Volume No. 18 Issue No. 2 February 2021  

  From engineer to author “Manufacturosaurus” — inside the factory

     Gordon Spark always had an aptitude for mechanical issues; his dad was an engineer and taught young "Gordy" how to read blueprints at age 7. He has always loved things "that go whoosh, kathunk, whackata-whackata, zip-zip, chug-chug, puff-puff, and move."
   So, it's no surprise that he became an industrial engineer. But it wasn't his original career path. After graduating from college, a history of asthma kept him from being drafted into the military and being sent to Vietnam. He returned to school and was on the road to becoming a history professor — but with doubts about his ability to land a teaching job.
   Then came a fateful call from a man who was soon to be his brother-in-law; he had graduated from college with a degree in political science but ended up as an industrial engineer at American Motors Corp.
   “He said, ‘Gordy, you've got this long history of engineering in your blood, it's something you excel at, how would you like to be an industrial engineer?’ I went in for the interview, got the job and the rest is history.”
   That job with American Motors in Kenosha, Wisconsin, kicked off more than 45 years in manufacturing and distribution operations. It's a career that has taken him to cities across the United States, to Poland in the Cold War days, and ultimately to Falcon, where he and his wife, Jan, have lived for five years as he has moved into quasi-retirement.
   In recent years, he's been spending time writing stories from that career, assembled into a book titled “Manufacturosaurus Near Extinction.” The title came to him when he was working in Dallas; he was writing a monthly report and thinking about all the stories he had to share. “If I don't write them down, I'm going to forget them; they'll be extinct,” he thought. It was then that “Manufacturosaurus” popped into his mind; he would end up populating the book with many such terms, such as “rust-deca-olopolis,” referring to a state of factory decomposition. His daughter Shannon brought those terms to life with vivid illustrations for the book.
   Spark spent only one year at American Motors before moving on to International Harvester; it was that job that took him behind the Iron Curtain in Poland and provided many of the experiences detailed in his book, such as being followed daily by the KGB. But International Harvester met its demise in the early 1980s. Subsequent jobs took him everywhere from Paxton, Illinois; to Allentown, Pennsylvania; to cities in California and even to Colorado Springs, where he worked for SuperFlow for two years. He then received “an offer I couldn't refuse” from Global Motorsport; for that company, he oversaw the relocation of a manufacturing plant from Sylmar, California, to Valencia, California.
   Still, he never forgot his time in the Pikes Peak region, and he and Jan had always wanted to live in Colorado. So when both of their daughters were grown and out of their house (Spark also has a son from an earlier marriage), they set their sights on the Centennial State after a dozen years or so in Dallas. They looked all over the region, from Monument to Woodland Park to the south side of Colorado Springs, before settling on Falcon. For the first three years or so, though, Falcon was home to Spark only on the weekends; he was still spending weekdays working in Dallas as a consultant.
   Now Spark, at age 71, is hard at work on Volume 2 of “Manufacturosaurus.” In between both volumes, though, he co-wrote “The Untold AMC Stories” with longtime friend Peter Williams, who worked for American Motors for decades, and Austin Hosterman, president of the Northern Colorado AMC Club. (Spark also has published a children's book, “Gus the Gosling,” a tale written by his mother, Katherine, back in the 1970s and illustrated by Shannon; the book fulfills his longtime dream to see the story in print.)
   With his own book, “Manufacturosaurus,” his goal was to teach, he said. (Perhaps it's that aspiring history professor in him.)
   "I really wanted to reach out to young adults ideally, to have them get a sense for that time period, ‘70s to early ‘90s, what it was like working during that time, and to embed manufacturing knowledge, fundamentals, into the book." But he wanted the stories not just to educate but to entertain, so in addition to the dinosaur-type names, he sprinkled in plenty of humor. And while the tales are true, Spark changed the names of places, people and companies “to protect the quasi-innocent.” So International Harvester, for example, is International Reaper in the book.
   "Since the end of WWII and principally since the early 1970s, we have seen the greatest historical period of manufacturing devastation in the history of the United States," he wrote. Still, he said the concept of "Made in America" is not dead; the United States has seen a bit of a renaissance in manufacturing in recent years. His biggest concern is a lack of vocational studies and the challenge of replacing retiring baby boomers with skilled labor. “We have to bring back vocational studies with a vengeance,” he said. "It's really important to save our manufacturing base."
   (“Manufacturosaurus,” “The Untold AMC Stories” and “Gus the Gosling” are all available to order at amazon.com.)
Gordon Spark is the author of “Manufacturosaurus Near Extinction” and one of the writers of “The Untold AMC Stories.” Photo by Bill Radford
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