GUEST COLUMN: One piece at a time
Tuesday, 19 March 2013 by Mark Magnan
Back in the mid 1970's, Johnny Cash sang a song about working at the Cadillac factory and attempting to steal a car one piece at a time, which coincidentally was the name of the song as well. In case you missed it, he was a hillbilly from Kentucky that went to work in Detroit at the Cadillac factory. He didn't think he could afford to buy one the cars so he devised a plan to steal one, by sneaking out each item that it took to make the car. As the song goes the endeavor took over twenty years to complete. The small things he stashed in his lunch box, the larger body parts and such, needed the help of his friends and coworkers.
This started in the 1950's and lasted until the 1970's. So body styles and all sorts of changes were made to the design. This presented a real problem when it came time to put all of this together. I wouldn't have been able to wait that long, I would have been trying to assemble this as I went along.
Overall the logistics of this feat are ridiculous. It would be impossible to sneak out some of the more meaningful parts and probably unrealistic to think that someone could get so many large parts without getting caught, but then that is what made the song so much fun.
It is a good thing this took place so long ago. If someone tried to steal all the parts now it would take them, probably, three years or so to just get all the safety and warning devices that are present on modern day vehicles. There are so many sensors and safety switches that they must number in the hundreds. How did we ever live in a time when your car didn't warn you that the door wasn't shut completely. Usually we would notice that about highway speed and we would just open the door and give it a good slam and never even slow down. Many modern cars today have a sensor that tells you the current tire pressure. We used to be able to tell that the tire pressure was off a bit when we heard the flapping of deflated rubber, or the car became a bit harder to handle.
Now don't get me wrong, technology has really helped a lot. And many of the safety devices are quite valuable. These days you have a chime and a light that annoy you until you put on the seat belt. In the past my father would direct me to fasten my seat belt, if that didn't work a couple of attempted swats of his hand would convince me that getting buckled up was a better idea that getting my face smacked. In those days you had to actually remember to change the oil. You had to pay attention to the gas gauge since there was no polite reminder that you were running on fumes.
But things were so much simpler then too. One button for all the lights, any light was controlled by that single button. The radio was the most complicated device on the car, it had two knobs and a series of square buttons to select six or maybe at many as eight stations. The mirrors were manual as well, normally they were adjusted when the car was first purchased and never needed adjusting again. If you opened the hood you could see the engine, not some huge plastic cover with some impressive looking logo and numbers on it.
I do appreciate the advances made in tire technology. I remember changing flat tires on my first few cars. It has been, literally, years since I have changed a flat tire. I have owned a few vehicles that the jack was never taken out of the plastic holder, heck I may not have even seen the jack, I might have had a car without a jack for all I know. There is a lot to be said for the simpler times, but also the more advanced days that we live in now as well.
Overall the song and idea was fun, but not enough to make me try something so daring.
I sneak into the Journal office each Thursday and swipe the newest paper, but I think they allow me that luxury. The good thing is that it is complete, ads and all, so no assembly is required, that beats a garage full of car parts.