Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Digging Up Dirt

The Ford plant at Willow Run, now the GM transmission plant being closed as part of the reorganization of General Motors, was initially built to assemble B24 bombers for World War II. The federal government bought out farms all around the area to make room for the Ford plant.

Thousands of people came looking for jobs, seriously taxing the resources of Ypsilanti. They pitched tents, slept in their cars, built wood and tin shacks, and a few even found rooms and apartments in Ypsilanti itself. The peak of employment for Willow Run was June 1943, with 42,000 plus workers.

Here are a couple of cool tales from the time:

In the front of the Spencer Schoolyard stands a marker which represents the graves of all those buried in the Willow Run cemetery until October 1941. The graves were dug up and replaced with one marker.

In the words of a school board member at the time (name of Simmonds): “I knew they were doing all the construction over at the Bomber Plant, and that meant moving around a lot of dirt. It occurred to me,” said Mr. Simmonds with a telling smile, “that if I could just get to see Mr. Henry Ford himself, maybe he would let us have some of that dirt they were digging at the plant.”

The school board had obtained permission to remove the old weatherbeaten grave markers and now all they had was a pile of dirt. Mr. Simmonds persisted until he met Henry Ford, and told him about the “dirt we needed to level off that old cemetery for our schoolyard.” Ford instructed Harry Bennett, his concierge for all things unpleasant, to take care of this. “Sure enough," as Mr.Simmonds told Marion F. Wilson for a 1956 book, "the next day several loads of dirt were hauled over and dumped on the old cemetery.” They wouldn’t level it though, not without personal instructions from Harry Bennett. Worried about zombies?

In the center ring of the world's largest industrial operation of the time,were ten "little people." From their previous jobs in the entertainment world, they worked through the roar of rivets and hammering of giant machine presses. They were the midgets of Willow Run. Highly specialized and highly respected by the other employees, the midgets would wedge their way into a B-24 wing tip to buck rivets and insulate fuel cells. Or they might inspect a space so tight that no other inspector could get in there. It took a midget to crawl into a wing or fuel tank to do this dangerous work.

Ford had a rule that everyone must punch their own time card, so at the beginning and end of their shift you could see the midgets being lifted by their larger buddies to punch in and out.

What about the ghosts of Willow Run, and where did the midgets go to work next? Now we know the real cover-up behind the so-called "bankruptcy" of General Motors.

This copy of Life Magazine contains a story about the first closing of Willow Run at the end of World War II, before it became a GM transmission plant.

Our bookstore has plenty of General Motors lore Browse from this page :

Comeback: The Fall & Rise of the American Automobile Industry (ISBN: 0671792148 / 0-671-79214-8)
Simon & Schuster, NYC, 1994. Hard Cover. Book Condition: Near Fine. Dust Jacket Condition: Near Fine. First Printing. Illustrated by B/W photographs.

American Heritage -- August 1973
NYC: American Heritage Publishing Co. 1973, 1973. Hard Cover. Book Condition: Very Good. Vol, XXIV, No. 5. Cover browned. Articles on: Harriet Beecher Stowe; William Durant, the founder of General Motors; Leslie Wilcox's paintings of ships; Bernard DeVoto; Sod Houses; The burning of Chambersburg, PA; "In This Proud Land"-- book selection; Men of the Revolution-- Cornwallis; P.T. Barnum's elephant Jumbo; Battles of the Revolution-- Trenton.

Collision Course: Inside the Battle for General Motors
(ISBN: 9781559723138)
Maynard, Micheline
New York City: Birch Lane Press, 1995, 1995. Hard Cover. Book Condition: Near Fine. Dust Jacket Condition: Near Fine. First Edition.

Paradise Lost: The decline of the auto-industrial age
(ISBN: 9780394460321)
Rothschild, Emma
NYC: Random House, 1973, 1973. Hard Cover. Very Good/Very Good-. DJ shelf worn with 2 small tears. An exposition of the U.S. auto industry in the early 70's-problems with customers, workers, shareholders, and competition. The author concentrates on General Motors.

Business and Economic History: Second Series, Volume 18, 1989

Hausman, William J., editor
Williamsburg: Business History Conference, 1989, 1989. Trade Paperback. Book Condition: Very Good. Dissertations and papers from the 35th annual meeting of the Business History Conference. Topics include: Testing the F-4 Phantom II; The Origins of the Brazilian Automative Industry; Eli Lilly and Company, 1876-1948; Rowntree and Market Strategy, 1897-1939; Lessons from the Struggle between Ford and General Motors durings the 1920s and 1930s; Marketing at Burlington Industries, 1923-1962; The Inward Thrust of Institutional Advertising: General Electric and General Motors in the 1920s; Clock, Watch and Typewriter Manufacturing in the 19th Century; Marketing the Women's Journals, 1973-1900; Belgian Domestic Steel Cartels and the Re-Rollers, 1880-1920; The Gilbreths and the Manufacture and Marketing of Motion Study, 1908-1924. 248 pp. Slight edgewear.

The Company and The Union
Serrin, William
NYC: Knopf, 1973, 1973. Hard Cover. Very Good-/Good+. First Edition. ISBN:0394461916. 308+ pgs. Cover faded, prev. owner's stamped name on title page, dj slightly soiled and worn on edges. The inside story of the 1972 strike by the UAW at General Motors and how the UAW has accommodated the large car companies.

The Man who Discovered Quality: How W. Edwards Deming Brought the Quality Revolution to America--The stories of Ford, Xerox, & General Motors (ISBN: 9780812917741)
Gabor, Andrea
Times Books, NYC, 1990. Hard Cover. Book Condition: Very Good. Dust Jacket Condition: Near Fine. First Edition. An account of Deming's principles and visions concerning quality control by following the 14 points. 326 pp, indexed. Small scuffed/worn area on side of page ends.

Life Magazine June 17, 1957
-- Cover: Mayflower II
Time, Inc., Chicago, 1957. Magazine. Book Condition: Very Good-. Includes: Photos of Greenwich, Conn. teens playing 'Living Droodles'; Mayflower II recreates historic voyage; Whooping cranes hatch at Audubon Park Zoo; New pill for diabetics could replace insulin shot; Michael Redgrave in Heublein ad; Dacron fashions - photographed on Dupont properrties; The reigning Royalty of Europe, Part 1 -- In a democratic era, they survive by serving it -- Britain, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Greece; Supreme Court finds du Pont's link to General Motors illegal; GI William Girard to be tried by Japanese court for shooting; Father-son actors Ed Wynn and Keenan Wynn; Edward Nixon marries Gay Lynn Woods. Edgewear, covers are worn, back cover has corner torn off at lower spine.

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