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After 86 years, the last vehicle rolled off the Ford Motor Company's Twin Cities Assembly Plant this morning. Staff writer Janet Moore, with help from Curt Brown, will share their interviews with Ford workers as well as their observations on this blog.
Just before 10 a.m.
The last Ford Ranger left the assembly plant before the clock struck 10 a.m. on Friday, about 30 minutes later than expected.
About 500 people were on hand at the plant, where Dallas Theis, a retiree from Shakopee who spent more than half a century at the plant was behind the wheel. Theis stood by the open drivers side door of the car, waved to the crowd to a loud ovation and jumped in the cab with an area manager, said Thomas Epperson, a 21-year Ford worker. The truck’s automatic door opened, and he drove it off the line. “It felt like we’d been preparing for a big holiday meal and we were all done and it was time to do the dishes,” said Epperson.
9:36 a.m. Michael Bartlett walked out of the plant with his gym bag for the last time and said “It was very surreal in there today. It was very quiet with most of the line shut down. There was some sadness, lots of people taking pictures and some tears. We’re all kind of family. We go through life experiences together, running by divorces, problems with our kids.”
Bartlett took a buyout in 2006, and was rehired three weeks later taking a $10-an-hour paycut. “Change is hard. It’s scary as hell. And now there’s 800 people joining the unemployment line.” -C.B.
9:22 a.m. Despite losing his job at Ford, Benjamin Gross, 61, is in a festive mood here at the increasingly raucous bar. Gross, of Eagan, dressed in Santa garb for the occasion, including a red shirt festooned with fiery flames and skulls. " I went from being a part timer at $10 an hour with no benefits to $30 an hour with medical, dental, vision, vacation, college tuition. I put two kids through college thanks to Ford." The skulls on his shirt signify "doom and gloom for the American working class," he said. -J.M.
8:56 a.m. The Ford plant closure affects more than just those losing their jobs - it has a profound effect on their families, too. Hanging out at Tiffany's, Theresa English, 37, of St. Paul, said her youngest child, 13-year-old Tezmond, recently asked, "'Mom, if you lose your job, what happens to me?'" English assured him to "put his faith in family and in God." On Monday she has a job interview at a temp agency for about $10 less an hour than what she was making at Ford. Still, it's a job in a rough economy. If she gets it, she says she'll help her pals from the plant find work. - J.M.
8:40 a.m. Cars on Ford Parkway are honking as they pass two sisters, Katherine Werner and Karen Johnson, standing outside the plant’s main gate with signs. One says “FORD” EVER THANKFUL! Karen is holding aloft a string of pink hearts. Another sign says: “86 years -- thank you Ford folks.” Their late grandfather Bill Priglmeier worked there for 35 years, the sisters said.
“If I wasn’t talking to you I’d have tears in my eyes,” Katherine said. "Ford has been an excellent neighbor and this is an historic day ending an 86-year legacy. It’s a huge shift in employment and I can’t do anything to fix the problem but as one person I can stand here and say ‘thanks.'Whether you’ve been here 5 years or 25 years this is their last day and they’re driving out by themselves, and it’s sad.
Katherine said her father used to take paint chips from the plant floor and make jewelry out of them, which she cherishes.-C.B.
8:30 a.m. Tiffany's Sports Lounge on Ford Parkway got pretty spirited pretty darn quick this morning. Just a few blocks from the plant, the no- nonsense watering hole opened three hours earlier to accommodate the influx of Ford workers looking to unwind. Adam Woods, 36, of Eden Prairie, said he arrived "at 8:02." When asked why he didn't clock in today to see the last ranger come off the line, he said, "I saw 500 of them every day."- J.M.
7:56 a.m. There were 30 more pies than usual at the Bakers Square restaurant on Ford Parkway just in case co-workers wander in for a goodbye slice of world-famous French Silk. That makes 100 pies total. Manager Stephanie Hovland, who is inexplicably thin in spite of her job, admits the restaurant will suffer "a little bit" once the plant closes. But that will likely pick up when construction begins on the plant site - whatever its next life may be. - J.M.
746 a.m. Across the street from the plant, the doors are locked at the United Auto Workers Local 879 hall. Someone named Marsha taped a note to the door that read "I'm at the plant." - J.M.
7:05 a.m. At 65, Dougie Colby ("like the cheese, but not cheddar") is probably at the end of his working life. But the North Minneapolis man doesn't want it to end after 13 years at Ford. He's having a tough time letting go. " I loved every minute of it." Even though there are maybe 20 Rangers left to build, he holds out hope the plant will stay open. It is the season for miracles, after all. "I'm the eternal optimist," he says. Colby looked down for a minute, and then asked this reporter for a hug. ( Request granted.) - J.M.
6:45 a.m. As TV trucks lined up outside the plant on Ford Parkway, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman made the interview rounds. He was dressed in a black overcoat suitable for a funeral and his mood appeared appropriately grim. "It's a sad day for St. Paul," he said, over and over. The mayor remembers the plant growing up in St Paul. "As a kid you always wondered what was going on in there." - J.M.
6 a.m. Marianne Vinz, "The Paper Lady," was doing a brisk business selling newspapers outside the north entrance of the Ford Plant. "it's fun bantering with the people here, I'm going to miss them." She stacked the papers with Military-like efficiency. "Hey Marianne," someone called. Vinz shook her head. "I'd like to stay here but I have to get up to Lund's." - J.M.
5:50 a.m. Several workers said they were given the opportunity by Ford to transfer to auto plants in Louisville, Ky. or Chicago. Fifty-seven-year old Don Lemmons said "no way. "I'm not breaking up my family," said the 28-year Ford veteran. But Mark Hanson, 41, said he's ready for the green hills of Kentucky. The Minnesota native and 11-year Ford veteran relished the prospect of less traffic and warmer weather. "They say down there, the sped limit is just a suggestion." He shrugged, "I'll give it a shot." - J.M.
5:45 a.m. As workers filed in for their last day, many hugged each other and shared a few hushed words. JoAnn Follmer doled out a few Christmas gifts to friends. The 59-year old had a mug for her pal Lois that says "Friends Forever." It's family here," she said. Folder, of Mahtomedi, has worked at the Ford plant for 12 years and loved it. '"It's been a beautiful ride." - J.M.
5:25 a.m. It's still dark out, but workers have started to file in the plant on this historic day. - J.M.
By Curt Brown
The plant closing has prompted plenty of lamenting the loss of high-paying jobs. Marx Danelius remembers an era before $28-dollar-an-hour gigs on the assembly line with great benefits.
"When I started in 1938, we earned $5 a day and then they bumped it up to $6 a day," Danelius said this week at his Minneapolis home.
At 99, he's believed to be the oldest living Ford retiree in Minnesota. He recalls the boss pointing to men 6-foot and taller and 180 pounds and sending them to work in the body shop.
"He said he wanted big guys who would work hard and it was hard work, indeed," said Danelius, who spent 51 years at the plant, most in quality control. He spent a stint making armored vehicles during World War II.
Star Tribune reporters Curt Brown, Dee DePass and Janet Moore will be blogging here Friday morning. Please come back for our Ford plant coverage,
Despite the closing of the Ford plant in St. Paul, Jim Oaks of Salem, Ohio, thinks Ford will eventually reverse its decision, especially if gas prices remain high. Rangers have a lot of fans because they're dependable and easy to modify for off-roading, he says. Oaks, 44, and his wife own models from 1983, 1989 and 1996.
"The Ranger is big enough to haul stuff but small enough so that it doesn't use as much gas. It's an all-around reasonable vehicle to have," he says.
And if Ford doesn't change its mind?
"I have friends who own salvage yards," Oaks says. "I will keep buying Rangers and stockpiling parts 'til eternity."
- Associated Press