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Blugolds bring ‘When Rubber Hit The Road’ to life

| B.J. Hollars

Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire faculty member B.J. Hollars, professor of English, right, co-produced "When Rubber Hit The Road" with Steve Dayton.

Since I can barely change a tire, making a documentary about tires seems a bit beyond my wheelhouse. Thankfully, I’m pretty good with a tire-related pun (see: “wheelhouse”), and better still, tires are only half of the film’s story. 

WRHTR poster

At its heart, “When Rubber Hit The Road” — the one-hour documentary I co-produced with my pal and film partner Steve Dayton — is about the Chippewa Valley’s attempt to reinvent itself following the 1992 closure of Eau Claire’s Uniroyal tire plant. The closure cost the region approximately 1,300 jobs and an estimated $42 million in lost tax revenue for the city, state and country. Unquestionably, it was a turning point for our community. What would happen next was anyone’s guess. But if the city hoped to survive, it was up to its citizens to figure out how.

I’d long been fascinated by this story, but having never made a documentary, I was reluctant to take on such a project in the visual manner it deserved. That’s where Dayton came in. As the multimedia marketing coordinator for Royal Credit Union, he fulfilled all film-related duties, allowing me to focus on research, writing and communications. Though even together, we quickly learned we needed a bigger team. 

Thankfully, faculty, alumni and current University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students joined us on our journey. Associate Professor Greg Kocken, head of special collections and archives, helped us sift through over 30 feet of archival materials. His staff, too, scoured boxes, scanned photos and assisted us in bringing this history to the screen. Alum Austin Bower (whom I last saw in my nonfiction course in 2017) also served as an early screener. A filmmaker himself, Austin provided key feedback that furthered our film. Once the filming was complete, we still needed a soundtrack, so I reached out to Jerrika Mighelle (whom I worked with during my prose writing course in 2014), and she generously provided the perfect song. 

Of course, there’s no movie without a poster, so we recruited Marisa Valdez (UWEC class of 2025), who brought our vision to life. Many other Blugolds deserve credit — Professor Emeritus Jan Larson, communication and technology specialist Glen Mabie, English academic department associate Candis Sessions and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, to name a few.

Before making a documentary, I never bothered watching the credits following a film. Now I know better. All that “lights, camera, action” business represents a fraction of the work that goes into creating a project of this scope. Much like building a tire, making a documentary requires a team. When building ours, we knew to bet on Blugolds.  

The world premiere of “When Rubber Hit The Road” is at 7 p.m. May 3 at Pablo Center at the Confluence. Tickets are available here.