Willow Run Memories April 2015

First ti-level overpasses in America built during WWII by Toebe Construction Co. to handle traffic at the newly built, colossal Willow Run Bomber Plant and Airport complex.

First tri-level overpasses in America built during WWII by Toebe Construction Co. to handle traffic at the newly built, colossal Willow Run Bomber Plant and Airport complex.

Recent submissions to the Willow Run Memories Project include a remembrance of the construction company that built the first tri-level overpasses in America as part of the colossal  WWII-era Willow Run Bomber Plant and Willow Run Airport industrial complex, male workers pranking the young Rosie the Riveters, and people from all over lined up to pay their respects to Henry Ford in his coffin at Dearborn.

Click here to see all submissions to the Willow Run Memories Project, to date (the Project is ongoing through 2015 and beyond.) Learn how to submit your own family Willow Run Memories here. Please note, we are not looking for donation of actual photos necessarily, just a digital image is fine.


World War II deeply affected the daily life of all Americans, and many served on the Home Front in critical government jobs…

During WWII my father worked for the OPA (Office of Price Administration) in Washington. This was the agency that set prices for rationed goods, including steel, which was the division my father worked in. During that interval he met Henry Kaiser and Joe Frazer. After the war, Kaiser and Frazer bought the abandoned bomber plant at Willow Run to make automobiles, and they hired my father as the personnel administrator. So Dad moved his family to Northville, Michigan and we grew up there, with numerous visits to the Willow Run plant. My first car was a [Kaiser-Frazer] “Henry J,” and my parents drove a Kaiser and a Frazer. – Warren H. via Facebook

A real WWII Rosie the Riveter remembers…

I was hired at the bomber plant in 1943. My first job there was in the engine department attaching hoses on the engines. My task was to attach the white hose for water, blue for oil, and red for fuel. Later, the engine department was moved to another plant. I was then transferred to the outer wing assembly department. There I attached ribs under the wing with clamps. The wing was then taken to the riveting department. My pay was $1.10 an hour. We were paid in cash every two weeks. I lived in Waltz, Michigan at the time and helped my parents with the money that I made. I would car pool with a friend of mine that was out of Carleton. – Helen L. via online contact form on this website

We enjoyed this amazing family saga that illustrates how the Great Depression, World War II, the Willow Run Bomber Plant, the auto industry and the postwar industrial boom swept entire families up in the tide of history…

My father, Carlton, was born March 17, 1902 in Walton County, Georgia. He first came to Michigan on a train in 1922 and got a job at Fords in order to support a future wife and family. In August of 1923, with a leave of absence, he returned to Georgia, got married, and brought his new bride to Detroit. A month later my mother was pregnant. As the pregnancy advanced she became frightened and homesick for her family. Dad had to quit Fords and bring her back to Georgia where she gave birth to Mary, in 1924, in Kirkwood District, Atlanta, Georgia. He worked at his brother’s dairy until 1929 when he was able to regain employment at Fords in Michigan. The family lived on Quant Street in Melvindale until June of 1931 when he was laid-off due to cut-backs forced by the Great Depression. He returned to Georgia and worked at his brother’s dairy until 1935 when he got a job in Atlanta with Fords. This lasted until 1941 when he was laid-off, but in 1942 he heard that Ford was hiring workers at its Bomber Assembly plant at Willow Run. The following quote is from my sister Margaret ’s diary, “Dad left for Detroit, Michigan 11:30 am on Monday, February 16, 1942. He won’t see the family until August. He telegraphed the next day that he had arrived and got a job at the Bomber Plant.” He was a rehire from his previous job at Fords in Atlanta. In June, not August, of that year he moved his family of three daughters, a son, and wife to their new home on Harlow Street in Melvindale. The first day after they arrived they toured Detroit, then the Willow Run Bomber Plant. On September 21, 1942 Mary at age 18 with an 11th grade education got a job at the Bomber Plant. It was a choice of either supporting the war effort or finishing high school. On October 3rd and 9th Margaret wrote in her diary that Mary “was still liking her job” and that Mary “got her first paycheck at the Bomber Plant.” Almost a year later on Monday August 9, 1943 Margaret wrote that, “Mary drilled her finger twice.” Dad worked at the Bomber Plant until Thursday May 11, 1945 when he got laid off. I believe that Mary got laid off at the same time if not earlier. Dad’s work experience at Fords led to his later work at Chrysler as a machine repairman. Dad had a great respect for Henry Ford and was very grateful for the company he had founded that had always been good to him. When Ford died and was laid out in the Rotunda for public view, Dad took me there and we waited in the long line to see the man in his coffin. Dad told me not to forget that a large part of history was lying there. I was nine and still have the image in my mind sixty-eight years later. Dad retired in 1969 and died January 31, 1971. Mary’s experiences led to employment at GM’s Ternstead plant for several years during which she went to comptometer school at night. The school found her a job at Security Bank and Trust from which she retired as a supervisor in 1985. I can only cite a few of her recollections. One involved the dangers of being a “Rosie the Riveter.” She was working inside the bomber’s cramped quarters on a moving assembly line. She was late with her operation inside the hull as the bomber assembly moved to the next station and a drill bit from outside the hull missed her head by inches. Another was when she was a fresh hire and had to endure pranks by fellow male workers who would have her go to the tool crib and ask for a bastard file which they knew would embarrass her. She overcame the pranks and developed skills and work ethics that brought her respect and admiration throughout her work career. She was so proud of her job at the Bomber Plant that she kept a scrapbook of newspaper articles about the assembly plant, the planes she helped build, Henry Ford and mundane paraphernalia like tool crib passes. –William W. via email

One man remembers his father, who worked at the Willow Run Bomber Plant throughout its entire history… the Plant was built just prior to WWII as Ford’s Willow Run Bomber Plant, then became the Kaiser-Frazer automobile factory, then was GM’s Hydramatic/Powertrain transmission assembly.

My father Lawrence (Larry) worked on the B-24 Bomber in Ypsilanti throughout the war, worked for Kaiser for 9 years after the war, and then for GM Hydramatic. My father was an aviation machinist mate, on the scout plane, assigned to the Battleship New York from 1935-39. My dad began working for Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego [the company that originally designed the B-24 Liberator bomber], after being released from the Navy, to utilize his knowledge in the construction of new aircraft. After attending hydraulic engineering school, my father was transferred to Ypsilanti, Michigan and Willow Run to become part of the Willow Run Team!! He often talked of meeting Mr. Ford AND Mr. [Charles] Lindbergh, seeming to enjoy both experiences. – Larrow T. via email

And finally, during World War II, many people besides Rosie the Riveter pushed the boundaries of what was deemed possible. Here is a reminiscence of the man and company that built the very first ti-level overpasses in America to prepare a nation for victory… 

In our home my father, John, always displayed a picture of a tri-level bridge at Willow Run. It was completed in 1942 by the bridge construction company he and his brother, Walter, owned. My father always told us children that it was the first tri-level highway bridge in Michigan. He also said it was part of an improved transportation system needed to serve the Willow Run Plant as it became am important part of the WWII war production. In addition to the framed tri-level bridge, he had pictures of the Toebe Co. work on another bridge crossing a railroad that is identified as a bridge at Willow Run. – Joanne W. via email

Send us your own Willow Run Memories! You can learn more about the Willow Run Memories Project here. (Note: we are not necessarily looking for donation of actual photos for the Project, just a digital image, digital snapshot, or scan is fine.)