Saturday, May 30, 2009

GM; The General Falls

General Motors GM Janesville WI Assembly Plant copyright Jeffery Blackwell

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I was born and raised in the orbit of Detroit, from a Ford family. (Not THE Ford family, but from A Ford family.)

My loyalty to the company that my Dad worked for 50 years is part of my identity, and hence my antipathy for General Motors and all of its various brands. The superiority of Ford designs and products was obvious to me, and the current situation GM finds itself in seemed inevitable, yet it is still quite unreal.

Since its inception, GM tried to define the market, wasting billions of dollars trying to convince people that a Cadillac (truck!) was better than a Buick was better than a Pontiac was better than a Chevrolet. If they had only spent the money developing better technology and cleaner, lighter cars.

Like the collapse of the Soviet Union. You knew for decades it was being driven off a cliff, but couldn't believe that no one had the guts or the strength to turn the wheel even a few degrees.

General Motors GM Janesville WI Assembly Plant 02 copyright Jeffery Blackwell

On my way home from Sterling, IL yesterday, I was driving past the Janesville exit, and was drawn down the ramp. The Janesville Assembly Plant was one of GM’s oldest (opened in 1923) and cranked out monstrous Chevrolet Suburbans until the end. At one time, 7,000 people punched the clock here, earning UAW wages and paying mortgages, sending their kids to college in Madison and Whitewater, buying cabins up north, fishing boats with Evinrude motors, and Harley Davidsons. “Miller time” ads were targeted straight at the Janesville GM employees.

General Motors GM Janesville WI Assembly Plant 04

General Motors GM Janesville WI Assembly Plant 05 copyright Jeffery Blackwell

The plant now sits silent and still in the bright sunlight, surrounded by acres of bare parking lots where signs still direct those driving vehicles with “foreign nameplates” to park over near the railroad tracks or risk possible disciplinary action. Guess that showed 'em.

General Motors GM Janesville WI Assembly Plant 03 copyright Jeffery Blackwell

The security service dutifully checked my ID when I pulled past the empty guard shack and started making these photos. My wandering into restricted areas was apparently the most interesting thing to happen to them on that particular day.

General Motors GM Janesville WI Assembly Plant 06 copyright Jeffery Blackwell

To add to the surreal scene, the U.S. Navy's famous Blue Angels were practicing in the area, and would occasionally sweep by at low altitude leaving what seemed like a deeper silence in their wake.

General Motors GM Janesville WI Assembly Plant 07 - Blue Angels U.S. Navy - copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell

All words and images copyright 2009 Jeffery Blackwell


  1. Beautiful, haunting words and images, Jeff. You really captured the feeling of the place and the times in which we're living. Bravo!

  2. Love the photographs. I took some similar photograhs in and around Burlington, NC a few years ago. I kept my color versions, converted them to black and white and also converted them to a dark mirrored/metal look (Think black and white imagery from Silent Hill series of games and the movie).

    The image of the train tracks is especially good IMO. The building with the circular brick smokestack, the train tracks disappearing around a curve in the distance, the curvature of the tracks as the emptiness beyond speaks to the emptiness of now.


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