Stephen Dick, Herald Bulletin

"Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end."

"Those Were the Days" sung by Mary Hopkin, 1968

On Aug. 24, 1978, Les Lanning, Guide Division's general manager, announced a new expansion and addition of 500 jobs. "This is the kind of news day we like to have," he said.

On Jan. 4, 1979, on the occasion of Guide's 50th anniversary as a General Motors Division, the Anderson Daily Bulletin editorialized, "We welcome the opportunities in the next 50 years."

On Feb. 12, 1987, Fisher Guide executive Frederick H. Cooke told the International Management Council that Fisher Guide "will be around a long time."

On Aug. 31, 1999, the Indianapolis Star wrote, "For now, Guide is mostly about potential and possibility."

And then there was this announcement.

On Oct. 18, 2006, Guide spokesman Joe Ruffolo said, "Guide concluded that it was in the best interests of its stockholders and customers to begin an orderly wind down of its operations."

All the good news is over.

A company that began 100 years ago in Cleveland, Ohio, was just about the last bastion of auto manufacturing in Anderson. All that will be left is a smattering of employees in Delphi's Plant 20, itself destined to be closed in late 2007.

In its heyday, when the city's two newspapers and local officials lauded the accomplishments of the General Motors division and beamed their pride at having such a company in town, Guide employed 6,500 people. When it closes, 1,475 will lose their jobs, including some 150 at the Guide headquarters in Pendleton.

Looking over the timeline that accompanies this story, Guide has a storied history as part of General Motors in Anderson. It's decline, that has been years in the making, mirrors that of other GM plants in the city. Guide grew and flourished in a different era, one that had very little competition as GM owned better than 40 percent of the auto market.

Now, with Toyota poised to take over the world, GM and its spinoffs are no longer the giants they once were. Once, however, they were kings.


Guide was the brainchild of three Wisconsin men: Hugh Monson, William Persons and William Bruce. They began making lamps for vehicles at a place called Badger Brass Co. in 1906 in Kenosha, Wis. They moved this operation to Cleveland, Ohio, and called it Guide. Guide was moved to Muncie as part of Delco Remy in 1923 and found its way to Anderson in 1926.

General Motors was on the move as the largest auto manufacturer on the planet and Guide was busy making headlights and taillights for Chevrolets, Cadillacs and Pontiacs.

This all came to an abrupt halt on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese planes launched the attack on Pearl Harbor. All over America, factories converted their normal production to the war effort. Guide churned out weapons, nosecones for aircraft and shell casings.

Richard Bowman is the historian of all things Guide. He retired from there in 1984 after 43 years in the plant. He now spends his time at the Madison County Historical Society overseeing a huge inventory of Guide literature and photos.

On Thursday, he'll address the Anderson Noon Kiwanis Club at First United Methodist Church with a history of Guide.

When Guide moved to Anderson it took over the Jenny Electric Co. but, in expansion, was built on less than solid ground.

"The entire area was woods and swamp," Bowman recalled. "The water was three-feet deep. Kids would pull 12-pound bass out of it."

The land had been owned by O.C. Crimm who raised hogs on the soggy land. Guide pulled out the trees and filled in the swamp.

Around 1948, the company purchased a large hydraulic press that had to be put in a 12-foot hole in the factory. Bowman was in charge, laying out the area where the press would go. One night he was awakened at 3 a.m. by third shifters who were digging the hole.

When Bowman arrived the workers were outside.

"They hit a hog wallow," Bowman laughed. "You could smell it all over town."

The dug it all out and got the press installed, but "we had to wear breathing apparatuses."

Bowman was there during the war years and remembers that all able-bodied men were in the service. There were some elderly men in the plant, and women, but more people were needed. Frank Allis, the personnel director, advertised for new workers but no one responded.

So some Guide officials went to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis where soldiers were returning with shell shock and other maladies. Guide offered them jobs but the base commander said he wasn't sending his soldiers into the factory. "But I'll do what I can," Bowman recalls the commander saying.

The commander put out the order that all soldiers at Fort Ben would be restricted to the base, meaning they couldn't spend their off time in Indianapolis.

Bowman said the next day, 22 Indianapolis prostitutes showed up at Guide for work. "The (base restriction) shut down every whorehouse in Indianapolis," Bowman said.

The ladies raised eyebrows in the plant. "They were saturated with nicotine," Bowman said. The women couldn't smoke on the production line due to flammable materials, so they'd disappear every hour into the ladies washroom. Bowman said he'd come in to get them, banging on the stall doors to get the women back to work.

When the restriction order was lifted two days later, 18 of the prostitutes returned to Indianapolis. "Four stayed for a good many years," Bowman said.

In 1947, Guide began using plastic on its taillights, but things didn't turn out too well the first year. The plastic manufacturer colored the taillights red but, once on the road, the sun bleached the color out.

When GM controlled 40 percent of the auto market in the 1960s and 1970s, Guide was at its peak. The challenge, Bowman said, was the yearly changeover in equipment because of model changes. This cost millions of dollars. Each year, around June, some machines were replaced, others were modified.

In the 1960s, said Bowman, Guide got into the business of manufacturing carpet for cars. "It was beautiful carpet," said Bowman. The carpet was used initially for GM executives' Corvettes. After two years, Guide tried to get a contract to mass-produce the carpet, but the executives shot it down.

Bowman explained that the wife of one of the men drove the Corvette in stiletto heels. The heels punctured the carpet and she had a hard time coming unstuck. End of carpet.

Middle Period

When Ollie Dixon came of age in the 1960s he had two employment dreams: one was to be an attorney, the other an electrician. In 1967, he took a job at Guide. He worked six years in production and 30 as a skilled trade electrician, getting his wish.

"I wanted to be a GM employee," said Dixon. "At Guide, I thought I could build up the money to go to law school. But I was married and had two small children. I had to take care of my family."

Working at Guide was "almost like a second home," he said, adding that there was plenty of work and overtime available. He remembers that Guide, along with Delco Remy, Nicholson File and other Anderson factories employed nearly 40,000 workers in the 1960s.

Dixon said he made about $2.65 an hour when he started at Guide, taking home about $90 a week. "Back then that was an excellent wage," he noted. In fact, he added, "I think $2.65 to $3 an hour back then did more than $30 an hour today."

Dixon, currently an Anderson City Council member, was always active in United Auto Workers Local 663, serving nearly two full terms as president and various other positions.

"On the whole, I enjoyed the work I did, enjoyed the people. I gained a lot of friends."

The 1980s saw a change. "Things got rough in the '80s under the Reagan administration. Foreign competition started taking over. We were losing our work overseas."

A series of layoffs hit Guide in the 1980s and 1990s as GM had built up a huge inventory and dealers were afraid car sales would plunge if there was a recession. GM announced the idling of 21,900 workers in 1990.

In 1992, after yet another name change, Inland Fisher Guide was put on the "troubled parts list," not because of quality but financial losses in the previous two years.

Dixon was serving as 663 president when the transition came in 1998. GM spun off Guide into its own company. Everything Guide produced went to GM, but a new work force didn't operate under the GM umbrella.

"I'm proud of the people there," Dixon said. "They did their best." He said he hopes that they take advantage of retraining program and that some might find jobs at other GM plants. "These employees are well experienced, familiar with the work, procedures and policies (of GM). Hopefully it will happen."

As much as he enjoyed his work at Guide, Dixon is wary of the future of the auto industry.

"It's a scary situation, quite alarming."

The 99ers

Kelley McVey remembers a different Guide, one that was no longer part of GM. She was hired in May 1999, part of a group that came to be known as the 99ers.

McVey insists, however, that she hired in as a GM employee. "I was paid by GM, all benefits. A year later it was Guide pay."

When GM separated from Guide, most of the old timers, those who were hired when Guide was part of GM, were looking to transfer to other GM plants. The new management, McVey said, told the 99ers to stay away from the old timers because they would "lead us down the wrong path."

She didn't listen to management. She learned her job to the point that she made it look easy. "The old timers taught us techniques to make things easier."

Management, according to McVey, created an atmosphere of fear. She said supervisors hovered around the jobs to see if production was being met. McVey worked on a molding line where she was relieved for 45-minute breaks. She'd come back after 15 minutes and stand by the job, worried that a supervisor would see her gone too long.

There was always overtime and management leaned on employees to take it.

"I did all the overtime or we could lose our jobs," she said. "There was always that threat. You can get addicted to overtime. I worked 12 to 16 hours a week OT in 1999."

Things got worse in 2001 when 663 and GM came up with a new contract for a two-tiered wage system. By then most of the 99ers were making the GM wage of nearly $28 an hour. New hires were going to make half that, and there was plenty of tension because the 99ers with seniority had the better jobs.

"The new people had to work harder for less money," said McVey. "It was an us and them game and management loved it. I kept telling (the new workers) that it's not and us vs. them. We had nothing to do with that contract."

Management informed the new hires not to listen to the 99ers. Despite her pleas for teamwork, "people left nasty notes at my job," said McVey.

Though she said "the bosses didn't know what they were doing," McVey blames the union as much as management. "The union hurt us more than it helped us. They couldn't communicate or negotiate."

As part of the settlement package, Guide employees with less than 10 years of experience can take a $70,000 buyout. Those over 10 years are offered $140,000.

"The 99ers are getting the worst part of the deal," said McVey. "We had seven years in, knew the job and knew what to expect."

The recent announcement of Guide's closure produced some anxiety for McVey and no doubt many others.

"The skilled-trades people can transfer anywhere they want. (If we transfer) we have to start all over: seniority, pay, 90 days without benefits. And GM is supposed to close 10 plants."

Guide lasted 100 years. Their lights shined on old hand-cranked cars right up to the latest models of Chevrolets, Cadillacs, Buicks and Pontiacs. Those cars will have different lights in the years ahead. Even if they carry the Guide name they won't have been made in the United States, much less Anderson. Guide will be part of history.

© 2022 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.