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Book Excerpt: Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant

January 20, 2011, 5:00PM EST text size: TT
Book Excerpt: Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant
Tearing down an American factory, ton by ton

In May 2006, ThyssenKrupp announced that the Budd Detroit plant, built in 1919, would close by the end of the year. The plant mainly stamped out auto body parts, and, among other distinctions, had built and assembled the metal for the 1950s Ford (F) Thunderbird. For his book, Punching Out (Doubleday, published on Jan. 18), and from which the following is excerpted, writer Paul Clemens tracked the Budd closing and its aftermath. He spent more than a year talking to former workers and union members before the closing, watched the auction of the plant’s massive equipment, and documented the disassembly of the massive press lines, which did the stamping. In this excerpt, he meets riggers, truckers, and scrap crews—the workers charged with taking apart American industry.

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It was early June 2007 when I first got into the closed plant. Though the rigging crew had been in Budd for a little more than a month by this point, I hadn’t missed much. The crew was spending most of its time prepping for the upcoming auction, to be run by the Ashman Company of Walnut Creek, Calif. Along with the Ashman workers, the Detroit crew was sorting the plant’s contents into auction lots. The auction preview would be on June 18, with the auction itself on June 19 and 20.

There were 1,242 lots included in the Ashman Company catalog. Excluded were three large press lines, tagged “Not in Sale,” that had already been sold overseas. These were 2-line, sold to Delga, a Brazilian auto supplier, and 9-line and 16-line, sold to Gestamp, a Spanish auto supplier that had, in turn, contracted Müller Weingarten, a German press maker, to help oversee 16-line’s dismantling in Detroit and its installation in Mexico in the fall.

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