By MICHAEL WANBAUGH
THE GOSHEN NEWS
For the better part of my childhood, Johnson Controls was my neighbor. I grew up on east Reynolds Street just south of 16th Street. My bedroom window faced north, and between my neighbors’ houses I could see the hulking factory building lurking just across Egbert Avenue.
ON WARM SUMMER NIGHTS when my window was open, I would often be awoken early by the sound of revving engines, shutting car doors and pre-dawn small talk as employees walked to their work stations.
Later on those days, my good friend Mark and I would set up a lemonade stand in his yard at the corner of 16th and Egbert. We could make a buck or two during break times, usually enough to buy a new Wiffleball at G.L. Perry.
We would spend the rest of the afternoon playing Wiffleball until the Johnson Controls whistle blew around 3:30 p.m. and employees poured out of the plant, some in a full sprint. We’d wait about 20 minutes for the traffic to clear and then resume our game.
One summer there was a strike and some of the Johnson Controls workers stood on a picket line at the south entryway. We would talk to them and they would say things like “Stay in school,” and “Enjoy being young while you can.” I remember they were nice to us.
WE WERE IN THE business of making up games in those days. One game we invented was Tennis Baseball. We would stand at 16th and Reynolds with a tennis racket and hit tennis balls toward the factory. If the ball made it to the roof, if was a home run. We must have hit three dozen tennis balls up on that roof that we never got back. Needless to say, Tennis Baseball was slightly flawed.
As we got a little older we found that the parking lot, speed bumps and curbs at Johnson Controls were great for skateboarding. A pack of us would set up a ramp when the lot was empty on Saturdays or Sundays. We’d have a great time until the security guard would shoo us away.
We got to know a couple of those security guards over the years, giving them a little wave as we walked past their station as we cut across the campus on our way to the fairgrounds.
FOR ALL THE YEARS I lived next to that building I never stepped foot inside. Last week, though, I parked my car in the vacant, overgrown parking lot. I walked past the broken windows of the guard station and through a busted down exterior wall. I stood there for a moment in all that emptiness and thought backward.
It’s sad to see the backdrop of your childhood rot away. All physical evidence of the Johnson Controls plant will be gone sometime in the near future. It’s time for it to be something else, something new again, something important and something full of life like I’ll always remember it.