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Friday, December 19, 2008

The Big 3 and Me

I grew up in a suburb near a GM town. However, even with growing up in that area, and driving mostly GM cars (and a Chrysler or two), my family history lies with Ford. My paternal great-grandfather was a racecar driver and mechanic who worked for Barney Oldfield, the racecar driver who made Ford famous. Great-grandpa was able to race at the Brickyard and later opened his own garage. I still remember visiting Auto World in Flint (a car themed amusement park—see the movie “Roger and Me” ) and going on the car history ride where my dad started getting animated. In the ride, there was a display on the ride of a cigar chomping, scarf wearing Barney Oldfield inside a car while it was worked on by a mechanic. My dad started excitedly pointing to the mechanic saying, “That’s my grandpa! That’s my grandpa!” as he almost fell out of the little amusement park car.

My dad later told us when he first heard his grandpa had been a racecar driver, he cracked up saying, “But Grandpa, you drive so slow!” To which his grandfather responded that back in the day, before the new cars could go fast, he once outran a cop on horseback in a Model T. I like to think Great-grandpa added, “Fresh-mouthed whippersnapper,” after telling the story, but I can’t verify that happened.

Ford also played a role in my maternal great-grandfather’s life. He came to this country and took a job working in a mine in Pennsylvania. He worked there a few days before realizing that wasn’t the life he wanted. He and his brothers packed up and left and Great-grandpa decided to go to Detroit where he got a job at Ford. He didn’t speak much English, but he would never say anything negative about his workplace saying (in broken English), “Henry Ford pays a good wage.”

Ford made Detroit what it is and gave it a rich history. As kids we all spent time at the Henry Ford museum or Greenfield Village, which showed us the life of Thomas Edison and encouraged us to not just dream, but to be like Henry Ford and Edison and dream big.

One of my favorite Christmas memories was visiting the Ford Home (Edsel’s) all decorated for the season. Some of my family members have worked there over the years for the family. Plus, the Ford family (Henry II, Christina, etc.) made for some excellent gossip over the years. I once was seated next to one of the hairstylists of one of the Ford wives and I learned some fascinating things...okay, fine, good gossip, but I learned things! Mrs. Ford’s driver however was loyal (yawn) and only spoke highly of her (Edsel’s wife) although did say she could be demanding.

Dodge has also been a big part of Michigan and visiting Meadowbrook (the Dodge home) was also a big highlight for me as a kid. The Dodge’s might not have had a gift wrapping room a’la Candy Spelling, but they had a section in the hallway devoted to it which fascinated me as a kid.

This isn’t just about a few auto plants here and there going bankrupt. It’s about the history of Michigan and the part it played in so many families’ lives. I watched a man on TV who worked for Ford in Dearborn saying he was a third generation Ford auto worker. He said it was more than a job to him—it was part of his family legacy.

I agree with the arguments against bailing out companies, however the Big Three are asking for loans, not a bailout and there’s a difference. Loans get paid back. Why is it okay to bailout Wall Street, but not give help the Big 3? If we don’t help out the auto industry, we’re only hurting ourselves. It’s not just about a bunch of automotive companies, but it’s about families, tradition, and a culture that helped make America what it is today.