I drive by the Twin Cities Ford Assembly Plant in Highland just about every weekday. Many times during the year, I think about my Grandpa Bud driving down from Elk River everyday to that Ford Plant to work. He worked there until he couldn’t work any longer, until his body began succumbing to what we would soon find out was Lou Gehrig’s disease. I think about what it was like for him to drive there on winter days when I have such a hard time getting to work in St Paul on four and six lane highways, treated with salt and aided by traction control and anti-lock brakes.
I learned how important higher education was with the story of how just the couple of classes my Grandpa had at Dunwoody helped to get him a better job in the plant. I remember his cool 1970s Ford Thunderbird, the big blue LTD my grandma drove, and the luxurious gold Ford conversion van he bought to travel around the country in. I remember the old baby-blue Ford pickup he drove around the farm with all of the grandkids in the back bouncing up and down on the uneven farm path that snaked between the pine trees to the corn fields, and how he accelerated as he approached bumps and dips. I think entertaining us was the only purpose for the old rusty F-series pickup. I remember that he always took pictures of his cars, and when he took pictures of us, we were often in front of Fords.
My dad and one of my uncles both spent time working in the plant. I don’t know the details, but I’m guessing they worked during summers or after high school. I have a simple spoon with “Ford” scripted on the handle, I have no idea where it came from, but I like to think it was stolen from the plant lunch room, and that I own a little piece of history from the plant, that I now use to eat ice cream with.
I drive by that plant and wish I could stop, go in, and see what it is like, how immense it is, and where my Grandpa used to work. I want a frame of reference to imagine the Model Ts and the Model As, the airplane engines that were built there during World War II, the Ford Galaxies, the LTDs, and all of the trucks that were built there over the years. If I could, I would like to take a piece of history from the plant, like the people who took grass, dirt, signs and seats from old Met Stadium.
Only about 800 workers are closing down the plant. Tomorrow, the last St. Paul produced Ford Ranger is expected to rolls off the assembly line. 800 workers is about a third of the number of workers that worked there when my Grandpa worked there. It is a landmark, both locally and nationally. It survived through the late 70s, 80s and the 90s, when hundreds of other American auto plants closed. Tomorrow, it will cease to be living history as the oldest Ford assembly plant still in operation, it will simply become history, but very important history to me.Copyright © 2011 Steve Quist — All Rights Reserved