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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

Farewell to Smokestacks


7:30 AM

Business writer Gary Pakulski s story this morning hit my Toledoana Nostalgia button, for want of a better term.

The lead graf:

Smokestacks at the old Jeep plant have a date with a wrecking ball next week, but historic preservationists who sought to save the Toledo landmark have won a partial victory.

I ve written before about being one of those Toledo families whose entire reason for living here could be explained with just one word: Jeep. My parents came here from Europe in the early 1950s so my auto-engineer father could oversee production of the many Jeep plants springing up worldwide during that modernizing, postwar era. The automaker s expansion was nothing less than direct tribute to its product s plucky WWII performance. Every newly emerging nation, it seemed, wanted its own Jeep plant.

So off went my father.

I have a small box squirreled away with most of the letters he wrote me throughout my childhood, up until his death in the mid-1960s. I remember studying the exotic postmarks Rhodesia, Turkey, Iran, Venezuela, Brazil and marveling at how a letter from someplace the family-room globe showed to be so faraway could actually be so ordinary.

How were your piano lessons this week, Bobbie? Did you practice every day? Remember, you promised! I hope to be home for your birthday, but there are some unexpected problems this time, so we shall see. But if not your birthday, then Thanksgiving.

The other dads in the neighborhood got up in the morning and went to the office. My dad got up and went to Colombia and, if we were all lucky, he d be home within six months.

I ve come to see the era of my childhood as directly linked to the global expansion of not just Jeep, but of American manufacturing itself. Of the United States itself. My Dad: Building factories, spreading imperialism

I ve also come to see Jeep as a gauge of Toledo s well-being. Yes, the new plant, etc., etc. But the possibility that Toledoans won t have the vista of those iconic smokestacks (smokestacks! the very word walks us backward to another era) for much longer strikes me as a particularly graceless slap in the Toledo face.

Kind of like tearing down the home where you grew up or something, you know?

(Although I certainly doubt any Toledo schoolkid these days could point to the Jeep smokestacks a central part of city history -- and accurately identify them.)

Well, wave goodbye to yet another piece of Toledo, a city where we re often so desperate and eager to find our future that we don t think twice about artifacts from our past. Ah, well. At least one of the smokestacks will stay up for the time being, anyway.

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