MIAMI, Okla. — Gary Shadwick was 23 and had put in at least 20 job applications at the B.F. Goodrich tire plant without success when he decided to enlist the help of his neighbor, who had a brother-in-law who worked there.
Soon after that, the phone rang at 4:30 in the morning. It was the personnel manager asking if Shadwick wanted to come in for a job interview. Shadwick said yes and soon started working at the plant for $6.15 an hour.
“It was good money, good benefits, hard work, good people, plenty of overtime,” Shadwick said.
That plant — at one time the largest manufacturing operation in Oklahoma — closed 30 years ago on Feb. 28, 1986, sending the unemployment rate in Ottawa County to 24.5 percent, higher than any other county in the state. About 1,950 employees worked at the plant when it closed.
Former B.F. Goodrich employees and their families will hold a reunion from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Miami Civic Center,129 Fifth Ave., according to a news release from the Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. The event is open to the public.
Photographs and information about B.F. Goodrich will be on display from collections at the Dobson Museum and provided by the Ottawa County Historical Society, according to the bureau.
B.F. Goodrich opened the Miami plant in 1945. It operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 40 years. At its peak, it employed nearly 2,000 workers from throughout the region, producing car, truck and tractor tires.
"They were good people," said City Councilman Neal Johnson who worked at B.F. Goodrich in Miami and later at the B.F. Goodrich plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. "You spent a lot of time with people out there. It's going to be good to see some of them."
Goodrich was named after Benjamin Franklin Goodrich, an assistant surgeon for the Union Army during the Civil War who later invested in the Hudson River Rubber Co. The first automobile tires in the United States were made by B.F. Goodrich in 1896. Charles Lindbergh, the pilot who made the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, flew a plane that had tires made by B.F. Goodrich.
At first, the company was in Melrose, N.Y. In 1871, B.F. Goodrich moved to Akron, Ohio. Goodrich died at age 46 in 1888. In 1909, the corporate headquarters were moved to New York City. By 1945, the year B.F. Goodrich opened the Miami plant, the company had 55,500 employees.
B.F. Goodrich's first overtures to Miami didn't get off to an auspicious start. C.H. Mullendore, the acting executive director of the First National Bank, read a survey in September 1943 sent by a Cleveland engineering firm that was looking for a site for a new industrial plant for an unnamed firm and dropped the letter in the trash, according to county history.
Mullendore later fished the papers out of the trash, reread the letter and called the Chamber of Commerce. B.F. Goodrich selected Miami over cities including Hutchinson, Kansas, and Dennison, Texas.
The city supplied the land, a pasture that was northwest of Miami at the time. The street to the tire factory was called Goodrich Boulevard.
The tire factory was Ottawa County's largest employer, and the jobs were union jobs with good wages.
Centenarian Dena Anders, the owner of Anders Shoe Store, described the impact of Goodrich in an oral history interview with the University of Oklahoma.
"Oh, Goodrich that made our (business)," Anders said. "People spent. First started by trying to outdo each other. They'd buy cars, and they'd take vacations. They'd buy boats and homes. They had good money."
People commuted to Miami from as far away as Rogers, Arkansas, Jasper, Missouri, and Coffeyville, Kansas, said Larry Roberts, the president of the Ottawa County Historical Society. He lived on H Street across from the tire factory and would watch hundreds of workers arrive for the three daily shifts.
"When people got a job at B.F. Goodrich, they thought they had a job for life," Roberts said.
The union was the United Rubber Workers Union, which struck repeatedly for better pay. In 1976, the union was on strike for four months against B.F. Goodrich and three other tire companies, winning a 35 percent pay increase over three years.
But B.F. Goodrich was facing increased competition, both at home and abroad. The company was the smallest of the big four tire manufacturers.
On Aug. 23, 1985, a day that became known as Black Friday, executive George Brown announced that the plant would close in six months. Company officials blamed the closure on imported tires, primarily from Japan and Korea. For that announcement, Brown was dubbed "Shut 'Em Down Brown."
The closure affected 20 counties in Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.
Judy Francisco had planned to go to accounting school, but she and her husband moved to Tuscaloosa so he could get enough years with B.F. Goodrich to qualify for a pension. They later moved back to Miami where she is an assistant to the city manager.
"Some people went back to school," Francisco said. "Some people started their own businesses. Some people found other jobs. Some people went ahead and retired."
Shadwick said some local businesses also shut their doors.
"I think there were four or five grocery stores, hardware stores," Shadwick said. "After they closed everything went away."
Shadwick said he and his wife decided to stay in Miami. They had two children they wanted to raise there. He started working at Wal-Mart the day after B.F. Goodrich closed and later worked for EaglePicher Industries.
Ronnie Cline left Miami for a job with B.F. Goodrich in Tuscaloosa, but moved back to Miami where he became a firefighter. He is now the fire chief.
Cline said the neighborhoods surrounding the plant have deteriorated since the closure. Some buildings at the plant remain standing although much of the plant was torn down.
This was a vibrant community at one time," Cline said. "There was a lot of pride here."
Miami City Manager Dean Kruithof said the city has concentrated on efforts such as stepped up code enforcement to try to make Miami an attractive place to live for people even if they work in other cities.
"We're trying to make Miami have a little bit more curb appeal," Kruithof said.
Shadwick, the former employee, visited the grounds of B.F. Goodrich on Thursday with Johnson and Cline. He looked at the personnel office where he once walked through the nearby entrance at the beginning of every shift. Later he climbed on a pile of rubble left from demolition efforts at the plant.
"First time I've stood here in years," he said.