Once again this year, Rich and Judy Bolzenius hosted a reunion at their home in Missouri for the retired St Louis Assembly Plant workers. We enjoyed visiting with a lot of good friends from last year's reunion and made a few new friends. We were also honored to have as our special guests James Hylton, driver of the #48 Dodges, Al Bradshaw who worked on the Chrysler Turbine car program and Mike Eberhardt who brought the Turbine car to Rich's house for display. Following is some of the interesting conversation that the men shared with us about their years at the assembly plant.
Gene: My first new car was a 1964 Plymouth Fury III. I've had over 30 new automobiles in my lifetime because I used to buy them every two years. But I bought it over at Washington-Dixon Motors, baby blue with a black interior, prettiest car there ever was. I got as far as Union, right about in here somewhere, and the thing wouldn't run. It kept dying. So I had to turn around and go back to Washington and they said, 'What's the matter?' And I said, 'Hey, this thing won't run. It keeps dying. It keeps flooding out. It's terrible. The choke's sticking or something.' So they opened the hood--$3,200 back then, now this is a Fury III, fanciest one of the bunch-anyway, he grabs that breather and he lifts up and the carb and everything comes right off the block! All for carb bolts are laying there on the manifold where somebody had taken it off to repair something and never put it back on. That's the kind of quality they had back then. Now that's just half the story. They put that back on and it ran like a striped ape, so that next weekend, me and the wife decided to go on vacation. We went up to Illinois way up north to the lake and on the way back on Sunday, three o'clock in the afternoon and I gotta be back to work Monday morning, and I'm driving down through Illinois and hear this "thinka, thinka, thinka, BAM, zzzrrrr-nothing works! And I looked in my rearview mirror and I could just barely see it back there-there's a driveshaft rolling down the middle of the high-way! And it was MY driveshaft! Anyway, I went back there and picked that damned thing up, threw it in the trunk and got it rolling down the hill and there was a service station at the bottom of the hill. I pulled in there and by golly, that guy had tools and put it back in there. It cost me a pretty good price. They never tightened the saddle bolts. It's held in the front, just sticks in and there's two saddle bolts that hold it to the yoke on your rear axle and they just didn't tighten them up. So actually when you get up enough speed, it's whing, whing, whong and they're gone. He found a place to get two new saddles that would fit it, bolted it up and I drove right off. But that's the typical quality back then.
Gary: It was even like that up in the 80's. I bought an '85 Ram Charger-one of the last ones built up in Canada before they moved that operation to Mexico. And I was going to work-brand new truck-and it would follow every line in the road. There was something wrong with that truck. I can take the wheel like that and hear chink, chink, chink. And I looked in there and the steering box wasn't bolted down!
Jim: I worked for Ford Motor Company before I went to work for Chrysler and that was the same way. It didn't make any difference back then. You slam things together and they weren't quality conscious back then. All they wanted was cars. They wanted numbers. Quality didn't really enter the picture until the 60's-then just a little bit. But quality was appearance, you know. Not so much mechanical. You could get that fixed if it fell off, but if the fender looked bad on the outside, then people wouldn't buy it. That's cosmetics. I bought a new Dodge truck in 1977 with a 440 engine in it. Man, that thing was hot! I drove it home and Cheryl went to use it. She said, 'Dad, I got in there and could smell gas all the way into town'. I said, 'Well, is the carb plugged?' and she said, 'No, it's running out underneath.' See, I had two tanks on it so while you were running, one was squirting gas. And some kid in Union told her, 'There's gas running out from underneath your truck.' So he looked under there and said, 'Oh, your gas line is loose.' And there was a wrench that fit the gas line laying on the frame! Some repairman had left it and the damned thing was still laying there. So he looked under there and saw the thing loose and saw the wrench laying there and took the wrench and tightened the line and gave my daughter the wrench!
Gene: One guy brought a drive-out home and he said, 'Man, I can't hardly drive that thing over 30 mph.' It was just kind of shimmying, shaking, whatever. And he brought it back in and he wrote on that thing what was wrong with it and he said it took him forever to get home in fact. So they put it up on the hoist back in Chassis and it had never went over the Rolls. The control arm bolts had never been tightened, that whole front end was underneath there loose.
[At this point, I asked Gary and Gene and Jim why some 1970 GTX's received the emblem above the glove box and some didn't-a question Roger Wilson sent down with me. Following are their answers]
Gary: Maybe you should look at what shift it was built. The day shift did everything differently than the night shift. It could have been a supervisor that wanted it that way-I don't know. Or they could have had what they called "man assignment" and you had a list to do this and that and, well, this guy on second shift might have the guy doing something else besides putting this emblem on. He might have him do something else and forget about the emblem. It happened. That's about the only thing I can think of.
Gene: I don't think they'd do that with an emblem. Well, different interior trims had different things. Some of the packages called for certain trim and decals and others didn't. So I think it would be the different interior trim packages would call for it and some wouldn't. But, I've seen some crazy things done to mark the day and night shifts. I was telling Jim about that little ding on the cowl to mark the shift. [The ding was found on the firewall of Gene Lewis' 1969 Charger last year and the guys explained to us that these dings signified what shift the car was built at the St Louis plant]. The guy doing all the steel welding got in trouble. He got some jobs over in 90 that some of the welds broke and he did all the welds right. He felt those weren't his jobs so he started marking his jobs. He put a big old dent right in the left fender. He took a hammer to that but it wasn't a good idea because some of the sills didn't cover on the low model cars-he thought they all had a chrome strip that went over it so it didn't make any difference.
Jim: Some of them had the narrow stuff and some had the wide stuff. And the narrow stuff wouldn't cover the dent!
Gene: That dent was sticking out under the trim.
Gary: Some of those CO2 guys actually put on their initials.
Gene: Well yeah, that one CO2 guy welded that one car to the track and when it go to paint, it wouldn't transfer to the paint track and guess what? We had a breakdown for about four hours! Of course, he got fired. He lost about 3 months wages. The line was down because there were no jobs to come from the frame side, so he was bored and so he just decided to weld the carrier to the track.
[I brought up the subject of the Green Monster, which Gary told us about last year. It was a huge fixture that was used to line up and install front end body parts. At the end of each model year, it was disassembled and rebuilt to accommodate the new model's sheetmetal.]
Gary: They still use a variation of the Green Monster in the truck plant.
Gene: That machine's been there for years. Every year the "framing side" got all the new modern lasers and fancy equipment and the "precision side" of the body shop-the fit side-kept the same old junk year after year and they just remodeled it.
Gary: Yeah, they had a funny thing to put hood hinges on.
Gene: Just a little old hand device fixture. All this fancy stuff to check the stats, to calibrate for the next brace to be in the right position and everything. If the laser didn't hit just right, it would shut that big machine down on the other side when it got it all together. We'd come over with a hand device-a stupid old Vice Grip clamps-and set it on there and set the hood hinges on-that setting was critical! Hey, you worked with what you got.
Jim: Sometimes a good old hammer would do about as much as one of those fancy machines.
Gary: That's how we put those deck lids back there on those LeBarons. If those corners were peeled in a little bit, you just took a pit hammer and pow! You get that out!
Gene: I worked mainly in the bodyshop. I was Superintendent on 2nd shift and I came in and all these cars had automatic framing then, and all the door hinges were welded on in framing. Well, when they got over to the metal side, they were a half inch off. To get his count on day shift, he gets the count off the end of the line, so he left the metal line run through the door department, all the way up till the end of the shift, till almost about three cars from the end of the line. No job in the whole bodyshop system-and there were about 153 of them, I think-that had no right doors on them. None of them had a right door on them because the hinges were all goofed up.
Jim: Did they straighten it out?
Gene: The production manager at the time made him [day shift supervisor] stay over and help me straighten this mess out. But anyway, what I did was grab an engineer. I'd have sat there and thought about it. You know, what if we just scrap 150 cars? This went all the way back to the side aperture where this was off, 150-some-odd units. I said, 'You're not going to scrap 150 cars. There's a better method than that'. The production manager said, 'That's for sure'. That's the only thing to do-I went and grabbed an engineer and measured the exact distance those hinges were off, went back to my door area, changed the fixtures where we welded the hinges to the door and went along with that situation-you know, welded them a half inch off. And we built 153 special doors, strapped them on a rail, hung those new jobs on there and just ran those babies slicker than a gut going down for about 30-40 minutes. And the only way those doors could fit is on those bad cars. Just those special cars. If anybody ever damaged the door and they take that door off those hinges and orders a door through Mopar, he's in trouble!
Gary: When I worked in the truck plant, people used to sneak over there and grab a car. Well, everybody raced down that side of the plant where the garage was and came down the other side-between the plants. I snuck a car once and got on it down past the power plant where they were building the new engine track-there's a hump there. I locked up the brakes and I don't know what I did-it must have been all that gas, just flooded it and it wouldn't start. And that's where we had to let it sit. We let it sit there and we snuck back across the ditch and went back to the trunk plant.
Jim: Well, I'll tell you what happened to me one time. I had a drive-out-it was a Hemi. I asked for a hot car so I got a Hemi. I bought it home, picked up Bob Riker the next morning. He wanted a ride in because his wife was coming down that evening and they were going shopping and they didn't want two cars down there. So we were running along and I hit a dip and it bottomed out-it only registered 120 mph-and we heard a little noise, bump. And Bob says, 'What was that?' And I said, 'I'll be damned if I know.' He said, 'You think we ought to stop and check the car?' I said, 'Well, it's running good.' We were down there where Six Flags is, going through that so I let up on it and I pulled over right at the Eureka exit.The back end went down. I said, 'Bob, we got a flat tire.' We went out and looked and there was no tire there! And there wasn't a scratch on the rim and after we made that noise coming through those dips, we drove that far without a back tire. You know that rib that pops over when you air a tire up that's brand new and they go 'pop'-that was the only thing on that rim! There was a string off of that thing that was about that long all the way around. The tire disintegrated. That was those old damn cheap tires. We drove five miles with no tire on the back and we're doing better than 120 mph! But if you figure the weight of a car at that speed, there was probably only 15-20 pounds on each tire.
Gene: I don't know if it's true, but at 90 mph there's only supposed to be three pounds of pressure on each tire. So you don't have much at 120 mph.
Jim: I had a 1960 white convertible and what they had then was a bumper and what they called a dust shield. That dust shield went down under the bumper like scoops on a car. It only registered at 120 mph but at 120 you could go down on it and it would still put you back in the seat. A guy told me at 130 mph you could spin your wheels and the car wouldn't go. And I said sure. So one night coming home from work, I was coming along on 44 and got down where they call Radar Flat. Well, I was doing 120 all the way, probably a little bit better and I held it wide open going down that hill and then all through that flat. I was about halfway through that flat and the only thing you could hear was the wind turbulence-I took the center of the highway and there were no cars on the road. I barely moved the wheel and nothing happened. So then I rocked the wheel like this and the car just went straight ahead. And then I hit the brakes and it was just like nothing there. And you know, that's the last time I ever drove that car. You know, also back in the 60's, they didn't have the heavy duty brakes whether you had a car that wouldn't run over 80 mph or whether you had the hottest engine on the road-they all had the same brakes. Real minimal. The bad thing about that car is, I had the D500 engine, 383, blower injection, whatever we called it. And you know, I sold that for $600 back then. Right today just the manifolds in that car would be worth $4,000.
Gary: We called that Sonoramic.
Jim: Anyway, the kid came to the house and I said, "I don't think you want that car. I wouldn't mind selling it to you but it's too hot.' He said, 'Well, my dad said it'd be a good car for me so I'll bring my dad.' I talked to his dad and said, 'Look, if that kid gets down on that car, even on dry pavement, those little tires, unless you put the right slicks on, he'll spin out and kill himself.' He said, 'Oh, that's a sensible kid.' And I'll tell you what, the old man talked me into selling that kid that car and he lived two weeks. I had that car brand new, I had about 4,000 miles on the car and I was in the plant working and a guy comes in and he says, "Geez, how many miles you got on your car? There's strings sticking out all over those tires.' And I said, 'Oh, BS. I only got 4,000 miles on the car.' He said, 'You go out tonight and look at then.' The back tires were completely spun out and they had those nylon things sticking out.
Gary: I got a set of those air cleaners, those Sonoramic air cleaners. A guy was feeding his dogs out of them. He was using them for dog dishes!
Gene: Those are worth something!
Gary: He was feeding his dogs and I happened to walk up and looked down and saw the notch where they're cut out. And I thought, 'Those are Sonoramic air cleaners.' So I said, 'Hey, what would you take for those aftermarket air cleaners?' And he said, 'I don't know. They ain't worth much, just go ahead and take them.' So I did! I bought a 1963 Dodge and they'd just come out with those magnesium-real magnesium-wheels and put the tires on them and they go flat because they're so porous, the air just comes right through them. I put those things on, put a different intake on-it was a 383-and I came out of work. I worked the second shift and that time, that thing was sitting on trash barrels. Remember when they used to do that? They used to set them up on the trash barrels and take the tires and everything off of them.
Gene: It was getting to where you didn't even want to go in that parking lot. They were stealing stuff so bad. And the guards were supposed to be watching that stuff.
Gary: And I came out just in time. All they got was the tach out of it.
Gene: Later, when everybody would come in, they'd lock the gates. Then the only way you could get in was to pull up by the guard shack and pull out the other driveway. That's the only way they could stop it.
Gary: Well, they stole those two cars out of there that time.
Gene: They would just look over the parking lot and saw the prettiest car, whether it was a GM, whether it was a Ford, whether it was a Chrysler product, and if they liked it they just stole it.
Gary: Well, these were two new cars. They stole them and one of them ran out of gas. One of them was a RoadRunner, can't remember what the other one was now. But one ran out of gas and they never did find the other one.
Jim: They only put five gallons of gas in a car that's not going to be tested for anything. And sometimes, the automatic thing isn't working exactly right so you might only have a gallon to drive away with. And by the time they got driven around the plant, sat there idling and whatever, that's barely enough gas to get them on the truck out there.
Gary: They were going to take them and change the numbers on them but I think what they ended up doing, because there was so much heat on them, they just ended up stripping them and selling them all over the world.
Jim: That also happened down there where those guys took ramps and jumped new cars over the fence. Seeing how they just landed on the other side-one of them nosed in. I think they got away with a couple of them but then one of them wasn't going fast enough or something and nosed it down.
Gary: I had a '65 Dodge and I tore the 4-speed out of it. A guy came walking by and he said, 'I'll get you one. Meet me in the parking lot tomorrow with $75.' There was the 4-speed, shifter, bars and linkage and everything.
Jim: A lot of stuff was stolen before it ever made it to the tool crib.
Gene: Every kind of person that you'd ever want to meet has worked in Chrysler at one time or another. The cops came in one time and took my relief man when I worked in trim. Right in the middle of his relief cycle and I never had a utility person-nobody. They came in and just snatched him, handcuffed and dragged his ass out of the plant. What this guy had done, he caught his girlfriend out with his buddy. They were in the back seat, one on top of the other and neither had clothes on. He stuck a shotgun in the window and blew both of their heads off. And then came in to work. It was just unbelievable, I couldn't tell any difference in him!
Gary: That's like that 70's model car they found in Mopar Collector's Guide and they peeled the carpet back and found a squashed joint. Nobody had ever caught that. That came right out of the plant-that guy dropped that out of his pocket. He was planning on going to the stairwell at lunchtime. They'd climb the stairwell going up to paint, all the way to the top, and smoke dope. Remember back to that time when that kid bought that pickup truck and it started on the assembly line as a [model] 100 and came out of the plant as a 350?
Jim: Yeah, they would do that.
Gary: It had painted bumpers on it and he got it home and he put the lacquer thinner to the bumpers and there were chrome bumpers underneath. Then he took the hub caps off and underneath the hub caps were a set of wheels. They had put the hubcaps on and taped them on. Remember that? He was the one that got that all started. After that, they started auditing every order. Yeah, they went into the cushion room and they had the best interior put in over the old interior and when they got it home they just stripped all that.
Gene: That was one that got by me [Gene was a Supervisor]-I don't remember that, but I'll tell you there's this guy, what's his name...Mooreman... nicest guy, religious, he'd never even let his wife cheat. It's funny because whenever his wife babysat he made her claim that money because he was really religious. He ordered a new truck through Chrysler and he wanted the West Coast mirrors but he didn't order them. So he said, 'Well, that's alright, I'll just put them on later or something', you know. He just mentioned the fact and he was such a nice guy that they said 'Go ahead and get them. We're going to give them to him' and those good guys over there-they went ahead and put them on. It got caught at the gate and they gave him five days off with no pay! West Coast mirrors were expensive mirrors. That's what's funny-he had nothing to do with it, they put them on, and he had no idea why he was getting called up front and got discharged for five days-he never even knew what was going on! He couldn't rat on the other guys because he wasn't sure who did it. At the guard shack, they go over it-when they cleared the plant-they'd go over it at the guard shack to make sure they never had extra stuff on them. Right now, over off of 255 and 15 in Illinois there must be 2,000, I don't know, several thousand white Dodge vehicles there. One side is plain and then there's a tent and stuff in the middle and then the other side, they got all the postal stuff on them. They're all made for the postal service. They just do that out in the open, I guess?
Gary: Yeah, they used to do that all the time like that.
Gene: They're all white-thousands of them and then they put the postal stickers on them right down there by the river in Illinois.
[I had heard the guys use the term 'drive-out' several times and asked what this meant.]
Gene: If you're a superintendent or above, if you're an executive, which we both were at one time) they gave you a new car to drive home and back. See, they would not hook up the speedometer. It was really for people who only lived so many miles from the plant because what they'd do is just not hook up the speedometer and then we'd drive them home and back. It was actually a good deal for the customer because there's a lot of times on a lot of the drive-outs I had, I'd find defects on them and they were all listed. I tore up the OK sticker off the windshield and made them fix all the defects I found before they could stamp it and ship it. And everyone that had drive-outs did that, but still in all, it's illegal. They had to quit that. It's illegal because you're driving a car that was a new car and it's now a used car.
Jim: It's not a new car now. It's a used car. When I bought my car new, it had been repainted in areas on it. Now, I don't know if it was done at the factory.....
Gene: They do that in 90 all the time and it's the worst thing in the world. I bought several new cars and I would never let them repaint them in 90 because they only have a low bake oven. The oven in Paint is like 320 degrees and it bakes on your paint. Bakes it on hard and it's good paint. Once you get to 9190 and find a dent in the car and you work that dent off and paint it, you can't heat that car to 320 degrees because you got your tail lights. You'll melt the tail lights and everything else. So they go through what's called a low bake oven which is only like 110-120 degrees and that's what happened. But you see all these cars with paint peeling off the hood, old Chrysler products and their roofs are peeling and stuff-that's what happened to them. They were painted in 9190. All the enamel had to be baked. It had to be baked. The only way it stayed on good and had any life to it at all-it was baked in a high bake oven. If it was repainted with that kind of paint-they never had the correct paint in 90 that would cure and cure correctly at only 120 degrees--it had to be heated up hotter than that. They tried to turn the ovens up to like 140 degrees but then the cars came out and the tail lights were melted. They had to turn the heat back down because you couldn't do that, and of course, you couldn't take everything plastic off the car.
Gary: Now they put a foil thing over.
Gene: Yeah, they put a heat resistant thing over them and just leave the part exposed but still you can't heat them up like you should.
Gary: But there's still more high heat to them now.
Gene: They're still using that heat?
Jim: Oh yeah, you have to have because you have in-system damage.
Gene: That car, you know, you first make a car, then you paint it. Then you put everything in it and on it. Now they are started a little bit better. Now you build a car, you put the doors on it, paint them, take the doors back off of it, they build them all up, put the glass and everything in them, then put them back on the chassis. But they used to not even do that. When you do all this, you got 100, 3, 4, 5 or 6 hundred different people getting in and out of a car, putting different things on it. Somebody's going to scratch it.
Gary: 70% of the damage was on the doors.
Jim: In-system damage was just a killer.
Gary: But now they paint them, take them off and they're good to go.
Jim: They aren't going with any powder coating or any polyurethane?
Gene: They powder coat and then they clear coat over them, but they still bake them.
Gary: Yeah, they still flash them.
Jim: When I left anyway, they go through a unifying system first, in final they go through a tank, then that's baked... several tanks, don't they? Different dips?
Gene: Yeah, they go through a cleaning dip, then whatever, and then finally this unifying and then they paint them and bake them again. But that's the way the paint works and stays durable. Everytime you'd see one of those cars with the paint peeling on the hood, I would just shake my head. It would aggravate me so bad. The inspectors-instead of letting a little bitty damned ding go-they want to ruin the paint on that hood for this customer four years down the road, so it will look just exactly like sh**.
Jim: We had a brand new car with a little ding right here in the door hinge where they can't get by behind it to work it, and that's what 'detail' would do-fix it and repaint it. I'd put a claim on it: "You leave that paint alone!"
Gene: I made sure when that car went through 90, I had a note on with it: "Do not fix anything on that car."Sue: I just did a story in October about a member who bought a Daytona and traced it back to the original owner. The original owner had the car only a couple of weeks brand new when the paint started coming off. He wrote letters to Chrysler to complain about it.
Gene: Yeah, they might not have sanded it properly in 90. There's so many things that will screw paint up. 90 is 9190, it starts out 10 is the bodyshop, 20 is paint, 30 is trim and then 50 and then 90 is the final where they OK it to ship it out the gate. That's the final thing.
Gary: In '64, you'd see a lot of them with paint on the roof-you could just go like that (wipe with a finger) and it would come right off. Well, what they were doing was there was a chain up here and when they'd go underneath of it, the oil would drip on the roof and they would spray paint right over the oil!
Jim: I remember when they used to let you go through and watch your car being built, but they stopped that. To avoid having to pay shipping cost, we'd go up to Detroit and get them.
Gene: I worked in there [Detroit] 30 years and I tried to call back in. I canceled the order for a truck-I called back in because I'd decided on a different color and they had not put it in the schedule yet. Do you know, they wouldn't change that for nothing! They said just because you worked there for 30 years, I don't give a damn who you are. I had several [new vehicles] and the paint was so bad, orange peel. I said I want a new car but I want to get it in primer. I want to get it painted by someone else and they would not talk to me. My painter would have loved to have a new car to paint with.Sue: Very interesting about the paint. GM had that problem, especially with a light blue in the mid 80s.
Gene: They all have that problem. They've got into this spot painting, which is new technology, in the last 10-15 years and that paint will not hold up. It flakes and peels.
Jim: Yeah, Ford came out with a lot of trucks with that silver and silver on the top. There ain't any paint on any of the tops of their trucks now! Primer is all that's up there!
Gary: You know, there's a lot of new cars out there, crazy packages and all and there were pickup trucks in there that no one has ever seen. Like the Dixieland Special. It was a blue and gray pickup and on one side it had a Confederate flag at the very back and on the other side it had an American flag at the very back and it had a horn like Dixie. I told that to a guy the other day and he said they never made such a thing. And this guy's got about 150 old vehicles!
Gene: They've made everything known to man! You know that Chrysler and Dodge used to be the same-looked just the same back in those years except for the decals. And we built [cars that were] Plymouth on one side and Dodges on the other side and shipped them to the dealers. You look at one side and you got your new Plymouth, look at the other side and you got your new Dodge! Yeah, we built cars like that. They'd get all the way out the door. We used to put a post in some of them so you'd have a hardtop-one side a two-door sedan and one side a two-door hardtop.
Gary: Right. You'd have a post one one side and a hardtop on the other.
Gene: Actually that one was a mistake. This particular area when that one happened, this black Harvard lady-she's a fine lady but she didn't know any more about building cars than I do about being a pope. And when they questioned her about it, she said, 'Do I do that?' And they said, 'Well yeah, that operation is yours.' And she said, 'Well, I'll be darned. I DO do that!' She had no idea she made the difference between a hard-top and sedan.
Jim: They had to get a black woman as a supervisor. They put her over in chassis, the first one we got. And I was told by the plant manager that 'she will not be discharged-I don't care what she does-she's our first.' So I took her, put her on the line and she would start telling these people what to do. She was telling one repairman what to do. Now, she knew no more about a car-then finally she went up to Red Peavler. She said, 'There's a one humper coming down the line that's got a loose wire on it and I want you to fix it.' Red kind of thought and said, 'A one humper? What what color is this thing?' And she said, 'it's about the 4th or 5th one coming up there. I noticed loose wires hanging on it and it's got to be fixed.' He said, 'What do you mean a one humper?' And she answered, 'Well, you know, the engine! It's a one humper! You got a one humper and a two humper.' The one humper was a 6 cylinder and a two humper was a V8! It's just like camels! The next thing she told the repairman-wheel lip moulding-there was a car coming down the line with a wheel lip moulding on the rear loose. And she says, 'All you have to do is turn the wheel.' 'Oh', he said, 'It's on the front.' She said, 'No it's on the rear.' And he said, 'On the rear. I can't get it because the wheel is in the way and I can't get the screwdriver in there. You gotta wait till we get it off the line and we'll jack it up.' She said, 'No, you don't have to do that. When it goes off at the end of the line and it starts making that turn, then you get it.' And he said, 'Well, the wheels don't turn on the rear. The front ones turn.' She said, 'If the rear wheels don't turn how do you go around that corner?' Now that was a Supervisor! She was hired from a grocery store. She knew no more about what kind of car was coming down the line, or what make it was, she didn't even know where she worked!
Gene: Bob Edwards held a meeting because they were bringing in this woman and her ranking was the same as a superintendent. He got us all together-all superintendents sitting around a table and he said, 'Now look, I want you guys to get together and I want to know what's your opinion-every one of you-where we can put this woman where she'll hurt us less.'
Jim: Out on the street!
Gene: Now she doesn't know anything. She's come down from Detroit and she ended up being Production Manager and she was so smart (sarcastically). They moved in this other plant-remodeled the other plant-and they said, 'Now where are we going to put the tool crib?' Pretty good idea to have the tool crib centrally located because all departments feed off the tool crib. That's where you get your coveralls, safety equipment, tools, blah, blah, blah. She said, 'We can't centrally locate it.' This one man said they were arguing about it. She was having this meeting and she was the Production Manager and said, 'Well, we can't put it here, we can't put it there. Well, now wait a minute-do we really need a tool crib anyway?' That's when they stuck the SOB all the way back in the corner, behind chassis. When the bodyshop had to go to the tool crib, they had to get a bicycle and it took 20 minutes to get there and back. But you know, she wasn't even going to put one in at all!
Jim: There is no plant that can operate without a tool crib. It's an impossibility.
Gary: The tool crib-when it used to be in the truck plant on E isle-there was a spot right up there in the fan room. The janitors used to get up there in that fan room and someone would walk up to that tool crib and we'd hit them with the fire extinguisher. They'd look around.....we'd chase everyone of them off!
Jim: You know, a lot of those things you never think about until you get with somebody and you're actually talking about things that happened in your work time and then things kind of come up and you remember different things that happened. Just between us three here (Jim and Gene and Gary), there's about 110-120 years experience.
Gary: When the L.A. [Los Angeles Assembly Plant] guys came out here when they shut that plant down, we didn't want them because they had more seniority. There was only one of them out of a boat load that didn't have more seniority. They held that seniority when they came to our plant. There were 32 janitors, most of the time I worked second shift. I was an equipment operator. I drove the scrubbers, sweepers, Bobcat, etc. I was the highest seniority. Everyone wanted to be a janitor. The janitor was the second highest paid job in the plant. [At this point, I asked Gary about his beautiful Lemontwist 1974 Road-Runner that was parked outside]. It's a Satellite painted like a RoadRunner. I bought that thing....we were duck hunting one day and my buddy said, 'Hey, a friend of mine has a Road-Runner for sale.' I went and looked at it and it was a Satellite. It had a RoadRunner hood on it. The guy said, 'Well, it's a RoadRunner.' And I said, 'No, it's a Satellite. I checked the serial number here and it's a Satellite.' It was a red/white car and it had been through [counting] one, two, three, four, FIVE kids by the time I got it! When I got it, it was painted with black Rustoleum. The left quarter was beat in. They used about 100 grit, finished it off and sprayed it. I knew it had the 440 in it and I knew it had just been redone. Nobody could get it started. Somebody stole the front wheels off of it. The kid said he paid $1,700-$1,800. The kid had a girl in trouble and he needed money bad right now so I said I could give him part of that. It turned out to be the two-part interlock system. Have you ever seen that? It wouldn't do anything but go click, click, click. And I think '74 the only year that they ever used that. Out on the firewall was a red reset button. I reset that button and it fired right up! But I ran wires, I poked wires, I read ohm meters for a solid week and never found it. You had that sensor on the seat that you sit on and your seat belt had to be locked and somehow that wire-I tried to disable this but I can't. Once I got the car to where I could move it around, then I started stripping that paint off. It took me two years. I worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day-so I'd come home from work and DA a little bit here. What I tried to do was get it down to the old color, and if there was a spot of that Rustoleum on there-my boy painted it in his bodyshop, and when he'd hit it with that primer, it would just like, you know how you antique something and it breaks apart? That's what it looked like. So I had to get every little bit off the car. It was a reaction between the two paints. It would just curdle up. I bought that six years ago. I've got a '63 Dodge sitting in my garage down there. I bought it twelve years ago-a Coronet 440 4-speed, got a 383 in it. I wanted to do it and I'm still waiting. It had the dealer optional 2X4 bbls. It was an option for '62, they said they carried it over to '63. The dealer put it on. It still had the 210 Borg Warner trans from the factory. The first eight cars they built had a different trans, then the next-I don't know how many-had the 210s in them. Then Chrysler came out with the 833. I bought a '64 Dodge that I bought for a parts car and I looked in there the other day and it's got an A/C unit hanging under the dash with a Chrysler emblem on it. I think Chrysler was the first to have that? The Road-Runner originally had a 400, it's a 440 now with an automatic. I've got two 1970 Challengers. One of them is a 318 3-speed on the floor. It had a console and was Hemi orange with a white vinyl top. It must have been a package of some sort because it's got a "Dodge Built" tag, like a numbers tag, says "11" on it. They made all kinds of packages. They had a "Florida Retirement Special", a "Dude Package", etc. The Dude was a stripe that went down the pickup bed, it had a white hat on the back corner and said "The Dude" on it. Trucks had a lot of packages. I once saw two guys steal a windshield one night. They had it up on a cardboard. It was raining and they had this big cardboard over their heads and they ran out through the guard shack and the windshield was up there. They never got caught. Back to the pickups, they came in high impact colors too. You could order them in Top Banana, Limelight. You never see them. You know what I saw the other day? A guy that used to work up there with my boy at the bodyshop said, 'Hey, come and look at this thing.' So I went with him and there it was, sitting in all it's glory, was a '63 Dodge Camper. It had 455 miles on it. These old people had bought it and something was wrong with the motor in it. They sent it back to the dealer and it still wasn't right so they parked it underneath a tree and it sat there all those years till right now! This guy drove it back into town. He got a five gallon gas can, it had a 318 polysphere and that fuel pump still worked and every-thing. He drove it back into town-455 miles on it! It had a flat nose on it.
Gene: We used to build them. The old truck plant used to build them and used to ship them with just a frame, then they would put the camper and everything on it and it would look something like a mini wagon.
Jim: All you had was the windshield frame and the hood.
Gary: This was different than that. That was '67 or '68. This thing looks like a little shoe box, like an old style camper-flat like an early 60's Winnebago but it had Dodge on the side.
Jim: You know, the old Dodge Main plant, if you can visualize how big that thing was, the Dodge Brothers built that plant and they had a foundry-they molded their own engines, they stamped their own fenders, the frame, and everything from bare metal coming in and being poured to the finished product. It was all done under one roof.
Gene: I heard that up in Detroit, the supervisors always had to work in twos and threes when they went anywhere between floors. They always worked in pairs, three preferably because they'd get their throats slit or robbed or whatever right in the plant!
Jim: Everytime we went to Dodge Main-I was in Dodge Main probably a dozen times for weeks at a time during their model change. Dodge Main had two lines running side-by-side all the way through the plant. Two bodyshop lines, two trim lines, two chassis lines....they ran 120 some cars an hour. And they told us the first time I went up there, they said, 'Now look, you guys stay in a group. There's five of you-five of you stay together.' Well, he's in the bodyshop and I'm in chassis and he's in trim and so on. And we're told to help. If you go to Bodyshop, all five of you go to the Bodyshop. If you go to Trim, all five of you go to Trim. When we were up there-they had labor problems in certain areas-our job was to go up there and help cut the excess labor. They knew why we were up there. So we're bouncing jobs, eliminating people, you know, so they said stay in a group. And we only got one drive-out up there and we all stayed in the same hotel at night-two guys per room.
Norman: I worked with chassis. You know, they came from the engine line and then they came over and we decked them. I worked there and put on springs and basically those were the two jobs I did. Then I got a relief job one time and got to hang rearends-that's a fun job. The rearend was not a complete assembly. You had a line that went down the main line and then you had rearends sitting down here and you'd reach up, look at the track sheets that would come up and tell what rearend, then you'd have a hoist and run down there and pick them up. The engines would do the same thing. They'd come from the motor line, come around and we'd pick them up, bring them over and set them on the K-frames at that time and we'd set them down, bolt them down, then they'd go on down there. So when the engine left us, it was just on a K-frame. We were right at the beginning-you had the rearends, power steering or manual steering, then they dropped the engines on them, either it was a Hemi or a 440 or a 440 Sixpack or a six cylinder-whatever the case was. It seemed like we ran a lot of Hemis. I mean, a lot in the sense not every job was a Hemi but you know, every 10, 15, 20 jobs were a Hemi. They seemed to run a lot of Hemis just in spells depending on the economy. But you know, '68 was a good year for the car industry because I think that's when Chrysler really started coming back. It was '66 when they made the 2-door Charger but it was-I remember when they had it displayed there-it had two bucket seats. Two in the front and two in the back, console all the way back to there. Oh boy, how long are we going to work here?! I started in '65 so I don't know if it was '63 or '64 that they started that, but in '66 they really started taking off.
Tom: There was a big shut down before we got in there.
Norman: Yeah, because I went into the service from '66-'68 and then I came back and started in and then I bought myself a 1968 Dodge Coronet R/T-a 440. I got married and I needed a family car. So I bought a '71 Dodge 4-door hardtop, so there went my '68 R/T. And I look at these little diecast cars and I have not seen a '68 Dodge Coronet R/T. Now we had Coronet 440s, well you guys know all that stuff, but it was a body style, but then they would have 440 engines in them also, but it was the 440 body style. Then they had the 500 body style which at that time, the R/T was the 500 body style, then they put all the decals and everything else on it. I had a blue one and a blue interior. I did get married in '71 and I thought, 'Well, I'm out of that stage, aren't I? And I've regretted it ever since. I've always said I'd really like to have one. I've seen them in books occasionally-$25,000! I went up and bought mine for $3,500, it was bright metallic blue, automatic on the floor, it was some-thing else. I can remember we were at the end of the building almost and then down at the other end, they'd drive them off the line. Everytime they'd drive a Hemi off, you could tell it was a Hemi. I mean, it roared! Like a lion in a cage...in a cave, really...because a rumble and roar would just come out of there. The 440s wouldn't do that too much, but the Hemi, you could just tell. And then, like I said, they'd drive them outside and they sometimes were without seats and some of these guys would drag them up the side of the building and there were a couple times when they destroyed a car and they'd just get out and walk away. But that Sixpack, I remember when they first came out with that thing, boy, they had so much trouble keeping that thing tuned up, lined up right. On the assembly line and when they'd get them outside too, because they really had some trouble getting them tuned. They all had the manual linkage. The vacuum later went better. Boy, those were some vehicles. And the springs on some of those things were huge.
Norman: You know, I went down to put on springs for a while because I got tired of decking motors all day long. So I put on springs, chassis springs. And those were put on the axles, bolted them down, then you tipped them over. Then they'd hook up the driveshaft and then they kept going on down the line. Back then it was simple, you know, just standard stuff. You just hook this up, hook that up and go right on down the line. Dirty and greasy, but a lot of good metal in them. Now you sort of wonder...you go out there and a bug flies into your windshield and breaks it! Back then we had the guy that went around and randomly checked the torque. I don't know if they really do it anymore because they've eliminated so much of it. Now see our guns that we used to bolt the engines down-the guys that had a wrench that had a torque-they would come by and they would have a little torque wrench and they'd check your gun to make sure the torque was up on it. And if it wasn't, then they'd have to call Bill Wrights and they'd come up and set your air up a little higher or lower or whatever the case was. But yeah, they checked torque all the time-constantly. We had our own tool shop, tool crib, they just redid all the tools. I didn't go over there that much. Back then when you went on break, you were on break. You didn't care how that tool got fixed or not, you just took a break.
Tom: I know when I was putting on those fender latches, stuff like that, they would check the torque on screws on those latches. That was 10 years ago.
Norman: This guy had-for bigger bolts-this guy had a huge torque wrench. Man alive, there were some that were that big! They'd do the hubs, put the bolts on, then put the cotter keys in and he'd come up and then he'd take the cotter key out and he'd torque it and then put the cotter key back in after it was all assembled. He had a little booklet or paper or something like that, it would show that he did check so many per hour. I mean three or four per hour that he had to check, and then he'd go check like engines or something else. It was a high paying job-the job you wanted. That's the guy that had 35 years in there. Those were the guys that were "the lifers" if you wish-they had their 30 years in and they were going to stay because they had a good job. All I wanted was an opportunity for a relief job-that's what we looked forward to-to get out of doing the same thing all the time. When you're the relief guy, the first 45 minutes you had to get up stock for your men in general, the guys that you relieved, if they couldn't go up the line to get their stock. You had to make sure they had enough to last for that couple of hours or whatever the case was. You had seven men and if one of your men was out, you'd go cover that job until they got an older [in seniority] man to come back and do that job. Yeah, it was interesting. You got three days to learn a job [normally] but as a relief man you'd go back on that job and they bring John Doe up here to do it in a half hour. The lines kept running, the lines never stopped. So you'd go up to John Doe and give him a break.
Gene: You give him a break for his 20 minutes or whatever it is, then go to the next job.Then go to the next guy and right down the line.
Norman: After you got to your number seven, you'd come back to number one and give him the next break. You'd give 28 minutes every four hours, so you'd get done with number seven and go back to number one and give him the rest of his break and on down the line. Then when you were done-usually in an eight hour job, the first four hours you got a 28 minute break-and after you got done with your last man, that time was yours and it was about 45 minutes before lunch. And then you'd start the same procedure over in the afternoon and after you got done with your last man again 45 minutes before quitting time, that was your break to do what you wanted to do. Traditionally when you go to work, if you go to work for Chrysler for the very first time, you get three days to learn that job. If you didn't learn that job in three days, they usually didn't let you go unless you were really slack. But if we had to go relieve that job, they'd bring John Doe up here and he'd have to learn that job in 45 minutes! Usually what they would do if they brought somebody in that didn't know the job at all, they'd try to get one of their regular floaters in there to cover those harder jobs, you know, because sometimes it was harder to break a guy in.
Gene: Some of those jobs are impossible to learn in 45 minutes!
[I asked if when learning the job for the seven-man relief rotation, did they keep you in your area such as Trim or Chassis, or did they have to hop around to different areas]
Norman: Yeah. If you were what they called a floater, you could go in anywhere. You could go out of Trim and go to Chassis or something like that. Most of the time they had trouble was in the wintertime because people couldn't get in or something like that, then they might send a gob of them over to Trim to get Trim started so that they could start having the cars come out. At that time we had a big hole over there where the cars come out of Trim and go into the hole and they had an hour's worth of cars they could put in the hole and then they'd pull them out if Chassis could do them. Then if they could get them really started then they might bring some of the guys back and get Chassis started or visa versa. You know, Metal Shop never did have that problem. They had more breakdowns but for some reason those guys liked to come to work over there!
Gene: I'll tell you what, when I first went to work down there, first day I came in they took us around and I got lost. I didn't know where in the world it was. You look on the post and they had it marked, you know, "A's" went east and west or whatever it was, and the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, they went this way so you knew A1-that's where I worked, well which direction am I in? But they brought me in and here it was, the Body Shop. When I first went in there they said, "You don't want to go to the Body Shop. It's the worst place you could be." And in 1968 it was, because there used to be a blue haze that fell over Body Shop.
Jim: It was all smoke!
Gene: From welding-it was all smoke in there. It was terrible. You'd get burned bad.
Tom: Sometimes those things would be bad...those spot welders...actually catch your clothes on fire.
Gene: If you were burnt bad enough, they'd send you to First Aid, you know, but if it didn't go to the bone-forget it!
Tom: You should have seen some of my T-shirts, man, it looked like there were termites in them!
Norman: Back then you should have seen some of the shoes that came out of that place. I mean those shoes were steel toed, generally just burnt up all the time.
Tom: At that time, you got your hands all burnt up holding those spot welders. I ran that sill gun for years....that big old sill gun...you gotta get that in there and that thing is heavy! Right down the line one day-it was real hard to balance-and it fell off and hit a guy and he went down. It must have hit him terribly bad and he went down and they never even stopped the line. I don't know what they did with him, but he did live.
Norman: We had a guy in Trim one day that had a heart attack and he fell over the line and they literally pulled him off the line but kept the line going! That guy died.
Tom: No, you couldn't stop that line. Oh man, we used to get in trouble-see, we had to be synchronized when we were dropping motors. The motors went up and then they'd come down like this and then the other guy there, he stuck a hook in it and just lifted his hoist and just bring it over here and then the K-frame came. I was on this side and he was here and there was another guy on the other side, and then we'd just direct it right down into the K-frame.
Norman: And he'd pull it [hook] out and we'd put the bolt in it, you know, and tighten her down. Well this was a hook that would run right under the manifold and it would lift it up and you'd just bring it over. They'd usually have a couple hooks sitting there because generally one of the points would break and we were very, very lucky because they would just break. They'd break sometimes and pow, right on the floor would go the motor! I mean you're picking a motor up four, five feet off the ground and he'd pull it up and just usually when you'd start to pull it up and over, that's when it'd break. Sometimes they'd just break and fall halfway but then they'd drop them down. We never had anything fall on anyone's foot or anything. We had one hook-a piece of it broke and it flipped up-the guy was Gary W****, we called him W*****.
Gene: Yeah, he went over to Material later.
Norman: Well the hook part of it broke and hit him on the forehead but it just barely trickled a little blood. And we were shutting the line down all the time-if the track sheets didn't match up or something like that, couldn't get it in there. W***** was good at setting the holder off-here they'd come, the general foreman, superintendent, they'd come and say "What's the matter? What's the matter?" Well, such and such is wrong. "All right, let's get it going, let's get it running!"
[I asked if it was possible to get one VIN on an engine and a different one on a chassis]
Norman: Yeah. That could happen.
Tom: In the Metal Shop, I had that floor stand and man, sometimes they started off all wrong. You looked at that track sheet and that has to be written on that stand what you were building and if it was one off or something, then they come around with the roofs and stuff....
Gene: Katy, bar the doors there!
Tom: Oh yeah, that would be big time trouble with the roofs because your side gate wouldn't match, you know, it wouldn't match your sides of the car. It happened.
Norman: Ours used to happen because the motor line started right out and they had that track sheet and then we had a track sheet that came out when they put the rearends in. Now see, you had a motor line that went all the way around the beginning and that had to be synchronized to come so when that motor came over there, that guy pulled the track sheet off and checked the one on the K-frame to be sure they were the same ones and then dropped it [engine] down. If, for some reason-on the motor line, that's where it generally started-if they would drop a track sheet, that would screw up the whole line. But then what they'd do is just pull the engine off and stop the line until they got to the right one and that has happened quite a few times. And also when the body is coming over, because that was just below me when the bodies would come down. The principal was the same, that body would come down and they would be wrong, they wouldn't match. The body here was wrong and they had two hooks under the body and you'd see these two guys come down and the next thing you know, they'd literally lift that body off, which was reasonably light, and set it off to the side, you know, to run that next one down.
Gene: To get the right body to it.
Norman: Usually they only missed one body at the most. But there were some interesting things down there in that body deck too. You know, they had a big rod, two guys had a big rod and they'd run that up the K-frame. There's holes in each side of the K-frame and they'd run that rod up through those. When the body came down there was a big round rubber bushing and as it was coming down they'd put that rod up there and work it until it got into that hole and then that just lined up your bolts and stuff to just drop it down on there. There wasn't any other way you could do it. You just stuck that rod in the hole in the K-frame and the body would just come down, you know, everything was just going you'd follow it on down and then go in and down. When they first brought me in there and I went to the Metal Shop, they took me into this office. Above it said Body Shop, and my heart sunk. Here was this blue haze over there, blue smoke. I know I'm going to die-I won't last very long in here! Well, Chassis was on the other side and they took me through Body Shop into Chassis on the other side. The Cushion Department is where I first started out in Chrysler. We made seats then in the plant, from scratch. They'd lay the cover down on this line, then they'd throw the springs-whatever they called for-down on top of it. Then they had this press. This would press the springs down, then there was a guy that would hog ring around the side. He'd hog ring this side, and then the press would go up and then down, depending on what it was-a two door or four door-and I got to work on the end of the line taking those buggers off. I was the low man at the time, so I got to walk backwards for six months. I'd have to pick mine up and then we'd lay them on. The other guy-he got to walk forward all the time. That's how they compressed the foam and springs so they were tight, but in the beginning they did steam them. It was just like wooden slats-a conveyor belt-but they were wood and it went down and around, all the way down to the end and came all the way back. And the very first man up there, he is the one that read his track sheet and got whatever color they wanted and the padding and then they put the springs on there and compressed it down. They went through a steamer, you know, and they were wet for a while. They didn't stay in there for a minute at the most. That line went really slow because you could produce more seats than you needed at the time. But they'd press them down on there and hog ring all the way around and then they'd go on down [the line]. On the two doors, they had a little plastic hinge cover and if that came down, we'd have to, at the end of our job, we'd put two little screws in the cover. We'd just screw them in by hand because that line was slow. The seats, at this point, were a long, long ways from cars. They had basically two-armed rails. Two were here, two here, two here and then two here. And they had little wooden things on them that would fit on that rail and you'd set that seat on there and then you could always push them back. That's all we did. Then they had this other guy-all he did was he'd get the right track sheets and at that time he'd take a little piece of vinyl and it had a number on it. He'd go down through there, just for an example, and that would be number 1. He'd go write on the back of it. This would be #2, #3, #4, #5 and so on. He'd have two other guys there that would come up here and say: "Where's number 1?" There's number 1. That one goes on there now. And they had this over-head rail that had sort of little hooks-they'd pick the seats up and just set them on there. And that's the way they kept them running. And then they'd go to number 2. These things were just sitting there and whatever one he called out for, he threw a number over it and then they'd go pick them out in order and throw them on the rack. Then they'd [seats] go all the way around and all the way back up to the Final Line and they'd take them out up there. I mean, this is from one end of the plant to the other! Because you could go through the plant and you could see all the seats slowly going around up there. It was a long, long ways. If this car called for bucket seats and it was a 2-door, they'd just take the 2-door seat off and let it go. It worked out real well. Where I worked and where they put the seats in weren't that far off. You know, it was all Chassis and that was the Final Line and that was just over one there. And if you saw them [cars] coming down without seats, you knew right away what happened. They just didn't match up when they got to the end. That wasn't a good job either-putting seats in. That was probably one of the harder jobs to do. Now they got a little more modern and they use electric forklifts and run it over there and stick it through. At that time, if you had a 4-door seat-front especially-you'd lift it in that car and set it halfway in and then you'd have to go around to the other side and crawl in then you'd bring it on over. There were two guys doing it, but still you had to crawl in every car and do that. Now the back seats weren't that great either, but you just hang in that back-the back was straight-it was easy to just hang it in there and bend those clips down. Then you'd bring the bottom one in and you'd have to push it to make sure it got locked in there and those guys would just use their hands all day long like that. It seems like now every time you turn around someone's like 'Oh gosh, that hurts, I can't do that'. And look what we used to have to do.
Gene: We had workers that came from Kentucky-I think that's where that plant was originally, yeah Kentucky. A lot of the women transferred. Well, these women were 40-50 years old at the time they'd been there. And we started getting more women in and you've never heard so much complaining in all your life as those women did about working. They wanted the money but they didn't want the work.
Norman: I remember one when I was hanging springs and we had a woman come in there and she was a floater. She's supposed to do this stuff. And at that time, depending on what side of the line you were on, you'd have to hand a spring over to the other side because the heavy duty ones they always built them up on one side, so you didn't run that many. So like I was on the other side and I'd have to hand one over to him and then I'd put mine on and he'd grab his. Well, she'd work on the other side and she used to complain. Well, that's part of it, you've got to do it. They were heavy. What was the number on those... 935-that was traditionally the Hemi spring. And then when you'd run a lot of those cars or taxi cabs or something like that, then you'd have a heavy spring, too. Back then we knew times were tough whenever we'd run taxi cabs and police cars. Because they would never take fleet orders because they didn't make any money on them. So when you'd see the black and whites come down that time you knew, 'Uh oh, it's starting to get a little thin right now'. Now those women who complained, honestly, it depended on how you looked. If you were cute and blond, you got off that job and got someplace else. If you weren't, 'Get in there and get it. That's what you signed for.' Today it's totally different-air conditioning, telephones, everything, machines to do the real heavy lifting. When we started out down there, we had a vent. It probably was up as high as that [motions toward the ceiling] and that's where your air came from-If you could get it. And you'd complain for three, four months to get them to turn it down so it would hit you and then you might get it. Then they got modern and after we spent two years in there, they had these great big fans and they started hanging them down, you know, and towards the end of my time, they had all kinds of fans.
Tom: They say now it's actually cool in there.
Norman: Now they complain....John Doe over here has to wear a shirt because it's too cold and then the other guy over here isn't!
[I told the guys about our tour through the plant in 2001 and that we were informed it was "conditioned air" after they removed the humidity, not actually "air conditioned" air and about the boxes of work gloves at every station and how we saw workers peeling off old gloves and getting new ones several times a day.]
Norman: That's what we had-reconditioned air. Every time we breathed out-that was reconditioned!
Gene: I went to Hamtramck [assembly plant in MI] in 1978 and it was filthy, dark, it was terrible.
Norman: Normally we were pretty clean, our area was pretty clean. Those gloves, that's how they passed drugs around. When I first started, that's how they passed drugs a lot-they'd put them inside their gloves, you know. We got laid off when they closed Plant 1 and I went next door [Plant 2] and the black guys had the west end and the white guys had the east end-that was the territories. Drugs were dealt by blacks in the back and whites in the front. That was nothing unusual at all.
Tom: A lot of them went to Vietnam and came back, that's when it really all started.
Norman: Yeah. That's how they'd pass them.
Tom: Some of those guys smoked right on the line. No one would ever notice the smell with all of those gloves burning!
Norman: I had to go to nights to learn a job, if I wanted a job that paid and man, that was the longest week I ever spent in my life. Drugs were really more prevalent on night shift than they were on day shift. And like you said, I could smell that stuff all night long. And management, they knew what was going on but if it's not going to hurt anything, if it's not going to hurt production, then that's fine.
Tom: I remember a guy that was hanging out in that rack smoking dope and he lost his job.
Norman: Oh they'd get drunk a lot, too, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas because they'd always allow you to have a party. You know, you'd bring in turkey, ham or whatever it was, everyone would bring in meat, desert or something else and you'd set up these tables then at lunchtime everyone would go and feed yourself.
Tom: That was nice.
Norman: That was nice, yeah. But then they'd have their bottles too, you know, and some of them would get really, really drunk. And they could work! They'd be drunk but they could still hang on there and work.
Gene: They'd never allow that today.
Tom: We weren't allowed to do that the last years we were there, either. I don't think I would want to be like that in there because, man, it would be dangerous.
Norman: But one time, like I said, we made our own seats up, you know, built them right there, and steam came down into them. Well, one day the pipe broke up above and almost half the plant was nothing but steam and we ended up going home. But here we were, trying to get out, you'd walk down the aisle and couldn't see anything. And you'd hear beep, beep, beep-well, that was a forklift coming somewhere! But is he coming this way or going backwards, you know, with his forks up or are they down? And in the fire-I'll never forget that-the fire on the final line!
Tom: I remember one time when one of those dumpsters came through there on fire!
Norman: The final line-that's when the cars were supposedly done and they'd drive them off the line-they had a fire. They had a pit in there and for some reason, they just wouldn't clean it out that much. Papers would blow down in there, track sheets-didn't need the track sheets any more, drip a little oil here, maybe a little gas here-and the pit would go up, at that time, it would go up to about eight cars on the line. All the way up as far as that goes. I don't know why, someone may have thrown a cigarette in there and it just whoomb! and it caught eight cars, all the way up. It started burning up and it caught those cars on fire. How high was that thing [the building]...20 foot up?
Tom: Twenty-five foot, yeah.
Norman: Twenty-five foot from the bank to the ceiling and the flames were going all the way up to the ceiling, you know. And the cars were catching on fire so naturally they were burning and then they exploded. And I was probably from here to the garage [30 feet] from the fire and standing there-oh, that's hot! That fire's getting bigger! The pit was about eight cars and then it went all the way up the pit and caught eight cars and was just burning them up. And these volunteer firemen, you know, they're supposed to go over there and do it-well, when you have a fire like that, that's shooting all the way up twenty-five foot....
Tom: They need the professionals!
Norman: They ended up calling the fire department and they came and we ended up going home that day. That honestly was scary because of the fire was going all over like that and here we were, inside the plant, well you know, is it going to seep through here or what? We could go either way to get out, but it was very interesting when that thing was flashing and shooting off the lights! It was just black, You'd see an emergency light way over here and one way over there and you'd say, 'Where ya at?!'
Tom: You couldn't see me sitting over here, you couldn't see the windows. You could see a cigarette once in a while-that was our emergency lighting!
Jim: All they could do was just drive the cars off and then clean it up.
[I asked if any part of the eight cars was salvageable]
Norman: No, these eight cars were just gone, nothing could be salvaged. They just cleaned the line off, cleaned up the pit and from then on, they made sure they had somebody down there that took the paper out and kept it clean. You know, those track sheets would fall down in there and there's a little oil drip here and a little gas drip there and they finally realized, 'Oh, maybe we'd better clean this out', and they did that day. That fire roared obviously when rubber burns, and like I said, it went right up the pit and caught all the tires on fire and what little grease and stuff was on the motors and it just burned, I mean, they [cars] were just toast. They didn't have to rebuild the building-it didn't really hurt anything and if I'm not mistaken, we were back to work the next day. It went all the way to the ceiling but it didn't hurt the ceiling. But that was one good fire!
Tom: Did you ever run any cars off the suspension tests over there, by the end over there?
Norman: Occasionally, they'd just pop off to the side.
Tom: I know when they got the tires so much bigger, they had started to have some trouble...
Norman: Yeah, right before they got the pits, they had a little metal rail so when the tires came down if they were offset, they would straighten them out a little bit and occasionally one might run off but it was no big thing.
Gene: They had big rollers and plates would come up in front and behind the cars and it was at the very final-they would make sure the car works.
Norman: Well, there were two [rolls test] that they did. They'd run that off what we called the Chassis line and then come back around before it got onto the Final line. They ran them on rollers down there in Chassis line-what did they check down there?
Gene: I was down there at the plant in '80 and I remember they had plates come up in front and behind and they'd run the car pretty hard.
Norman: On the Final line, they'd run them there and that's where they'd line them [suspension, steering] up.
Gene: They'd make sure everything worked and they'd get off and take them outside.
Tom: Did they check the batteries and stuff like that too didn't they, up through there?
Norman: Yeah, and that's when they'd run them on the Final line and run them on the rollers and shoot, they might run them up to....FAST! And they had a plate that would come up just in case something would happen. They'd line the front end up and drive them on out. And that was done then, unless there was some little thing wrong with it, then they were pretty much completely done at that particular time. Like I said, you'd "run" them up the side [of the building] and see if they worked real good! And especially those 440s, Hemi's, Sixpacks, you know, you'd run them up the side just to make sure they ran that good. Six cylinders, you didn't mess with!
Tom: Everybody enjoyed it when they'd shut down for breaks and you'd get loaned out, maybe you could drive out or something.
Norman: But driving off the Chassis line wasn't much fun.
Tom: No, but those times you could drive outside!
Norman: Yeah, driving outside was fun! But in Chassis you had a seat that was a wooden block. Those guys would drive off the Chassis line-they'd open the door up and set their little stool in there, and you just sit down there on that stool and just drive it off. You know, here you got a Hemi going up there.....!
Tom: I really enjoyed that. Well, when they shut down the metal shop or something like that, they'd loan you out for a day a lot of times. I would just as soon go out and see something different.
Norman: I'd want to get loaned out of metal shop all the time anyway!
Tom: But you didn't want to go to Paint though!
Norman: No! Back then, that was nasty. Paint was on the top [of the building]. You got all the heat. I walked up there a couple times, you know, because where I was at there were steps that would go up to Paint. But I had no real desire to go up there and work at all because it was hot, it was extremely hot.
Tom: At that time, they didn't have much protection from the paint either. A handkerchief maybe.
Norman: Oh yeah, those guys would come down, they'd have goggles and you could see the paint on there. But what we had was better than back in the 50's, though. And now they've got it even better than what we had. So it has progressed quite a bit. But in all, it was interesting. I don't regret anything, except selling my '68! I had a 1968 Coronet R/T; I sold it. I got married, I guess I had to sell it, so I sold it...regretted it ever since.... not getting married, but selling the car! We worked on all the cars through the years, from RoadRunners to Furys. They had that one Charger  with the four big seats. Like I said before, when I saw that thing sitting there I said, 'Boy are we in trouble'. You know, if we're going to rely on that, because I did not like that at all. But that's when Chrysler was really starting to come back. In '68 was when Chrysler really made a big turnaround with cars with the RoadRunners and Chargers. We had the big cars, too, like Grand Furys. In '73 and '74 I thought that was a terrible change that they made. I mean to come from '68 to that! I did not like those, I didn't think they were very good cars. And I don't remember what year it is but the one that looks like fish's lips....it looks like two grilles....
Sue: '70 Coronet?
Norman: Yeah, like two fish's lips. That was terrible. The back end was good but that front end was awful. When they started running that SuperBird, I thought, 'That thing is huge!' It was the longest thing I'd ever seen. But the one that really got me was our flower top cars. I could not believe we were running all of those-until I found out where they were all going. Ninety percent of them went to California! We knew why they were going there!
Gene: I'll bet you can't find any pink cars, though!
Norman: I'll bet you can't find any now. I thought the flower tops were the prettiest pastel colors-they were pretty as a color, but NOT on a car! That was one of the strangest things as far as I'm concerned. But that's like the Laser and Dodge Daytona when they first brought that car out and showed us, it was just a rough body that they showed us that we were going to start running. And I thought, 'Oh, that's a sports car. I don't know about that thing.' Well, then they painted it and it looked pretty good.....I still like the 68's-and this was a sports car.
Tom: We used to have welders in there and that was tedious work welding up there, you know, it was close. And those old things [robots] now, boy, they just run those on through.
Norman: Yeah, those robots are something else. When they first brought them in there, they had a mind of their own. That was one of the weirdest looking things I've ever seen. Once a person got to see one of those things, I mean, it's almost like they did have a mind and they'd just look over at you, you know, like, 'What are you doing in here?', and they were just weird looking!
Tom: They got rid of a lot of men. They didn't buy any cars or anything like that, but they were there everyday, too. They never did get sick!
Norman: Yeah, you guys lost a lot of people over there in Metal Shop.
Tom: Yeah, that whole center line.
Norman: Well, you had what, 300 people working in Metal Shop at one time?
Tom: Yeah, and I don't know how many people are in there now.
Norman: I think when we got out of there, I thought someone said there were 100 people in there or something like that. So there were a lot of people lost by the automation. But that's progress, I guess.
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