MIDDLEBURY, VT. – Despite the inescapable presence of 150 half-filled orders taped to the wall, the atmosphere in the assembly room at Maple Landmark remains calm during this final push before Christmas. Women seated at the NameTrain workbench banter as cars for the letter “O” take form beneath their hands. A woman fixes magnets to the ends of each item before passing it to someone who inserts axles. By the end of the line, every “O” car is complete – a small rolling entity that retails for $5.

Boxes of dominos, baby rattles, and wooden jeeps are stacked around the room, evidence of a productivity that would make Henry Ford proud. Parts for the toys are manufactured downstairs through the same marriage of automation and the touch of human assembly. In the graphics room, a laser engraves ties on train tracks under watchful eyes, while in an adjacent area workers run the routers that cut the tracks as well as the sanders that smooth them.

Overseeing it all is the company’s president, Mike Rainville, whose management style combines a concrete linearity (he majored in engineering) with Vermont informality and a storyteller’s heart. Mr. Rainville is seemingly everywhere. In one motion he checks the progress of the trains, sifts through a bin of wheels, then stops to say hi to his grandmother, who is assembling Soma cubes at a nearby table.

Meanwhile, the orders loom, reminders of all that must be done. “Our inventory’s been toast,” says Rainville. “We’ve been running as fast as we could since Labor Day.”

Full Story: http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1224/p20s01-ussc.html