Saying goodbye to the last auto plant in Minnesota

Editor’s note: B. Mitchell Carlson, a key contributor to American Car Collector, sent us this heartfelt note about the closure of Ford’s Twin Cities Assembly Plant. The world is forever changing all around us, but some changes are much harder than others.

We saw it coming during the last three years, but it is still difficult to realize that the last auto assembly plant in Minnesota closed on December 16.

The last Ford Ranger off the line was slated to go to a prominent member of the Ford family, to be donated to The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. I was informed of this when I asked my Ford dealer earlier this year about getting the last Ranger off the Twin Cities assembly line.

Part and parcel of why I’ve considered myself a Ford fan is because of the local Twin Cities Assembly Plant. When I was growing up in outstate Minnesota, I would pester my dad to go by the plant whenever we were in “The Cities.”

Rows of new, gleaming Ford LTDs, Galaxie 500s, F-series pickups, and later, Rangers, were parked up against the fence fronting Ford Parkway and waiting to be shipped out.

The annual All-Ford Picnic of local Ford car clubs was in their employee parking lot each June for over two decades, and the day gave me close-up and impressive views of the Albert Kahn-designed main assembly building and administrative offices (which once included a public showroom).

Most of the Fords that I’ve owned were built at that plant, from my first car, a 1974 LTD Brougham 2-door hardtop through my current 1992 Ranger, which was the first vehicle I bought brand new.

I was able to tour the plant a couple of times in the early 1990s, and thanks to my regular job, I have also since set foot in both of the other buildings in the Twin Cities where Fords were once built — near the new Twins stadium in Minneapolis and near the State Capitol building on University Avenue in St. Paul.

Aside from diversifying his manufacturing base and economizing production, Henry Ford also saw regional production as a means of building sales through a sense of civic pride. Rather than shipping in boxcar loads of Model Ts, Model As, and flathead V8’s from Dearborn, MI all around the country, those same cars were also built at regional assembly plants.

It was reassuring to know that as I grew up in Minnesota — and later chose to live in the state — that our area was economically diverse, with viable agriculture, agribusiness, banking, and heavy industry balanced and working off each other. The Ford plant was the “poster child” for providing good-paying industrial jobs to folks who could then afford their own homes, the products they made, and perhaps even a lake cabin.

All this fostered a sense of local pride that Ford reinforced in advertising going into the 1980s, with regional ads for Ford F-series pickups touting “Built with pride by your neighbors in St. Paul.” In today’s “global economy,” all of this seems to be irrelevant — and we are all the poorer for it.