Goodyear retirees pleased to call this area ‘home’
Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 7:49 pm
Editor’s note: The following is part of an ongoing series focusing on the 40th anniversary of Goodyear’s Union City plant.
Whether they were originally from this area or moved here from other places, many local residents who have retired from the Union City Goodyear plant are proud of their Goodyear career and pleased to call this area “home.”
Waymon Reagan was one of the first locally hired associates at the plant.
Fellow retirees Paul Olexa, Wayne Kimble and Hank Gill moved here from other plants. These three retired associates feel that they made the right decision to move from other Goodyear locations to Union City 40 years ago.
“The past 40 years have flown by. I feel like a ‘local’ now,” Olexa, who worked mostly in maintenance in his 38-year career, said with a laugh.
To all of them, the decision to work at Goodyear-Union City has paid off in many ways and it has brought many memories.
Reagan was in the tireroom in October 1968 when he and Kimble built the first tire to be cured on the plant’s first curing press.
“I remember that producing the first tire attracted a lot of attention,” he said.
Reagan was selling insurance when he was offered a job at the local plant. He started on Aug. 19.
“I was proud to have a job at Goodyear,” he recalled. “For a long time before starting to work making tires, I had not lifted anything but a bill collection book. Wes Walton, Bobby Bowlin and I were sent to Freeport, Ill., for training and I saw people sweating as they built tires at the plant.
“I always had a competitive spirit and I learned quickly on a tire machine. As I picked up my building pace in Freeport, Kimble took me out one night and bought me a steak and that really got me going.”
He remembered what we saw when he came back to Union City in mid-October.
“There were five tire machines in the tireroom,” he said. “Everything else had a plastic wall around it and it seemed there was a welder on every pole in the plant. We brought tire machines in that had been out in a cornfield and cleaned them for three to four weeks before they were installed.
“Stock was shipped in from Gadsden (Ala.) and Topeka (Kan.) so we could build tires. This was before we got any of the component prep equipment running in our plant,” he said. “It wasn’t too long until they started the second shift as new people continued to be hired.
“That first winter was cold. We did not have any heat in the manufacturing area. Every now and then we would walk to the first aid clinic where we had propane heaters.”
Some of Olexa’s first memories are of hot — not cold — weather.
While on the company’s Engineering Squadron at the company’s Akron, Ohio, headquarters, “I visited here in July 1968 to look at the community, with very little intention of moving here,” he said.
“It was terribly hot when I arrived,” he said. “I drove what was, at that time, a late-model Pontiac — one that had no air conditioning in it. If I could have found some place to install an air conditioning unit, I definitely would have done it,” he said.
“The people here were very nice to me and this is one of the reasons I decided to move to Union City,” he said. “A lady at one of the local car dealerships on Reelfoot Avenue went out of her way to find me a set of left-handed golf clubs so I could play a round at the Poplar Meadows Golf Club. That was unexpected and made an impression on me.”
Kimble came to Union City from Goodyear’s Gadsden plant, as department foreman in the tireroom.
“My family has always enjoyed living here and being a part of the Union City community,” he said.
Before the plant began operations, he joined many other associates in journeying to the company’s Freeport plant for training in tire manufacturing.
“When we got back from Freeport, there were several tire machines on the 100 and 200 lines in the tireroom with plastic curtains in many areas all the way from the floor to the ceiling to protect workers and equipment.,” he said. “Cement trucks could be seen everywhere.
“All of us remember that it was cold that first winter. With no heat in the plant at that time, we wore coats to build tires.”
He noted the plant has undergone continual change since that first year. He particularly remembers the transition in the early 1970s from bias-ply tires to radial tires, a move that required the relocation of tire machines to accommodate the change in the set-up of the machines, he said.
“Since Day One, the process has always been changing at the Union City plant. The goal line has always been moving,” Kimble said.
With the great amount of time invested in the plant’s start-up, “our wives and children always knew more about Union City than we would,” recalled Hank Gill, “because we were in the plant every day before daylight and left after the sun went down.”
Gill moved from Topeka. He helped to start up the plant’s extruders and wire calender equipment and then later served a 15-year assignment as night superintendent.
“This plant has always undergone change,” he said. “When I worked the night crew, we would start our evening shift with so many things to do before morning that the time was gone before you knew it.”
He also remembers the plant’s transition to radial tires in the early ’70s. “It was not an abrupt change from bias-ply construction to radials,” he said. “Due to market acceptance and other factors, we went back and forth between the two types for a while before we settled in completely as a radial tire plant.”
From a community standpoint, he has fond memories of the car shows sponsored by the plant.
“The first car show was a big success with lots of cars. It was good to see that the community accepted it really well. Many people had never seen that kind of event before,” he said.