Our Sixty Year Love Affair with the Ford Motor Company
By The Q.O.E.
January 24, 2019
A bit over sixty years ago, my father was hired on by the Ford Motor Company in Green Island, NY. He’d been laid off from his previous job for quite some time, and he was having a hard time finding another job.
After coming to the Troy area in 1945, he had held a series of factory jobs. He was strong and used to hard work, having been a farmer, a miner and a lumberjack (among other things) back in our native Nova Scotia. Trouble was, as a recent-hire in a post-war economy, he was one of the first to be laid off whenever business took a down-turn. So, every now and then, Daddy would be laid off – which was great in many ways – having time to make repairs around the house, build that set of shelves Mama wished for, and best of all, spend time with me.
Anyway, the lay off that preceded his signing on with Ford was particularly long, and the job market seemed bleak. Daddy had run out of odd jobs, not to mention whatever cash was needed to fund them.
We had great neighbors in the Troy, NY neighborhood we lived in, and one of them was some sort of an executive at the Ford plant. His name was “Tom” and my Dad was also “Tom.” Our concept of him as a “big wheel” in his work place was largely based on the fact that he wore a suit to work as opposed to work clothes. Other than that, he was just a great family guy, much like my Dad, but with seven little kids at his house as compared to just me at ours. Daddy, though, often remarked that one like me was quite enough, thank you.
One pleasant late afternoon, executive Tom walked down our way from his house. “Afternoon, Tom,” he greeted Daddy, who nodded and replied, “Afternoon, Tom.” They both grinned. For some reason, it gave them both a kick to call each other by name. Our neighbor went on to say that there were some job openings “down at the plant” and that Dad might want to look into it.
First thing next morning, my father presented himself, coifed and shiny-clean, as a Ford job applicant. Perhaps thanks to some behind the scenes good words from the other Tom, but certainly thanks to his kind heads-up that jobs were to be had, Daddy was hired. And thus began our family’s sixty-year love affair with the Ford Motor Company.
It was messy work, but that never bothered guys like my Dad. He had a work ethic that encompassed not only doing whatever job he had with total commitment, but also with total cheerfulness and good will. And, total loyalty to whatever company wrote the checks. His work included dipping auto parts in an acid bath, which took a toll on his work clothes as well as on the heavy-duty seat covers in his car.
Those were the days when a nationally known company advertised that their seat covers were guaranteed for the life of the car. My Dad bought their clear plastic, kind-of-bubble-wrap-looking covers that were very thick. Daddy also kept his cars for a very long time. The acid, which splattered onto his clothes, also rode home on those seat covers after every shift. At first, the plastic would discolor….sort of a brownish yellow. Then it would harden and split.
Our family budget probably had to bear the cost of extra sets of work clothes, due to the acid, but the seat cover company paid for replacement seat covers, year after year after year. I think they have since altered the wording of their warrantee.
In the fall of 1958, I was beginning my senior year in high school. One of the bosses at Ford stopped to see my Dad on the assembly line. He told Daddy, “You have a smart kid, Tom. Why don’t you have her apply for this.” With that, he pressed a flyer into Dad’s hands explaining a Ford-sponsored scholarship opportunity.
As a fairly new employee, Daddy felt that it would be presumptuous for him to pursue a scholarship for me, but his boss wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. In due time, a test packet arrived at my school, where the test was administered to me in the guidance office. I filled out some sort of a general knowledge set of questions, then our pit-bull of a female counselor sealed it up and shipped it back to Ford.
I have no idea how many kids like me took the test nationwide, but 79 of them achieved an acceptable score to win scholarships that year. I was one of them. Our winnings included: all expense paid trips to Dearborn, Michigan (5 days in a five star hotel), radio and TV news releases (complete with filmed interviews) for each of our hometowns, and full scholarships (tuition, room and board, and even a stipend toward cost of books) for four years at the colleges of our choice.
For our family, this was equivalent to winning the lottery! My parents would have seen to it that I had a college education, but it would have been a struggle for them. I, personally, had a savings account for college, with a whole eight hundred dollars in it! This would have been a start, but only a small one.
All of a sudden, the Ford Motor Company grew exponentially as an entity of super-human generosity and benefits.
Speaking of benefits, the very first one was an invitation to lunch at the Hendrick Hudson Hotel with 3 or 4 of the company’s top big wigs. We thought perhaps our neighbor “Tom” might be among them, but, alas, his wig was apparently not big enough. Also on hand were a newspaper reporter and photographer plus representatives of the local television station. My dear little parents were a bit awed, having never set foot in such a fancy hotel – nor had they ever had their picture taken by anyone other than a relative - and we all three sat there like dressed-up deer in the headlights.
Lunch over, we trooped out to the hotel parking lot, where attendants had taken our cars and hidden them somewhere. The Ford guys handed over their ticket and paid their fee. The attendant picked up a microphone and requested that some high-end Ford vehicle, Mercury or Lincoln, be brought up. My Dad started to hand his ticket over, when one of the executives took it, saying, “Let me get that, Tom.” While he was getting the money out to pay for our car, the attendant clicked on the microphone and roared, “Bring up the green ’56 Chevy!”
It was only later that I realized that my precious father was completely mortified. Here we were, wallowing in largesse, all paid for by the Ford Motor Company, and he was driving a Chevrolet. Immediately, the hunt was on for a Ford in our price range. This was complicated by the fact that we were still paying for the green monster, which we’d only owned for a bit over 2 years, and which was the first brand new car we had ever had, and which, incidentally, was the worst lemon that had ever slithered through the fingers of General Motors’ crack quality-control squad. Daddy usually only bought a car years after the previous one had been paid for. Things were tense.
Two very interesting things happened. First, we discovered a neighbor who had a 1958 Mercury for sale. He’d had a promotion in his job, having just bought the Merc, and all he wanted was for someone to take it off his hands for a pretty reasonable amount. It was a deal. Daddy asked me if he could borrow my eight hundred dollars – temporarily – until he sold the Chevy. Since he and Mama had given me most of it, I didn’t really think he needed to ask, but he did.
So, the purchase was made. Meanwhile, he advertised the Chevy on the plant bulletin board. The second interesting thing was that a colleague at work wanted the car almost immediately. The guy was someone Dad worked with quite closely….and liked very much. He did not want to stick this decent fellow with the pathetic lemon the Chevrolet had shown itself to be. The man insisted. He was a tinkerer, he said, and could deal with almost whatever came up. So, Daddy sold the car for a really good price, to assuage his own guilt, and all was well.
That Christmas, my parents returned my eight hundred dollars in the form of a thousand. My college savings account was back in business! The Chevrolet served its new owner, who regularly thanked my Dad for selling it to him, with faithful devotion for many years. Apparently, it had gotten all its kinks worked out while we had it. Oh, well!
Our second foray into the glitzy world of scholarship winners was dinner at the Troy Country Club. It was really a dinner to honor folks in the company for their various accomplishments, but it was decided to invite the scholarship kid and her family and introduce us to the crowd. They didn’t know us, and we certainly didn’t know them, but it was another eye-opening peek into a different social realm. More to the point, we showed up in a shiny black 1958 Mercury, and my Dad was head-up, chest out and buttons popping!
Life went on….thanks to Ford, I graduated college with my savings still in tact. Meanwhile, I married, had two little girls, and eventually became a high school English teacher.
Daddy drove the Mercury for a bit over a decade, then bought 3 or 4 other Fords, the last of which took him to the end of his days. There were 3 or 4 only because he had an unfortunate wreck with one, causing its early demise, though thankfully the accident did not do in my parents. They were banged up pretty badly, but lived to ride another day…..many, in fact!
Daddy retired from the Ford plant around 1976 or ’77. The pension and benefits enabled my parents to live out their days comfortably. The employee discount program expedited the purchase of the last car or two that Daddy drove and allowed me, and eventually my children, to make many discounted Ford purchases over almost 4 decades!
In 1984, my Mom passed away. Later, Daddy remarried and moved back to Nova Scotia. By that time, he was driving his last car, a beautiful blue and white LTD, his pride and joy. I had dealt with American Ford folks to make car purchases a few times, but once he moved to Nova Scotia, we had to facilitate purchases through Ford Canada. This was another special part of our Ford experience. A lovely person, Joanne Culver, became our contact. She was kind and professional, and to our amazement, began to remember us from one purchase to the next.
When Daddy passed away in 1996, his pension passed to his second wife, a blessing and benefit to her until the end of her days in early 2015, just short of her 105th birthday. The employee purchase benefit also passed to Bessie, my step-mother, at that time. She, a devoted Toyota owner (and I apologize for that!), was very happy to OK the continued use of the benefit for me and several family members many, many times. Ms. Culver now made Bessie’s acquaintance.
Ms Culver stuck with us for all that time. She and Bessie had some great conversations, which both professed to find memorable….possibly for differing reasons! Our Bessie was indeed a memorable lady! In the last few years, failing health and hearing made it necessary for Ms. Culver to speak with someone who had Bessie’s power of attorney. The someone happened to be my younger daughter, who had relocated to Nova Scotia. Each time we arranged another car purchase, for the last ten years or more, I expected the FBI or someone to start investigating the situation! Just to see if Bessie really was still here. And, maybe they did…..but they did it quietly and politely did not mention any reservations to us. Canadians are like that: achingly well-mannered.
So, here I am at age 77, just looking back on one of the many themes and threads that so often are woven into life. I do not for a minute mean to imply that a car company is the most important element in anyone’s life……so many other things could and should claim that place.
No, it’s just that I am amazed by the beneficial, long-term effects on so many lives that hung upon such things as a simple act of kindness by a neighbor - who stopped by to mention some job openings “down at the plant” that Dad might want to look into. Or, that were set in motion by a “big wig” who noted, “You have a smart kid, Tom. Why don’t you have her apply for this.” Or, with a company that chose to provide a scholarship opportunity. They stopped the scholarship program years ago, but while it existed, who can measure its impact on countless lives?
And, I also thank Joanne Culver, who, with a demeanor worthy of the Queen Herself, led us through the red tape of so many purchases….and who was unfailingly patient and charming.
Every Ford I have ever purchased has been part thank you for my college education. And, since 1996, each one has been a pleasant reminder of my Dad. We still buy Fords, even without the benefit program. Over the years, we’ve come to see them as reliable vehicles in sizes and styles that fit our needs….plus we have the best dealership on earth, Chenango Ford in Greene, NY.
It’s been said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It’s also possible that old dogs just don’t care to learn them.