'The Rattler' takes wheel of last Ranger

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 16, 2011 - 10:14 PM

The St. Paul Ford plant's longest-serving employee was the one to drive the final Ranger off the line.

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Dallas Theis started his career at the plant in 1958, buffing Ford Fairlanes.

Photo: Thomas Epperson, Star Tribune

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Dallas Theis started at Ford's Twin Cities Assembly Plant when Eisenhower was president and phone numbers were four digits long.

"Mine was 30W4. I still remember it," said Theis, 76, who began his career in 1958 buffing steel off Ford Fairlanes for $1.98 an hour after leaving the Army. "My friends thought I was making the big wages."

Friday morning, the husband of 49 years and grandfather of six hopped into Ford Ranger #5117, gunned it past 400 cheering co-workers, off the assembly floor and into the stockyard.

It was the last truck the St. Paul plant will ever make.

"When Dallas jumped in that truck, it was finality," said co-worker Thomas Epperson. "You started to feel your age and it tugged at your heartstrings. We all gave him a big ovation.

"But he's not slow on the gas," Epperson said. "So everyone quickly got out of the way."

At the plant, they called Theis "The Rattler," because his job involved shaking trucks to make sure they were solid. Sometimes he wears a yellow and black jacket with a drawing of a giant rattlesnake leaping from a thundering cloud.

One day this month, he demonstrated the job, driving a Ranger off the line into the "squeak and rattle" room. He flipped switches and made the truck rattle and shake, leaning in to listen for strange sounds. He then hopped into the truck as the pothole simulator jolted and jostled.

On Friday, Theis charged into the Ford entrance at 5:20 a.m., ready to solve his final noise mystery on one of the last 13 trucks.

Theis rattled his patient to find the problem - a pesky spare bolt that had fallen behind the back panel. "I saved it because it would be the last loose part I ever found," he said.

Asked what he might do with it, he paused. "Maybe have it bronzed."

Later, when he drove the last truck into the stockyard, Theis let loose. The plant manager "told me not to make doughnuts in the yard. But I did. I smoked up some rubber. That was pretty neat."

But he'll be back Monday. He volunteered to help clean the plant for five days next week.

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