It took Brian McMahon 18 years to write his new book, "The Ford Century in Minnesota" - its assembly unfolding night after night in the quiet hours as his children grew up.
"I didn't leave a stone unturned," he said. "It was much bigger than I could have imagined."
The 71-year-old Stillwater author and architect will be in Duluth at noon on Thursday to discuss his book at the downtown Duluth Depot as part of the St. Louis County Historical Society's "Lunch with the History People" series.
Guests are encouraged to bring their own bag lunch. Attendance is free and coffee is provided as McMahon will use his hour-long presentation to discuss the topic of "Ford Motor Company's Involvement in Duluth and the Iron Range."
Because of Ford's ubiquitous presence on the American industrial and commercial landscapes, McMahon has little trouble tailoring his regular talks to geographic audiences. In St. Cloud, he can talk about the influence of the oldest Ford dealership still in existence, located in that city. In the Northland, it's shipping, iron ore and the time Henry Ford leveraged Duluth to sweeten a major deal with St. Paul in the early 1920s.
"I'm always able to modify it for a particular location," he said of his speaking engagements related to the book. "It's no stretch, either. There are a number of things about Duluth and the Iron Range that relate to Ford."
McMahon described one of Ford's primary goals as being "vertically integrated" - controlling every step of production and distribution. It's how Ford came to build two large lake freighters the company used to transport coal from company-owned mines into Duluth, and Iron Range taconite iron ore out of the Twin Ports to factories in Detroit.
"He loved Minnesotans," McMahon said. "He called them his 'Viking customers,' and he built three plants in the state over the years - and one in Fargo."
The first two Twin Cities-based plants were taller production buildings that gave way to the sprawling, one-level, assembly-line plant that opened in St. Paul in 1925 and closed in 2011. To hear McMahon tell it, Ford once had a dalliance with Duluth about the prospect of building that revolutionary assembly facility here.
"There was a serious rumor floated by Ford officials that it was going to build in Duluth," McMahon said. "It made the papers at the time. Henry Ford loved to play games with the press. He pioneered the idea of a savvy corporation doing that for corporate subsidies. He could easily dangle these possibilities and use the cities (against each other) to offer all kinds of incentives."
There are several other intersection points between Ford and the Northland, including Ford's distant cousins in Virginia.
McMahon first became entranced by Ford when he visited the St. Paul production plant.
"It was designed by the most important industrial architect of his time, Albert Kahn," McMahon said. "I was really taken with the tour showing parts coming in one end and finished products out the other. I started talking to old-timers and got deeper and deeper into the story."
If you go
What: St. Louis County Historical Society's "Lunch with the History People"
Topic: "Ford Motor Company's Involvement in Duluth and the Iron Range," presented by author Brian McMahon
When & where: Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. at the Duluth Depot on Michigan Street
Misc.: Bring a brown paper bag lunch; admission is free and seating is first come, first served