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End of the line at the St. Paul Ford plant

Posted by: $author Updated: December 16, 2011 - 11:51 AM

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.

 

The last Ford Ranger leaves the St. Paul Ford Assembly Plant Friday morning. PHOTO: Glen Stubbe

The last Ford Ranger leaves the St. Paul Ford Assembly Plant Friday morning. PHOTO: Glen Stubbe

 

 

PHOTO: Tanya Schaefer.

A worker placed this rose into the flatbed of the truck. PHOTO: Tanya Schaefer. 

 

Around 10 a.m. – Orkin Pest Control confirmed that it’s getting the last Ford Ranger from the St. Paul plant. “We have a great relationship with Ford and when we found out they were discontinuing the Ranger we asked if we could have it, and they said yes,” said Orkin spokeswoman Sarah Robinson in Atlanta.

“It will go into our regular service rotation. Once it’s finished its tour of duty we’ll put it either in our corporate archives or we’ll use it for training,” Robinson said it’s not clear where, geographically, the truck will be used, or how much Orkin paid for it.

The majority of the Orkin’s fleet is made up of Ford Rangers. “We actually have enough Rangers pooled to get us through 2012,” Robinson said. “We’re going to start researching different options.”

- Jennifer Bjorhus

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.

 

Michael Bartlett stands by the last Ford Ranger vehicle to be built at the St. Paul Ford Plant. PHOTO: submitted by Michael Bartlett

Michael Bartlett stands by the last Ford Ranger vehicle to be built at the St. Paul Ford Plant. PHOTO: submitted by Michael Bartlett

 

 

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.

 

Mike Booth,43, of Northfield, (left) and Benjamin Gross, 61, of Eagan  PHOTO: Janet Moore

Mike Booth,43, of Northfield, (left) and Benjamin Gross, 61, of Eagan PHOTO: Janet Moore

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.

 

PHOTO: Brian Peterson

PHOTO: Brian Peterson

 

 

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.

 

Ford workers gather at Tiffany's Sports Lounge to share memories and celebrate careers.

Ford workers gather at Tiffany's Sports Lounge to share memories and celebrate careers. PHOTO: Glen Stubbe

 

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.

 

Don Lemmons, 57, and Mark Hanson, 41, enjoy a smoke break at the Ford Plant.

Don Lemmons, 57, and Mark Hanson, 41, enjoy a smoke break at the Ford Plant. PHOTO: Brian Peterson

 

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.

Sunrise over the St. Paul Ford Ranger Plant on the day last truck will roll off the line.

Sunrise over the St. Paul Ford Ranger Plant on the day last truck will roll off the line. PHOTO: Brian Peterson

 

5:25 a.m. It's still dark out, but workers have started to file in the plant on this historic day. - J.M.

 

Workers streamed into the Ford Assembly Plant to help get the last Ranger trucks off the line.

Workers streamed into the Ford Assembly Plant to help get the last Ranger trucks off the line. PHOTO: Brian Peterson

 

 

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