Monday, November 16, 2015

BF Goodrich Memories

When I drive by the former BF Goodrich operations in Avon Lake on Walker and Moore Roads, I occasionally feel a little sentimental.

You see, my father worked there for two stints, the last one for twenty years or so. I worked there myself for two summers in the late 1970s. My uncle worked there too.

That’s why this little news article (at left) caught my eye, announcing that the new experimental plant was now in operation. It ran in the Lorain Journal on November 21, 1946. I had no idea that  BF Goodrich had been out there so long.

As it notes, the ‘experimental station’ had a modern development laboratory and “semi-work plant where sufficient quantities of material can be produced to determine large scale cost, purity and elimination of difficulties encountered in production.”

It’s incredible to drive by there today and see how much the whole complex has grown. Sadly, the BF Goodrich name is nowhere to be found; after many years of brands being spun off, and various sales and acquisitions, the names on the signs are PolyOne, Lubrizol and Mexichem.

And now for a few personal BF Goodrich memories.

Dad first started out in that ‘front plant’ or experimental plant, and enjoyed working there. Unfortunately, the particular product area or part of the business where he worked ended up being sold off, and he was laid off. Later, after a stint at Nelson Stud, Dad returned to BF Goodrich – this time at ‘the back plant.’ He ended up enjoying working there as well.

I was fortunate to be able to work in the back plant for two summers as part of a program in which the company hired employees' children who were attending college. I remember that we made $6 an hour, which seemed like a lot of money to me in 1978.

Estane (now part of Lubrizol) was a fascinating place to work for a kid in his late teens. One of my duties was operating a machine that discharged granulated Estane material into heavy paper bags, 50 pounds at a time. After filling a bag, I would place it on a skid in groups of five bags per layer, then slosh some glue on top of them, and then stack more layers until they were ten layers high. At that point, I would get the fork truck and move it out of there, and then start all over again.

Working shifts was a new world to me as well. The afternoon shift wasn’t too bad, but the overnight one was a challenge. I remember that on the first few days of that 11 to 7 shift – before I got used to it – I would start to hallucinate around 4:00 in the morning.

We did more than just bagging. Some of the material to be granulated was in thick sheets, wrapped and wound so that they looked like huge rolls of Scotch tape that were as tall as me. In this case, I had to use a special truck to go and get one of these rolls out of cold storage, transport it to the production area and load it onto the machine to be chopped up. It was tricky to maneuver it into position, and I still feel anxious when I think about it.

Sometimes we had to unclog the equipment that was mixing the granulated Estane material. It would get fused to what looked like a giant horizontal corkscrew inside a rectangular chamber.

Tragically, one of the other college students on a different shift was killed while he was helping to unclog one of these machines. The machine inexplicably started up while he was standing inside it. It was a horrible accident, and made me realize that everything in life can change in an instant, and that luck sometimes plays a role in survival.

On a happier note, during my work breaks, it was nice to be able to go and visit Dad over where he and the other machinists worked. I remember thinking how strange it was to see him in a different light, away from home, joking and laughing with his co-workers.

BF Goodrich really had a family feeling. Even though Dad never talked about his work at the dinner table, somehow we knew the names of everyone he worked with.

As you can see, BF Goodrich was a big part of our life, just like the Ford Plant or US Steel were to other Lorainites.

Mom and Dad bowled in a company bowling league at Aqua Marine. He fished with his friends from work. We went to the BF Goodrich Christmas party for employees’ kids, where we sat through a musical program and afterwards, we got to pick out a gift.

The company rewarded employees who made great suggestions, and allowed them to choose gifts out of a catalog. Mom and Dad got their first garage door opener that way. And each time Dad won an award, he received a little “Thinker” statuette. They were all over the house.

In the mid-1980s, BF Goodrich was on the verge of making changes to their retiree benefit program. The plant manager made it a point to tell Dad that the benefit package that was currently available was as good as it was ever going to be, and that cuts were coming.

Consequently, Dad decided to take the retirement package. On his last day of work, he pulled into the parking lot of the Overlook Apartments on West Erie (where I lived) and drove once around the lot, tooting his horn the whole time. He wanted to make sure I looked out the window and saw him, before he exited and headed out to BF Goodrich in Avon Lake for the last time. He wanted to share his big day with me.

Next: some BFG house organs from the 1970s


Bob Kovach said...

Great story Dan!

Wireless.Phil said...

Must have been the chemicals.

Richard Herman said...

Great story Dan, I know the "memories" feeling, and it's very strong with me. I worked in the front plant for 36 years and did considerable work in the back plant in my position with the Equipment Development group up front. Perhaps I'll consider a Blog myself. It's a way to shine an honorable light on the company that I was so glad to have worked at for all those years.
Richard Herman (Dick BFG 1956 - 1992)