By Elizabeth Wehman, editor

“I remember the moment well,” comments Dave Acton. “I was in my seventh grade engineering class and little did I know how the smell of solder would launch my lifelong career in engineering.” That smell propelled Acton to head to GMI for his Bachelor’s degree, followed by a Masters degree from the University of Michigan. His career started at General Motors and later as the Chief Engineer for OnStar. Yet Acton wanted more and soon he began to believe that technology could be enhanced and expanded to a point that there could be “cars that can’t crash” and eventually, “cars that could drive themselves.”

In 2004, Acton was so sure he could develop the engineered product, he took an early retirement from GM to work on his concept. “I had three kids in college at the time and it went down to the very last day before I made the decision to retire and take the leap,” said Acton. Soon he was working full-time on his concept. But along the way, he didn’t forget his community.

Dave and Dianne Acton’s intentions for their hometown of Owosso go along with this line from his Wesener Building brochure, “We believe that our calling is to enable people, projects, and organizations to create a successful local economic engine by continuously improving the way we do business each day,” it reads.

The Acton’s have been a part of the Owosso community since 1993. They have never wanted their lives to be centered around what they did or what they invented for the public. Their goal is to enhance people, projects, and organizations to make the community they live in, a better place.

For example, in the middle of his work on the “cars that don’t crash” project, he took time to find out about the possibility of including students in his work. He approached the Owosso Public Schools at one of their monthly board meetings. At the time, Rick Ross was an Industrial Teacher at the school and he was teaching a mishmash of engineering curriculum given to him from past teachers. Soon Acton spoke to him about the possibility of developing engineering curriculum around his “cars that don’t crash” project. His goal was to give them a “hands-on” way of learning an engineering textbook.

Soon students were given an old auto shop room to study the concept. Roads were drawn on the floor. Miniature cars were put into operation. The thirty or so students, in two of the engineering classes at Owosso Schools, began tinkering with the cars to see if they could actually develop a car that wouldn’t crash. It worked.

At an auto conference at Cobo Hall in Detroit, students took their prototype to show at the event. What Acton envisioned for the Owosso students came true. The Owosso Schools also started the “Project Lead the Way” which helps engineering students figure out what type of career would be good for them in the future. Just as Acton found his bent in seventh grade by soldering something, these kids can find what they would love to do in the future by studying just that. What they love to do.

So many serendipity moments have happened in the process of developing his “cars that can’t crash” project. Acton still didn’t want to leave his community behind. When asking several members of the US Department of Transportation to come see him for a meeting in Owosso, Lorraine Weckwert hosted the meetings at her house. The hospitality and meals were just what the important men needed. Newly appointed Owosso Mayor Ben Frederick welcomed the members of USDOT to the city with inspirational quotes and commitments. “We loved Owosso for their humble and without fanfare policy and we adopted it as our own,” said Acton. “We wanted nothing more than to adopt their example and give back.”

In the process of helping their community, the Actons also purchased the Wesener Building to help restore and provide desirable living spaces in the downtown Owosso area. In working closely with Owosso Main Street and the Downtown Development Authority as well as other business owners, they set off to help re-establish Owosso as a “must see, must be in” community.

The initial plan was to take their current business, “Owosso Books and More” into the newly restored Wesener Building. Due to the recent explosion of the technology of Acton’s ‘cars that don’t crash’ project, the Actons are now finding that they are needing to sell the business, but with a twist.

“We want someone who will step forward to help in the move of the bookstore to the Wesener Building by Sept. 3. We want to offer the right person or persons the ability to own the business. Not only that, but we want to provide them with all the coaching and mentoring they need to provide another successful business in Owosso,” commented Acton, “We also want to provide the new owner with our plans, input, and extra features we had in mind before we had to make the decision to sell it. We want to keep this independent bookstore available for the residents of Owosso.”

The Acton’s goal, despite the idea of putting safety and a “car that can’t crash” into user’s hands, is to keep Owosso moving forward. Contracts have been made with car companies, the deployment of the technology will put “Owosso” on the map. Acton’s new technology development company, The-Transformation-Network, Inc., will soon have its product in a 2017 Cadillac. This is just the first of many contracts to be signed with more car companies. Yet the Actons want to be sure that their community is not forgotten in the process. “We knew we loved Owosso, and there were so many good people here that welcomed us, accepted us and “loved on” us,” reminisced Acton, “we just want to do our part, too.”

The Smell of Solder was last modified: August 26th, 2016 by Karen Elford