Ford Plant Memories

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Sitting outside in the blistering heat today, writing The Wind From Heaven, called up memories of summers in the Ford plant. My father worked there all his working life, and my brother and I had summer jobs there to pay for college.

Here are the three hottest jobs I ever had.

Anything on the welding section of the assembly line. That place was hot even in the dead of winter; but in the summer, watch out. We were expected to gulp salt tablets and keep on spot-welding. If it got to be 120 degrees, they sent us home. Didn’t want anybody keeling over.

The wheel car. This was a boxcar packed almost to the brim with wheel rims. You climbed into the claustrophobic space on top of the cargo and they put a basket in front of the door, and you put the wheels into the basket until the car was empty. How hot was that? I had shoes with rubber soles that melted.

The water test. You’d think this would be a treat, driving a car through water jets that sprayed it from every direction. All you had to do was make a note of any leaks. But first you had to go out to the parking lot and fetch one of the cars that had been baking there all day. Then you tightly closed all the windows and the vents so you could drive it through the water test. You were expected to resist the temptation to open the windows and let the water in. By the time you emerged from the water test tunnel, you were so soaking wet from sweat, you couldn’t have gotten any wetter if you’d gone through the tunnel on roller skates.

As Rudyard Kipling wrote, “The heat would make your bloomin’ eyebrows crawl.” I don’t know how many times mine tried to crawl away, but I always caught them.

P.S.–They closed the plant some years ago and then dynamited it out of existence to make room for a shopping mall. For those of us who had missed the notification that there was going to be a colossal big explosion, it was a rather exciting Sunday morning.

5 comments on “Ford Plant Memories

  1. I’ll bet there are many people in this country who are nostalgic for the days when we did more of our manufacturing here instead of spreading out all over the globe.

  2. Those assembly line jobs could be tough. When I was a child, and loved cars, I thought that working in a car factory would be a fun job. These days, it just sounds like hard work.

  3. I’m thinking those summers in the factory increased your desire to succeed in college so you wouldn’t end up on a factory floor job. I am currently reading “Iacocco,” Lee Iacocca’s autobiography (the guy responsible for the Mustang, which was originally named after a WWII fighter plane, not a horse) and he tells about how hot the welding section of the plant was. I remember growing up in the Mediterranean climate of southern California and my dad telling me I would never be able to handle the summer heat of Virginia where he grew up. Then I moved to Arkansas in 1976 and thrived working at a Whirlpool factory without air conditioning in the summer’s humid heat – I guess I showed him 🙂

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