CC Vintage Video: Ford Cleveland Foundry & Engine Plant, 1953 – My Father’s Job Of A Lifetime

Ford assembled Model T’s and A’s in Cleveland from about 1911 to 1932, but really grew its presence there after WWII.  In the early 1950s, a foundry and two engine assembly plants appeared in Brook Park, on Cleveland’s southwest side, leading to my father’s 1954-1989 Job Of A Lifetime there.

Engine Plant #1 was built first, assembling sixes. One local east-side supplier was Ferro Foundry & Machine, which Dad had joined in 1948 as a young metallurgist (“$275 a month,” he still notes) supplying blocks and heads for Ford—and Chrysler’s new hemi as well (“our scrap rate was as low as in Chrysler’s own foundry, they admitted”).

The Cleveland Casting Plant (the “Foundry” to all concerned) opened in 1952, and Ford could brag—as in this film—that it was the most modern facility of its type anywhere. By mid-1953 Ford’s combined employment in Brook Park was 5500 and growing amidst announcements of a second Engine Plant to come, which would maximize the Foundry’s output potential.

Here’s the new Foundry at lower left, and EP#1 in upper right (due north of the Foundry). Clevelanders know that Hopkins Airport, then and now, is just to the west:

 

Dad, working at Ferro, made occasional troubleshooting visits to Ford in Brook Park, and saw that Ford would soon have less need for Cleveland’s independent foundries like his. I’m not sure who wooed whom, but at age 30 he joined Ford sometime in 1954. (YouTube says that’s the film’s date, but the Cleveland paper documents showings for the local Kiwanis in September of 1953.)

The film begins with a minute of establishing shots, then its opening credits, with Brook Park workers arriving and heading off to their posts. After a few minutes in the Engine Plant, we move to the Foundry, with core production from raw sand (5:00-7:15). For any CC-ers unfamiliar with the term: “cores” are individual baked-sand parts that create hollows in a casting for, say, an engine block’s cylinders, water passages, etc. when the iron’s poured. The great postwar advances in this area were the accuracy and consistency with which cores could be produced and positioned, thus the lighter “thinwall” engines like Ford’s 221-260-289.

From 7:20 to 11:45 is the hottest part of foundry work: turning scrap iron into molten metal, to be poured into mold/core assemblies. Then we see the niceties: a clean cafeteria and welcome showers in the locker rooms, and the state-of-the-art system for keeping the Foundry’s air as clean as possible. At 13:00 completed castings are “shaken out” and prepared for transfer to Engine Plant #1, where most of the remaining footage is sited. At EP#1, then still making sixes only, we see the latest in precision automation, including the amazing 96-ft.-long “broaching machine” doing all but finish machining on the engine blocks.

After finish work, bearings and pistons are fitted; Dad can still tell me how many different piston grades there were (varying by a couple .000x’s after machining, and so individually selected for blocks & bores after careful measurement). He can even recall what grades/variances were at Chrysler and GM!

Nearly everything in the film was immediately familiar to me, not only from Dad’s dinner-table chat, but also family-day tours and then my own work at the Foundry for the college-age summers of 1972-74. The 1970s Foundry looked about the same as the film’s, even if the equipment wasn’t so shiny and new. Over the years, Dad rose to top quality control positions at the Engine Plant and then the Foundry, with a good salary that would help him and my late mother raise a middle-class family of five. My own three hot, dirty summers at Ford gave me a priceless view into the UAW blue-collar world while helping fund the undergrad schooling for this bookish college music teacher, now not far from retirement himself.

With the completion of Ford’s Engine Plant #2 back in 1955, things really took off in Brook Park, meaning housing developments galore and a great tax base for the community. At full roar in the late 1970s, the complex was Ford’s biggest outside greater Detroit, employing 16,000 around the clock. Its recent history, however, is one of closings and consolidations. With Ford having moved to mostly aluminum heads and blocks, the huge (gray-iron) Foundry wasn’t needed, so it was shuttered in 2010 and recently demolished. The Engine Plants live on, turning out the Duratec engines and such, though total employment is nothing like it used to be, with economic effects naturally rippling through the region.

Dad, though plenty handy around the house, was never a gearhead, and he offers little in answer to my questions about Ford’s DOHC Indy 255, SOHC 427, and like exotica, some of which were cast at the Foundry from patterns crafted by the skilled tradesmen in its wood- and metal-patternmaking shop. Those guys were artisans, working up the very precise full-size (positive) patterns from which the sand molds (and inside core assemblies) for the engines were produced. I can still remember spare moments during my summers there, prowling through the dusty racks of “obsolete” block and head patterns, excited by rare discoveries of said 255 or 427 items amidst flathead or truck/tractor stuff older than me, which were occasionally taken out to one of the casting lines to make a production run of “service parts.” Dad relates that getting Dearborn’s approval to scrap un-needed production equipment was a multi-stepped process, so it was often simpler just to store it if space could be found.

Dad has now spent a couple years in an assisted-living place not far from Brook Park, but shares fond memories of his contributions at Ford—fodder for some future CC contributions, perhaps. I haven’t told him of this film, and plan to watch it with him during my next visit in May. We’ll see what kind of memories it conjures up—I can’t wait!