TVpersonality visits local rope factory

Published on Thu, Jan 25, 2007 by ack KintnerJohn Ratzenberger, famousfor years as the character Cliff Clavin on the TV seriesCheers, visited Samson Rope’sfactory in Ferndale on Tuesday for a segment of his cableTV show Made in America. The series highlights American factoryworkers, what Ratzenberger called “a dying breed.”

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TV personality visits local rope factory

By Jack Kintner

John Ratzenberger, famous for years as the character Cliff Clavin on the TV series Cheers, visited Samson Rope’s factory in Ferndale on Tuesday for a segment of his cable TV show Made in America. The series highlights American factory workers, what Ratzenberger called “a dying breed.”

Samson’s facility in Blaine, the former First Washington Net Factory on C Street, was consolidated with Samson’s Ferndale plant two years after Samson bought it in 1999.

Ratzenberger said that the concept for his TV show came in part from wanting to combat the traditional depiction of blue collar workers as somehow less intelligent than others, as in such old-time radio and TV shows like The Life of Riley.

“Usually, the opposite is true,” Ratzenberger said.
His mother and father were both blue-collar warriors, his mother a line worker in a factory and his dad a truck driver out of his native Bridgeport, Connecticut.

“I’d pick her up after a late shift,” he said, “and here she’d walk out through this dark rainy parking lot after eight hours of hard work, harder than many people could stand, and I’d think to myself, why aren’t there people to applaud this?”

He added that his father was a civil war scholar as well as a truck driver. “The message today is that young people should go to college, that having a trade isn’t worth your time,” he said, “but someone has to build the college. Someone had to build the ceiling before Michaelangelo could go to work.”

He said that Starbucks has asked to put a line on their mugs this month that comes from a book Ratzenberger has written, called We’ve Got It Made In America:

“The manual arts have always taken precedence over the fine arts.”

Ratzenberger spent the day touring the factory with CEO Steve Swiackey and plant manager Ken LaValley, the fourth and last factory visit in Washington on this trip, the ninth one the group has made in this the show’s fourth season.

The connection with Samson was made last summer when Ratzenberger came to Bellingham to charter a Grand Banks powerboat for a summer cruise. He worked with retired Samson employee Tom Selman, who told him about the factory.

Samson makes ropes for a variety of recreational and industrial applications, and normally does not offer plant tours to prevent publicizing their manufacturing process, something they carefully guard.

But since Samson’s president, Tony Bon, worked his way up from the factory floor, the business was a good candidate for Ratzenberger’s show.

Ratzenberger, whose involvement in boating led to his interest in looking at how Samson’s product is made, lived for many years on Vashon Island.

He said that he’s the only person he knows of to have rowed completely around the island in one day. The air date for the show is projected to be May 29 on the Travel Channel.

Samson Rope’s web site is located at They can be reached by calling 360/384-4669.