Memories will linger after GM’s gone
Color images from GM's recent history in Janesville.
Black and white images from GM's long history in Janesville
JANESVILLE Most little boys want to be like their daddies.
That was the case for Jeff Clark of Janesville and so many others in the area as they followed their fathers and even grandfathers to work at the General Motors assembly plant.
After 16 years at the plant, Clark will leave with memories similar to so many of the thousands of other workers: Pride in the vehicles they built, thanks for the family-supporting career and friendships that will last a lifetime.
“I started out a young, naïve follower and will finish as a well-read leader,” Clark wrote on a forum of GM memories on www.gazettextra.com. “Some people only hear the stories of misdeeds of a few, they never hear the in-depth stories of great people that worked at GM. I can’t even describe the talents of these people. Most had a generous heart, because they could.”
Clark, a senior engineer, is one of about 50 workers who will continue working at the plant on the Isuzu line until May 28.
“Your coworkers were your neighbors, and everybody took care of each other,” Clark wrote. “I can’t even begin to explain the wisdom I received from people there. Whatever problem you had, somebody had experienced it, also, and was there to give you advice on how to handle it.”
Other GM memories posted on www.gazettextra.com and edited for length, grammar and content include:
As a child in the 70’s, it was always a big deal to visit the GM plant. In third grade, we all couldn’t wait to go.
The moment one walked into the building, the world seemed so different. Many of us had never stepped foot in a factory before, let alone one so enormous. We entered wondering what the facility would be like. We left being extremely proud of our community.
There were so many classmates who had parents who worked at “the plant,” and they just knew they would work there as well. In 1998, I worked at the plant for deer hunting season. What a different perspective that gave me. As a child, I visualized the work ... but as an adult I experienced it.
When I was in college in the early ’70s, I was fortunate enough to get a summer job at the Janesville GM plant. I loved that place! I liked the sights and sounds and smells of it. I had to walk what seemed like a mile indoors to get to my job, and I enjoyed that walk every night.
For awhile, my job was installing starter motors on engines as they moved by on an overhead assembly line. Starter motors are heavy. I’d lift the motor overhead with my right hand and install two long bolts with my left using an air wrench, all night long, about one job a minute. The first few nights, I thought I was going to die! My right arm was so sore it felt like it might fall off. Eventually I got used to it.
By the end of the summer, my right arm was twice as big as my left!
The smell of my Dad’s jacket when he came home from working second shift at General Motors (33 years total). When my husband started working there his coat had that same wonderful smell.
Sounds funny I know. But it took me back to my childhood. ... To me, the smell of GM meant my dad was home from work. I could always go digging in his big plastic lunch box for the mini Reese’s peanut butter cups he would bring home for us (we thought GM made those too). He always had a great deal of pride in his work at the plant. He never took it for granted.
GM gave thousands of single parents like my mother financial independence they might not otherwise have had.
GM always meant some level of financial stability and American pride. Granted, the road with GM was rocky from time to time, but far less so than for many others far less fortunate over the years.
I always took pride in the fact that my mother helped build a particular car or truck.
My mom started working there around the time her and my dad got divorced. If it hadn’t been for GM I’m not sure how she’d have supported us.
She ended up marrying another guy that worked there, and they both retired this past summer. I was lucky enough to work there as a security guard for Pinkerton, then Securitas when they switched, for five years and have tons of memories from that.
Then I quit my security job to work as summer help and got a wakeup call as to how hard you actually have to work on the line. A lot of people think that GM workers don’t do anything but, man, yes they do. I lost 20 pounds that summer and worked my butt off, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
River of paint
My dad took us kids on a plant tour every summer but the one that I remember the most was around 1980(?)—I was about 6—and there were some guys welding frames, and I remember quite distinctly my dad saying, “Those guys will soon be replaced by robots.”
For a 5- or 6-year-old, another cool thing was seeing trains come right into the plant.
They had some kind of computer room in the super-structure above the assembly line that you would physically walk into and was kept quite cold. Somewhere else in the superstructure was all the paint—there was literally a river of paint running above the assembly floor.
I loved walking around inside that plant and often thought I would end up working there myself when I was a kid ... The closest I ever got to working at the plant was working third shift for CTI(?) during the summer of 1995. I sequenced control arms, leaf springs and 4WD control modules and drove a forklift—it was indeed a helluva workout going hard from 5 p.m. until 3:15 a.m. Wouldn’t trade that summer for anything in the world.
Every memory that I have from growing up really started with GM since my dad moved to Janesville in 1953 to work there. Without the GM plant, my sisters and I would have likely grown up somewhere else with a completely different set of memories.
I remember going to the plant on payday with my mom to pick up my dad’s check and take it to the savings and loan. I never really appreciated how hard my dad and his co-workers worked until I saw how relaxed and rested my dad became once he retired.