A Real Rosie the Riveter

Image

We were delighted to discover real, elderly Rosie the Riveter Frances attending the Open House at the Willow Run Bomber Plant that followed the Arsenal of Democracy Conference.

Frances, who is 91, worked at the plant during WWII, making B-24 Liberator bombers on the assembly line. She lived in Detroit at the time, and it took an hour by bus to get to Ypsilanti, then another half hour to get to the Plant. She worked as a riveter there from 1940 (perhaps ’41?) until 1945, or “for the duration,” as they would say during the war.

The Tribute Rosies are looking forward to hopefully visiting her and spending some time with her over lunch, to hear more about her time in the Plant, her experience of the war, and to enjoy her company.

Real Rosie the Riveter Has B-24 Blueprint

Image

It’s always a special pleasure to meet a real, live Rosie the Riveter, and we were delighted to discover Margaret attending the Arsenal of Democracy Conference.

Margaret, who will be 89 this November, worked in the blueprints department of the Willow Run Bomber Plant during World War II. She told us that she had one of the original engineering drawings of the B-24’s construction, and her son was able to call it up on his iPad.

The drawing is incredibly detailed, really almost a work of art. When asked how she came by this artifact, she said, “I’m embarrassed to say, but I stole it! It was so beautiful, and drawn by hand, and was such a piece of history, that when the plant closed I folded it up and put it under my jacket and took it home.”

Her sons grew up with the drawing on the wall of their room, and it remains a family treasure.

Heck, that’s not stealing, that’s historical preservation! We encouraged the family to contact Yankee Air Museum’s Oral History Project, so Margaret’s recollections, and maybe a scan of her engineering drawing, could be preserved in the Museum’s archives.

WWII Veteran and a Man Who Was a Boy in Germany During WWII Attend Arsenal of Democracy Conference

Image

At today’s Arsenal of Democracy Conference at Yankee Air Museum, I had the pleasure of sharing a lunch table with Chester and Jim.

Jim, at right, is a World War II veteran, who was training as a pilot to fly the B-25 Mitchell (a two engine bomber—the Yankee Air Museum owns and maintains a flyable Mitchell called the Yankee Warrior.) He completed his training on May 24, 1945, only days after VE Day, so he never saw combat.

Chester, at left, was just a boy during WWII, and he saw the bombers from a very different angle… from the ground in Poland and Germany. Fortunately, he and his family managed to stay safe during the war.

The two men are friends, and both came to hear our three speakers at the Arsenal of Democracy Conference today:

Randy Hotton, Yankee Air Museum board member and historian

Charles Hyde of Wayne State University and author of “Arsenal of Democracy: The Automotive Indutry during World War II.”

And Michael W.R. Davis, former director of the Detroit Historical Society and author of “Detroit’s Wartime Industry: Arsenal of Democracy.”

A Gentleman Who Worked at Willow Run With the Rosies

Image

After today’s Arsenal of Democracy Conference at the Yankee Air Museum, the public was given an opportunity to step inside the Willow Run Bomber Plant to see it one last time before most of it is demolished to make way for a connected-vehicle test facility.

It was also announced today that demolition would be configured to allow Yankee 5 more months to raise the funds necessary to preserve a portion of the Plant as their new home.

Very exciting news, and a very exciting day!

I met and talked to three real, elderly “Rosie the Riveters” who worked at the Plant, and one gentleman, pictured above, Ivan, originally from Indiana. He worked in the Willow Run Bomber Plant as a young man, working on the line, building B-24s, “with a Rosie on each side, until the Ohio draft board figured out where I was!”

Ivan has a great sense of humor, and as you can see by my big smile, I was utterly smitten with him.

11 Year Old Boy Draws Bombers to Save Willow Run

Miles and his drawing of Willow Run

Miles creates beautiful drawings to help save the Willow Run Bomber Plant.

This is Miles. He’s 11, and he loves the Willow Run Bomber Plant.

The Rosies heard about him when we were talking with tailgaters at a recent U of M football game. But we had no way to find him. Fortunately, he and his family heard we were at the Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti, and they came down to meet us.

You see, Miles loves the plant so much, he draws beautiful pictures of it and sells them to raise money for the campaign to save a small portion of the plant as a new home for the Yankee Air Museum.

He also creates drawings of the Ford Motor Company’s Highland Park Plant, another industrial treasure worth saving.

Miles Art Work - Willow Run Bomber Plant

Proceeds from the purchase of Miles’ drawings go towards the campaign to save a portion of the Willow Run Bomber Plant as a new home for the Yankee Air Museum.

Miles and his family have created a Facebook Page for his art, and he sells his drawings, nicely matted and ready to frame, for $10 each.

If you enjoyed this story, do your part to keep a little piece of it alive for future generations. $50 saves 1 sq. ft. of the Willow Run Bomber plant at www.savethebomberplant.org

Willow Run Grand Opening Part I: a B-24 Bomber Flies up from Smyrna, TN

Homer Himchliff's Dad was featured t the opening of the Willow Run Bomber Plant

Mr. Homer Hinchliff, whose father was a USAAF B-24 pilot, and attended the grand opening of the Willow Run Bomber Plant.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Homer Hinchliff of Willis, Michigan at the Orphan Car Show in Ypsilanti. Mr. Hinchliff says his dad, Lt. Col. Edward Hinchliff, was present during the 1940s at the grand opening ceremony for the Willow Run Bomber Plant, east of Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Mr. Hinchliff says his dad was a B-24 pilot based at the Smyrna, TN USAAF air field. For the opening ceremony, they wanted a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber to fly over and land, to show everybody what the plant would be building. Lt. Col. Hinchliff’s job, after landing, was to stand by his plane and answer questions. There was a brass band playing, and they put him up in style at the Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit.

From what I understand of the plant’s timeline, this grand opening ceremony would have occurred before war was declared. The plant was up and running within a year of its groundbreaking in early 1941. By the time Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, the plant was already producing B-24 parts, for assembly elsewhere. It was not until early 1942 that Ford was producing completed bombers at Willow Run.

If you enjoyed this story, do your part to keep a little piece of it alive for future generations. $50 saves 1 sq. ft. of the Willow Run Bomber plant at www.savethebomberplant.org

Willow Run Grand Opening Part 2: Rats on a Plane!

Rats on a plane!

And you thought snakes were bad!

Another great story from Mr. Homer Hinchliff of Willis, MI.

Homer’s father, Lt. Col. Edward Hinchliff, with his B-24 Liberator bomber, was present at the Grand Opening of the Willow Run Bomber Plant.

But this story is about what happened after the war. Lt. Col. Hinchliff was on his way home in his B-24 after the close of World War II. They had stopped somewhere in North Africa to fuel after leaving Italy.

As they approached cruising altitude, panicked rats started swarming all over the plane. Yes, you heard me, rats on a plane! They must have come aboard during the layover. They were everywhere. The crew tied their pants legs shut with twine to keep the rats from crawling up there and biting them. The copilot said, “What the heck are we going to do?”

Lt. Col. Hinchliff said, “We’re going up to 22,000 ft!”

As the B-24 gained altitude, the rats moved slower… and slower… and slower. The crew put on their oxygen masks as they climbed, and finally, the rats were still.

They returned home, without further incident, to a hero’s welcome.

If you enjoyed this story, do your part to keep a little piece of it alive for future generations. $50 saves 1 sq. ft. of the Willow Run Bomber plant at www.savethebomberplant.org

Little People at the Willow Run Bomber Plant

little-people-at-willow-run

Eddie Rickenbacker (?) meeting with Little People at Ford Motor Company’s Willow Run Bomber Plant. Photo by TheHenryFord.

I dressed as Rosie the Riveter today at the Orphan Car Show to benefit the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum (another treasure from Ypsilanti’s distinguished industrial past.)

And, as usual, I met a lot of very interesting people with a connection to Willow Run. For example, a guy whose dad came up from southern Ohio to work at the plant during WWII. Dad was a very small guy, so they asked him, “Are you strong in your arms?”

He was a fiesty little guy, too, so he said, “Yeah, ya wanna try me?”

They said, “No, we believe you.” Then they took him to the center wing section of the assembly line and put him inside the wing, bucking rivets in an awkward corner. The smallest girls would fit in the center wing, but sometimes they weren’t strong enough for all the jobs that needed doing in there.

Tap Room Ypsilanti Michigan

The doorknob at the Tap Room on Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti is set very low to accommodate the “little people” who worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant during WWII. Photo by Jane Vass.

BTW, the word around Ypsilanti is that the doorknob at the Tap Room on Michigan Avenue is set very low to this day because they moved it down during the war, so the “Little People” who worked at the plant could reach it.

Little People were so needed in the center wing assembly on the B-24 line, that the Ford Motor Company actively recruited them from Hollywood and the circuses.

Henry Ford was a stickler for everybody punching their own time card, so it was a daily sight at shift change to see coworkers cheerfully lifting up the Little People so they could punch their cards.

I’m guessing that this man’s father came up from Ohio before Ford went all-out to recruit Little People from show business. His small stature and strong arms were probably a welcome sight to the plant managers, who had some very tough slots to fill on the line.

At the 2013 Thunder Over Michigan air show, we Rosies met a woman whose mom, quite small herself, was in charge of making sure the little people had everything they needed. Ford built special housing at Willow Run Village for them, with everything scaled to their size.

If you enjoyed this story, do your part to keep a little piece of it alive for future generations. $50 saves 1 sq. ft. of the Willow Run Bomber plant at www.savethebomberplant.org

Willow Run Rosies Make a Video

A wonderful group of people got together to help the Willow Run Rosies make this video.

Rosie Jane Vass was the producer and choreographer, and the star is Alison Beatty, the original “Tribute” Rosie.

Alison is a University of Michigan grad student who saw the Save The Willow Run Bomber Plant sign at the corner of Stadium and Jackson this past July, and drove by it several times before looking it up online to see what it was all about.

When she visited the website, and learned more, she thought two things. One, “This is really important and we have to save that Bomber Plant!” And two, “What would have made me look this up sooner?”

So she decided to dress as Rosie the Riveter, and stand next to the sign at rush hour. You can read more about Alison in a news article here.

Alison inspired the rest of us, and now we are a troupe of Tribute Rosies, dedicated to helping save a part of Willow Run to honor the Greatest Generation, for the benefit of future generations.

Also featured in the video are two 1942 WWII-era GPWs (Jeeps) owned by John Sanderson and Bob Schrock, and the Yankee Air Museum’s PB4Y, which was a very late model of the B-24, without the twin tails, produced for the Navy. It was the closest thing we could get. And the young Sanderson girls, as you can see, are simply adorable in the video.

The opening and closing shot is set in front of the two giant doors at the end of the assembly line, where the finished B-24 Liberators from the dual assembly lines would roll out onto the tarmac for gun and compass testing, and their maiden flights over Michigan.

Those doors still work perfectly, and are located in the part of the plant that we are trying to save as a new home for the Yankee Air Museum.

If you enjoyed this video, do your part to keep a little piece of the Willow Run Bomber Plant alive for future generations. $50 saves 1 sq. ft. of the Willow Run Bomber plant at www.savethebomberplant.org