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Workers on the Rambler Assembly Line: Kenosha Wisconsin

Today’s circa 1958-’60 human interest photos are from a set taken of workers on the full-sized Rambler assembly line located at the American Motors plant in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Toiling away on one of these lines, depending on the job is both hard, tedious and mind-numbing to do day in, day out while standing on hard concrete floors. During the summer months factory workers also have to endure mid-western heat waves accompanied by high humidity.

The lead image contains a woman and a man sitting on stools assembling parts in the headlight area while a second woman standing in the middle is performing a separate task. Four enlargeable photos below show a man spot welding panels of the body together in a rear wheel well, and others working on subassemblies and different parts of the cars.

Tell us what you find of interest in this series of photographs courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Libraries.

26 responses to “Workers on the Rambler Assembly Line: Kenosha Wisconsin

    • Indeed, AML. We’d all like to go back, and know then what we know now. Given that, if I were on that assembly line & could financially swing it, I’d order a `58 Ambassador HT wagon–every option in the book! Talk about rare; today in 2018, I’m aware of only one that has survived–a bronze/buckskin wagon!

      • I know the car well. Belongs to Frank Wrenick of Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He is the founder of the AMC Rambler Club, and although he is selling off his cars, I believe he still has his ’58.

    • The third picture (with the woman in plaid) also looks to be a ’58 station wagon from behind. Starting in ’59, they had lights in the top half of the fins.

      • The ’58’ and ’59 Rambler Six and Rebel V8 had the same trim/light treatment at the end of the rear fender. The ’59 Ambassadors had reflective material on the upper stainless molding, so it reflected the light from headlights of following cars.
        Just my .02.

    • Not to nitpick, but it’s a Super. My dad’s first Rambler was a ’58 Custom Six Cross Country. It had extra trim on the rear door below the other stainless molding and came standard with full wheel discs. I learned to drive on it when it was only a couple of months old. The styling was a bit quirky with those awful fins, the busy grille and side chrome, but once inside you couldn’t see any of that. And it was PINK! The seats were super comfortable, and of course, there were those great recliners! NO OTHER CAR HAD THAT FEATURE! My buddies were always calling to borrow that car. Sorry, tell your dad to buy his own!
      Whomever wrote this, thanks so much for the pictures. Brings back lots of great memories! If you have more, please post it here!

  1. How things have changed. In the Tire mounting photo the dilapidated condition of the building and workspace makes one wonder how anyone could look forward to going to work in that environment and how they could be proud of what they were doing. Growing up in Wisconsin my dad always had Ramblers. Many of our neighbors did too. They were pretty poorly put together as I recall with lots of “severe” fit and finish issues that would never be tolerated today. I don’t recall any major mechanical issues which is surprising when I think about the conditions of the factories at that time.

    • More than likely proud of there job because they had a job. Could feed the family and more than likely a discount on a new car?

  2. The worker welding on the Rambler was probably in the Milwaukee body plant. According to wikipedia, AMC still had 9000 employees at that plant in 1961. I had a friend, while we we in high school in 1958, who worked second shift there.

    • Thanks, Dennis, I agree. The Rambler plant on E. Capitol Dr.( now a Walmart) was the body plant, and finished bodies would be transported on open car haulers, 6 or 8 ( depending on the model) at a time, to Kenosha (about 30 miles) where the engine and drivetrain were completed As kids, we would ride our bikes down to the plant, and watch the car bodies go by . A truck went by every 5 minutes. We loved the colors and were pulled by IH Transtar day cab cabovers. They ran in all kinds of weather, which may explain why they rusted so fast. The lead photo, even though there’s no top radiator hose, was clearly final assembly in Kenosha. As evidenced by the big smile, Rambler workers were very proud of what they did. AMC, not so much. Today, there’s absolutely no evidence in Kenosha that at one time, it was the #4 car maker in the US. My grandfather bought nothing but Ramblers.

  3. Spend a lifetime working standing up and you develop an appreciation of the relative luxury of working on a wood floor. Less stress on the feet and the moving parts located above them.

    I still put in time on both, and while it’s a lot warmer this time of year , a day on the concrete floor in our ‘driveline room’ takes significantly more out of you than the wood floors of the service bye directly overhead.

  4. In the mid 1970s I owned a 1962 Rambler Classic Cross Country wagon which was built in that plant. It was the last year for that model before the major redesign for the 1963 model. Mine was #246 off the line so built, maybe(?), in the first few days of production. It was right hand drive and had been displayed at the Earls Court Motor Show in London. The first owner bought it at the show and had it shipped to New Zealand. Unfortunately at the time I owned it, it wasn’t considered special enough to be worth preserving. It had the aluminium ohv six with three on the tree and overdrive. The right hand drive conversion was fairly basic. The whole column assembly was moved to right with the shift lever still on the right side. The overdrive knob was still left of centre of the dash where it would have been on a lhd car.

    • My dad came of age in Scotland in the 1950s. He said he dreamed of owning a Rambler wagon, like the ones he saw in the ads in National Geographic, and driving it across America with his new family. He had to settle for a Morris Minor Traveler and shepherding us around Great Britain. After emigrating to Canada in 1966 he bought a two-year-old (very used) 660 sedan. Years later (and now a US citizen) he and I did get to make that cross country trip (in my Toyota Supra).

  5. Re the spotwelder… I was trying to figure out what the white spots were on the floor. Seems like they’re a pair of socks attached to a man!

  6. My dad grew up not far from Kenosha in Burlington. Nash built their proving grounds just south of Burlington in terrain called the Knobs. Knobs are small, relatively tall hills – fun for driving through. The Nash proving grounds is still there, now owned by a Chinese company as I understand it.

    Dad’s only brand new car ever was a ’59 Rambler sedan like those in the pictures. As much as I like to support the underdog, it wasn’t a good car. Twice, at least once on the freeway, it had a failure of a front trunion and he and the car were lucky to not be seriously damaged. He was mostly a GM guy after that. I really like the styling of those cars with the aggressive grilles, angled c-pillars and tailfins.

    • I should add my dad worked in manufacturing (not at AMC) and was able to get my brother and I into this plant for a tour shortly before it shut down. They must have been making Alliances and Encores at the time. I wasn’t to interested in the cars but remember age showing on everything, walking paths worn in the wood floors and the multi-story process you don’t see much today. Conveyors moved the cars through large holes in the floors as they went through the assembly processes. It amazed me the plant held on as long as it did, especially since factories all over the upper midwest were closing everyday in the ’80’s and the union leader (I still remember is face and name on TV – Rudy Kuzel) remained defiant until the last days.

    • Hi Brian, sadly, you are right. We, in Milwaukee, loved our Ramblers, but there was a reason Rambler was #4, there were better cars. Seems most Rambler sales were in the midwest, mostly by people that had something to do with Rambler. My grandfather had a ’61 Classic, that had around 40K miles, and was in perfect condition, except for the trunnions rusted clear of the body, no one would fix it and he junked it. The Kenosha plant was indeed outdated (and Milwaukee even worse) I believe dating back to the old Nash days.

    • There were two cures for the trunnion problem. First, keep them regularly lubricated. And second, if the front shocks were replaced, make sure the bottom bolt between them that holds the lower shock bolt and control arms together is torqued to at least 100 ft/lbs. This is stated in the factory shop manual in ITALICS! Later, a new steering pin the an extended stud cast into the lower end was manufactured as a replacement. It had a BIG nut with a cotter pin on the bottom so the lower trunnion could not slip out from the assembly. My dad had one come loose on his ’60 Rambler Six Sedan, but it was at 75,000 miles. Most ball joints don’t last that long. He had a string of new Chevies in the 50’s but switched to Rambler in 1958. He never looked back. The Ramblers were head and shoulders above those Chevies in very respect!

  7. What a wonderful time to thank the Families, and the older generations of these Assemblers, in Kenosha for assembling Our Nash Products of long ago!!! Good Job! In reference to the Spot Welder picture : large electric current is required to make a good weld: As the weld is “triggered: Sparks & Hot metal “dingle-berries” can reach the floor and burn skin! Note that: The closest Welder-Operator has safety /shielded glasses, a “wind- up balancing cable ” , to remove most of its weight , and his clothing protects his ankles from weld burns. Note that: The Welder on the other side has cuffs that are too high, so he is wearing white “sock tubes” to prevent welding burns . You can see the same “balancing cable” on the other side.
    Edwin W.

  8. Thankfully the assembly lines had the least production in later summer as most makers were refitting for the new, next-years cars.

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