JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) — The big, yellow GMC truck first operated as a snowplow on city of Janesville streets. Then, for years, it became an asphalt mule for city street maintenance.
Now, the 19-year-old city of Janesville public-works truck, a diesel-powered, GMC C8500 dump truck, is being retired and is scheduled to hit the auction block in June.
It’s not just any truck. It’s the last heavy GMC utility truck ever built in Janesville; the absolute, final big truck that ever rolled off the local plant’s assembly floor before GM shut down its Janesville medium-duty line for good.
Scrawled in black grease pen on the underside of the GMC’s hood are the names of the people who were working on the Janesville Assembly line on June 26, 2002 — the day the truck was completed. Those names, although faded beneath years of operating grime, yet remain visible, The Janesville Gazette reported.
Who knows? Maybe one of those workers will buy the truck. If they want to, they can try.
The city of Janesville is now taking sealed bid offers for the truck. City Operations Director Maggie Darr said the city normally holds a statewide auction for surplus or retired vehicles. But she said the city is initially soliciting bids locally for the GMC truck. Their plan, at least until June 6, is only to accept bids mailed or hand-delivered to the City Services Center.
“The goal is to maybe limit the exposure a little bit more so potentially it ends up in the hands of somebody local who has some local connection to GM, maybe somebody who wants to feature it at local car shows or keep it as kind of a part of local history,” Darr said.
Travis Kelsey, shop-crew leader at the city’s service center, said the city’s purchase of what proved to be the last GMC dump truck to come off the Janesville Assembly lines came about through sheer happenstance.
The truck was only five years into service and had just a few hundred hours of working time when it went from being used for snowplow operations to city blacktop work.
Kelsey said most city workers knew the big GMC was the last of its breed. Some even wondered if a truck of some historic distinction should be put on asphalt duty.
“The blacktop guys really appreciated the truck, but there’s give and take. Some of the other guys were sad to see it getting used like that. Yet to other people, it was a truck. Either way, we used it as a truck, used it for what it was built for. Maybe that rubbed some of the history off it,” Kelsey said.
GM officially shut its Janesville assembly plant down for good in 2009 during the Great Recession, amid titanic shifts in the automotive industry. Trucks such as the city’s big GMC weren’t the last vehicles built at the Janesville plant, but the closing of the medium-duty truck line in 2002 was viewed as a turning point for GM, a sign the plant might not forever remain the city’s biggest employer.
In its peak year – 1977 – the GM plant employed about 7,100 people in Janesville, producing 274,286 cars and 114,681 trucks; by 2008, employment there was down to 1,300.
Michael Kobelt, a former GM worker on the medium- duty line, told The Gazette he remembers signing his name with a yellow grease pen on the backside of the truck’s 300-pound bumper, which he had installed the morning the truck rolled off the line.
Kobelt, like his father, had worked years at the GM plant. He is now in food packaging. Kobelt said he remembers that, on the day the big yellow truck was completed, hearing its engine fire up on the first turn of the key.
“You always took it as a good omen when that happened,” Kobelt said.
Almost 20 years later, in the parking lot at the city garage, Kelsey tried again to fire up the truck’s big, Caterpillar diesel engine. It came to life on the first click and purred. Kelsey touched the gas pedal, and the truck shook with a steady rumble.
“That’s the GMC sound,” Kelsey said. “A real diesel.”