Sunday, October 30, 2011

De-industrialization continues

The closure of the Ford assembly plant in St. Paul provokes a bunch of memories for me.  It was the first place I ever saw cars being made.  My father had discovered by the time I was in second grade that his sons LOVED industrial tours and even better, they were usually free.  Minnesota never did have all that much heavy industry—we are more about transportation, food processing and recently, medical equipment.  But we had the Ford Plant and what I saw so impressed me, I can still close my eyes and see 1956 car and station wagon bodies coming down to meet the awaiting chassis.  And to this day, I will maintain that building vehicles is still the most difficult thing humans do.

Henry Ford insisted that his facilities be located next to water (a known operating preference of his) and the St. Paul plant is no exception.  It is located atop the Mississippi bluffs near a small dam.  The promise of cheap hydropower was the chief reason why in 1924 Henry Ford agreed to build a plant in St. Paul. The dam was initially completed in 1917, making it one of the oldest on the river.  So this plant now sits not far from some of the prime residential real estate in St. Paul, but because it is a screwdriver facility, it has been an astonishing good neighbor over the years.

Why today's Ford management is closing a plant that is trouble-free and has made them a TON of money over the years is anyone's guess.  All I know is that they could not build such a plant today.  Can you imagine the howls of protest if someone were to suggest putting a vehicle assemble plant in the middle of a very chic neighborhood on one of the prettiest pieces of real estate around?

Ford kills Historic Assembly Plant, Ranger RIP
By Sajeev Mehta on October 18, 2011 
According to many news sources, the historic Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota is headed for a not-so-grand finale. Come December 19th, the 86-year-old facility that originally built Model Ts will be history. Ironically, Twin Cities is currently making the T’s spiritual successor: the (somewhat iconic) Ford Ranger compact truck. So shall we, the collective group of automotive journalists, lament the loss of this famous nameplate from Ford’s storied past? 
Nah, I am sure there’ll be a new MyFordTouch software update or an updated Lincoln MK-something that will occupy the autoblogosphere in the coming months. It’s not like anyone loves the Ford Ranger. Or has a funny story to share about one’s time in said Ford Truck. I mean, we all hated it, right? Why else would Ford abandon the tiny truck market–a market they owned–and give us cutting edge stuff like Doug the Focus Spokes-puppet instead? more


  1. It should be the height of embarrasment that the same Ramsey County Commissioners who let Ford close this plant are offering a $350 million dollar boondoggle to build a Vikings Stadium in Arden Hills.

    Even sadder...the state gov't is considering $300 million dollar 'arts and legacy' funding for this same boondoggle.

    Yes. This truly is what passes for a 'Legacy' in Minnesota. Legacy, the height of Boondoggle in America.

  2. But of course. Per Veblen: A bunch of members of the Leisure Classes on the Ramsey County Board want to make sure that one of the ultimate expressions of LC wastefulness—professional football—will have a far greater priority than something important to the Industrial Classes. The historical importance of the Ford Plant in St. Paul barely registers in their mind.

  3. A note from my bother:

    What a bummer!!! But what a huge bunch of memories got dredged up by reading these stories this morning. All those trips to the cities for whatever reason necessary, from WMPL meetings to trips to the Como Zoo & arbortorium, to Twins games, to shopping at Dayton's & rides to the top of the Foshay Tower, those were trips I have cherished all these years, because they help forge the person I am today, and also because I remember how cool I thought it was that dad always thought us kids should see that stuff. And today, I marvel that we got to do it, knowing how little money they had, and their commitment to us kids.

    I still am amazed at production facilities, from cars, to beer, rum, fire trucks, pencils, lumber, laminated beams, gadgets, transmissions, headlights, tail lights, airplanes, heavy equipment, motor homes, and the list could go for a while, I still visit whenever I find some place that has tours, and it is a reminder how we saw Toro lawnmowers made in Windom, paper in northern MN, meat products in Austin & Fords in St Paul as kids, and how amazing I thought it all was. When I retire, I plan to spend a lot of time taking more of those tours, whenever they will let me...

    I have a friend who has been making tail lights for Fords in Ohio for 30 years and just retired. I met him at the races in the 80’s, been friends ever since. We would sit around a fire, drinking beers and shooting the bull, at places like Charlotte Motor Speedway, talking about manufacturing and the boredom that can ensue, but how important it is to the American way of life and the resulting economy. Those were some fun conversations. I couldn’t have had those conversations without those experiences as a child and the ensuing enthusiasm I still have for visiting manufacturing facilities. And don’t forget, I worked in a shoe factory for 2+ years and a light pole plant for a year and a half.