Sunday, June 7, 2009

At journey's end

The city of Detroit itself has nothing much to remind the visitor of its erstwhile status as the car capital of the world. The buildings in downtown Detroit range from really ordinary to shady looking places which are on the verge of collapse, worthy of an industry whose inability to support itself reflects in the upkeep of its buildings. The new GM Renaissance building in its swanky, gaudy glory on the Detroit river waterfront is an even stronger reminder of the days that the manufacturers of Motown wanted to return to but probably never will.

Ford's manufacturing facility at Dearborn, Michigan (known as the Ford Rouge factory) is its oldest functioning plant in operation since 1910 a little south of Detroit. It continues to churn out F-150 trucks, one of the few models whose sales are keeping the company afloat as the other two of the Big Three have already filed for bankruptcy. They have a theatre in there which runs a 15 minute film on the history of the plant. The grainy black and white images in the ultra modern theatre tell the tale of Henry Ford's revolutionary dreams to set up a plant which would churn out that unique contraption called the motorcar at a desirable price and at a speed worthy of keeping up with the soon-to-be insatiable demand for it. The iron ore went into the steel mill and the final car was assembled & ready within 94 minutes on this plant, the first significant use of a moving assembly line. This factory on the banks of the Rouge was where the modern industrial world was born, and given a ride out into the world by the Ford Model T. To this group of sheds in a little town of Michigan, we owe all the technological wonders that inhabit our world today.

I had crossed an important milestone on that day as I sat watching the show in the darkened theatre. When people reach Mecca after an arduous trek through the desert or step into the holy cave of Amarnath after negotiating the deadly mountains on the way, they would've felt a similar kind of awe. For someone who has always harboured a passion for all kinds of motorized transport to the point of obsession and is a fanatic devotee of modern technology, this was the centre of the universe - the magnificent river at its very source.

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