Trip to GM plant offers journey down memory lane

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Friday, November 2, 2007
— Frank Shuler remembers the occasional summer days when he would put the wrong colored seat cushion in the wrong car at the Fisher Body plant in Janesville.

He also remembers his summer job at the Chevrolet plant, when for the hourly sum of a dollar plus change, he’d flow and file solder on truck welds.

After touring the General Motors assembly plant in Janesville on Thursday, Shuler came away with a little different perspective than the one he garnered as both a summertime employee and as the son of a man who started his 50-year automotive career with Samson Tractor Co.

“That plant is amazing,” said Shuler, who was part of a Wisconsin Alumni Association group who toured the plant.

“It’s unbelievable how well everything is coordinated,” he said of the unlikelihood of a wrong colored seat going into one of the 1,040 full-size sport utility vehicles built in Janesville each day.

And his solder work on three jobs per hour pales in comparison to the 52 jobs that move down today’s line.

“Things have really changed,” said Schuler, a Janesville native and former Clinton dentist who is now chairman of the board of directors of Delta Dental of Wisconsin.

Shuler recalls his father’s tales of being issued a pistol for protection and being sworn in as a deputy sheriff during a particularly nasty strike in Janesville. Supervisors such as his father were issued sedans that were supposed to fend off stones from those in the community upset with the strike.

Equally impressed with today’s operation was Paul Holt, who grew up in a family that moved from town to town as his father took different jobs in the industry.

One of those stops was in Janesville, where his father worked from 1937 to 1941. After World War II, the father returned to Janesville, a community Holt’s mother said was the most beautiful place she ever lived.

“We lived at 1027 Ruger Ave.” Holt recalled. “She just never wanted to leave Janesville.”

Holt followed his father into the auto industry, eventually resigning his position with the Buick Motor Division in 1958.

“I had been in 11 grade schools and two high schools, and I wasn’t going to inflict that on my own family,” he said.

Thursday’s tour, which included about 60 visitors, was part of the alumni association’s “Made in Wisconsin” series that brings together UW-Madison alumni to learn about state business and industry as part of its Wisconsin Alumni Lifelong Learning program.

Last updated: 9:49 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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