Positively Chicago: Lighthouse Industries

(CBS) — It’s a clock factory, one of the last in the country. Workers there produce a precision product using just their sense of touch.

CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports on why the West Side factory is Positively Chicago.

He clocked in at Lighthouse Industries.

In operation since 1977, the factory makes up to 1,200 clocks a day and will reach the 6 million mark by year’s end.

Look closely at how workers pass their fingers over each part, and you’ll see they’re in touch with these time pieces in a special way.

“I can see the white — the other parts of the clock it’s hard for me to see,” explains Mary Fagen.

Eighty-five percent of the employees here are blind. Their disability can range from legally blind to totally blind, says Jean Claude Kappler, vice president of Lighthouse Industries.

By feeling for hooks or markings in every component, the employees swiftly assemble each unit correctly — like clockwork.

The 75 jobs here are funded through a federal program meant to give work to people with visual disabilities. Their clocks hang at military bases and government offices globally.

“This place is a savior,” says Dale Bettenhausen.

He logged more than 1 million miles as a big rig driver until a genetic condition slowly took away his sight.

“When I was declared legally blind it was depression set in; who is going to hire a blind, vision-impaired person?” he recalls.

Now guided by touch and memory, Bettenhausen has been cutting dial faces at the plant for nearly a decade.

Fagen feels part of a family.

“Everybody’s got the same problem — we watch out for each other,” she says.

Chicago Lighthouse Industries is branching out in a new way. They now have a line of clocks with Chicago themes sold at area Target stores.

More from Vince Gerasole

Watch & Listen LIVE