In the years and months leading up to the announcement that the Janesville General Motors plant would close, I was called a doom and gloom guy.
I accurately predicted what was apparent. The plant would close, and it would not come back.
I was not looking through rose-colored glass, but I was also aware of the emotional impact on many of us closing the plant had. It was painful to drive by the shuttered plant and see grass growing up through cracks in the parking lots.
I’m not sure why, but the plant’s smokestack, which had towered over the facility for a hundred years, remained a welcomed sight even as the plant around it was being demolished.
Then the smokestack was ripped down.
That was it for me. The plant, in my mind, was now officially gone. In a way, it was a relief to not have to see the smokestack and have it remind me of the sadness of the city losing the plant. Time to move on, I decided.
I can now concentrate on fond memories that involved he plant.
On a Saturday night before Easter in 1965, my friend Jim Mosher and I decided to look up a mutual friend, Howard Porter. Howard lived in a relatively new housing addition, maybe near what is now LaSalle Court just east of Center Avenue on the city’s south side.
We were in my father’s 1959 Chevy Biscayne, fondly referred to as The Lotus Biscayne. To protect the innocent, I was driving. Dick Dawdy may have been with us.
As I drove around the neighborhood looking for Howard’s house, I realized I was going too fast—I know that’s hard to believe—and the street ended. At that point, the street turned into a corn field that backed up to the GM plant. By the time I got the car slowed down, we were in the corn field and the car sank into the mud to the point where the doors would not open. We were forced to exit through the windows.
Cellphones had not been invented, and we needed to call a wrecker. It seemed logical to walk around the corn field, hop a fence and walk into the GM security office. This did not set well with security officers. They let us make a call and escorted us off the property. The wrecker operator said he could not retrieve the car until daylight. I had to sign on WCLO at 6 o’clock, so we walked to Jim’s house to get a few hours of sleep.
Jim’s father, Mel, greeted us, and when we told him what had happened, he wanted to see for himself.
The story gets a little murky at this point. I remember Mel driving down Industrial Drive in front of the plant. Jim remembers him driving out to the scene by the cornfield.
In any event, what happened next will remain in my memory forever.
Mel drove a 1955 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. You could have a family picnic in the back. It was a large car.
I was in the back seat when Mel left wherever we were—driving backward. The Coupe de Ville must have hit 50 mph in reverse. All the while, Mel was asking—over and over—why, with 40,000 miles of paved roads, would we choose to ride around in a cornfield. Those are not his exact words.
The 40,000 was a bit of an exaggeration, but Mel made his point.
It was a night of panic, but it now serves as a fond memory involving the Janesville GM plant.