Part 4

Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018 — A leisurely trip through the Panama Canal on the good ship Islamorada.

2018-11-13 09.50.12-0950.111318The Islamorada now takes tourists through the Panama Canal, but it has quite a history.  It was built in 1912, and purchased by Al Capone in 1919.  He used it as a “rum-runner”, bringing then-illegal booze to the US from the Caribbean.  It was eventually confiscated by the US government, and served as a mine-sweeper during WW II.

So we are off.  Our journey begins in familiar territory, going down the channel we overlooked in our hotel room, now following the course of the large ships we have seen.  On our right, beyond the pelicans, is the Panama City skyline.

Coming up to us is a small boat which will deliver our pilot to us.

2018-11-15 04.52.38-0452.111518He will guide us through the Canal, as he and fellow pilots do for all the ships in the Canal.

We go under the Bridge of the Americas.  Off to the right, we notice that there is enough traffic on the Canal to make billboards a creditable source of advertising.

2018-11-15 05.14.48-0514.111518Beyond the bridge, there are ships being loaded with containers.  This port area is a large storage and redistribution yard where containers can be left off, and others going to the ports where a ship is heading added on.  These large ships are thus able to better maximize the value of their trips.

Low and behold, we are headed toward the first lock!  Come to find out we have been given permission to enter the gate, and proceed without any other ships in the lock with us — a very rare opportunity.

Very soon we are in the lock bay, with a rope tying us to the side to keep us from drifting too much.  The rear gate is closed, but for some reason it takes awhile for the water to start to lift us up.  The birds watch for fish.

Once the water has gotten us to the right level, the gate in front of us opens, and into the next bay we go.

That bay brings us up to the level of Miraflores Lake for our brief trip across to the last step up at the Pedro Miguel Locks.

At Pedro Miguel Locks, we will be put into a bay with a tug boat and a large tanker.

We are tied to the tug boat, and come extremely close to the back end of the tanker.

The bay fills from the bottom through several ports that are opened together to bring the boats up evenly without much motion front to back or side to side.

2018-11-15 07.06.50-0706.111518Thus the mules engines, tied to the larger vessels, have a steady change as the ships rise relative to the position of the mule on the side of the lock bay.

Now we are at the height of the Gatun Lake and are ready to enter the Calibra Cut area.  The tanker leaves, followed shortly by the tug.  The tug pulls up behind the tanker, and it seems as though it will end up pushing it.  But no, it ties on just behind the tanker.

We are told that the tug boat in that position serves as a large rudder for the boat, helping it to steer through the channel.  Looking back, I notice that the large container ship we saw at the entrance to the Miraflores Locks (the pink one) is coming toward us.  It came through the newer locks.

We enter the Culebra Cut.  Work is ongoing here to widen the channel through here.  The big challenge is the landslides that bring dirt and rocks back into the channel.  They have developed two obvious tricks to counteract this movement.  The first is the terracing evident all along the channel.

2018-11-15 07.37.40-0737.111518The second are the rectangular geometry of pads on the higher vertical surfaces drilled into the sides to hold the earth in place.

Gatun Lake spreads out before us, and we have a nice leisurely cruise through it, taking in the scenery.  Making the trip are a number of large ships.

The large cruise liner is the first we’ve seen.  We’re told that due to flooding in Colon, our destination on the Caribbean, it had some trouble getting into the Canal, so it will have a foreshortened cruise.  It is in the process of turning around and we will see it in Gatun Locks.

2018-11-15 11.28.21-1128.111518Gatun Locks are the next stop.  This is the three-step down part of the process as we go from the height of Gatun Lake back to sea level.

Sharing our bay is another large tanker.  For some reason in the lock bays where the height is lowered, smaller vessels go in first, and the larger tanker second. The tanker steams up behind us.  It doesn’t come fast, but it does bring scary images to mind as it moves up toward us.  Also sharing our bay is another tourist vessel, the Discovery.  It is smaller in length than our boat, but large enough to have a group of perhaps 20 people on board.

2018-11-15 11.50.56-1150.111518The Gerakas, the ship we accompanied at the Pedro Miguel Lock bay is in the bay beside us here.  It sits very high in the water compared to the ship coming up behind us, clearly empty of cargo.

We go through the process of lowering to the next level and then moving to the next bay in sequence, and then we are on our way to Colon.  The Discovery hurries on ahead of us.

2018-11-15 12.59.48-1259.111518It seems we have to wait for a spot to dock, so we spend quite a bit of time motoring around the harbor, first going by some interesting ships, then watching the cruise liner dock, and finally we get our chance.

The blue ship with the white top is a car carrier.  Tied up next to it is a tanker which says its cargo is liquified petroleum gas.  The ships off to our left side are smaller freight vessels. We haven’t seen any of these smaller vessels during our trip through the Canal, and I wonder if these are just used to haul containers around the distribution yard here.  The storage and distribution center here is at least as large as the one on the Miraflores end of the Canal.

Our trip through the canal has taken nine hours by the time we dock.  The plan allows for 12 to 13 hours, so our trip has been swift.

After landing, we find our bus, and it takes us through the town of Colon and to our hotel.  Tomorrow we will do some touring around, and get on board a train to take us back to Panama City.

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NAFEM 15, A Novice’s View

The National Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers Show happened this past week in Anaheim, CA.  Oh, what fun!  Or so my son tried to convince me as we talked about his upcoming trip to the Show from Chicago.  Since my wife and I live in Palm Springs, we are close enough to go visit him while he was there.  But more than that, he convinced me to go to the show on the thought I might be able to assist him in his endeavors for the Chicago Foodseum.

Now, I’ve been to many such “industry” shows in connection with my previous employment, although talking to manufacturers of military equipment and their uses is a far cry from talking to those whose primary concern is food preparation, preservation and/or presentation.  Once past that difference, however, this Show was remarkably similar to my previous experiences.

Getting past the registration desk was quick (love those computers) and once I had the necessary badge hanging from my neck, I was able to enter the acres of exhibitor space and wander around.  Just as with the military shows of my past, I was not really their primary customer (long story). Therefore, I avoided most contact with the individual company representatives, as talking to me is not why they were there.  However, my son had suggested I might write a blog about the Show, so at least I had a cover story, if I needed one.

Companies that caught my attention:

Michigan Maple Block Company — We’ve lived in Michigan on and off for 14 years, and consider it a great place of interest.  That and the woodworking connection made this vendor a favorite!

Chef SpecialltiesChef Specialties Co, Inc — This company’s display indicated its product line as exclusively pepper mills.  A very nice representative saw me gawking and kindly showed me the internals of their product and how they worked.  I give them credit, the metal grinding wheel was more sophisticated than one I saw at another exhibitor in the show.  This lends credence to their claim to create the best mills available.  Their website suggests they also supply salt dispensers, but their focus is clear.  They have to win the award for the company with the most singularly focused product line at the Show.

Duke Manufacturing Co. — This is a much more diversified product manufacturing company, although what first caught my eye were the panels describing the firm’s history.  The company started in 1925, with a single product – the first waterless hot food well.  Now I don’t have a clue what this does for the buyer, but it must have been well received (no pun intended), as now the company has over 4500 different products which it sells  around the world.  In reading the history, it has as clients several recognizable names in the fast food industry, as well as restaurant chains that are not so “fast”.  In reading through the history, I came to the realization that this company is as forward-looking as any of the ones I have studied as potential investments — a demonstrated sustainability concern in product offerings, selling not only products but custom solutions, and energetic international expansion just for example — and to my surprise, it’s a privately-owned company.  By definition, investment is only possible with public companies, so my experience with private ones is very limited.  My, investigations have led me to believe that the shareholders expectations are the drivers for continuous growth and improvement.  Well, OK; market competition is the ultimate driver of change, but the requirements of anonymous shareholders require management to be constantly up-to-date in responding to those changes, right?  Of course it must be the same way for private companies (duh!) if they are to compete with public ones.  The sign says that the current Chairman and CEO is an owner, so clearly in some cases it is not necessary to have distance and anonymity between owner and management to assure a top-of-the-line, leader-of-the-pack growing company.  Alright, a lesson in the obvious, but every once in awhile I need one of those.

Induction seductionVollrath Co., LLC — A large company with many product and service offerings, what caught my eye at their stand was the “Induction Seduction” sign.  Induction cooking is not common in homes as yet, but thanks to a friend of ours, we have just installed one at our house.  Induction heats through electrical induction rather than thermal conduction as is the case with the usual gas or electric stoves.  The induction element has a heating performance comparable to a gas burner, but is significantly more energy-efficient.  It also has in common with gas stoves the advantage of almost instantaneous adjustment of heating levels.  (Information from “”). Vollrath was not the only induction stove vendor at the Show, I should point out, but rather one of only 17.

Victorinox RubbermaidClearly one of the chef’s most important possessions is his knife (or knives, of course), so it was not a surprise to find Victorinox with a number of its traditional products on display.  While not always the first thing to come to mind when thinking of food equipment manufacturers, one does have to clean up the kitchen and dining room, so why not Rubbermaid?  Looking like a poodle skirt of the 1950’s, their latest mop-head upgrade has along the bottom a band of material to facilitate the mop’s spread, thus its usefulness.  Innovation is valuable to us all!

True Food Service Equipment, Inc. — This company, started in 1945 by a man and his son making a roll-top bottle refrigeration unit for beer at their local bar, continues to focus on refrigeration equipment for a wide variety of food and beverage applications.  One of the sales team noticed I had hesitated to read the signage describing their recent upgrade to use of R290 refrigerant.  The sign described in simple-to-understand graphs and numbers the much reduced environmental impact due to the introduction of this hydrocarbon refrigerant.  Although not the only vendor at the show using this new approach, they made it the center of their exhibit.  The sales agent was kind enough to take a few minutes to help me understand the benefits described in more detail, but I deliberately kept our conversation short.

Atosa Catering Equipment, Inc. — As I was walking by Atosa’s area, one of their sales reps came out to greet me.  It was later in the day, so I was less wary of taking up his time.  He told me that Atosa is a Chinese company, with only a 26-month presence in the US.  They already have distribution bases in five major cities.  My new friend told me they are a leader in China in this business, and have a considerable distribution presence in many other countries besides China.  They make virtually any catering equipment that can be made out of stainless steel, but their primary products are related to refrigeration.  As with many of the vendors with large sales areas at the show, they are a wholesale-only business.  I noticed there were a number of internationally-owned businesses at the show, but this one struck me as probably one of the newest in the US.

Mobile Cart

Lakeside Manufacturing, Inc. Milwaukee, WI — Many vendors offered carts of various kinds, but this company’s informal enhancement to their “MOBILITY” offering caught me a bit off-guard.  Given the company’s base of operations, however, it was easily understood!

NAFEM has a very useful phone/tablet application which with my son’s help I was able to get into using the QR reader code supplied.  The most popular product offered was racks and griddles, perhaps not too surprisingly for people who are familiar with the industry.  A couple of new items for me are the Bain Maries (a container of hot water into which a pan is set for controlled-heat cooking) and the Mandolines (slicing tool to get even slices).  Perhaps not surprisingly, the item that was on offer from the fewest vendors was fabric napkins.

Industry conventions or shows are very useful for the industry involved, but it is easy for me to learn interesting things as well, and that makes them fun.

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