LAWTON, OK (TNN) - Goodyear is celebrating its 40th anniversary in Lawton. The Lawton location is the largest Goodyear plant in North America. The employees say the people is what has made this Goodyear plant what it is today.
Goodyear Lawton now stretches a mile long but it started out half that size. When the plant opened in 1979, they started hiring people in the area to help in the tire making process.
Vickie Thomas, a machine cleaner and trainer, Brent Copeland, the retired plant manager, Mitchell Baggett, a maintenance technician, Modo Anderson, an industrial engineer and Diane Roberts, a machine cleaner, are some of the employees who started working at the plant right around the time it opened if not a little sooner.
Thomas said she helped build the plant but didn't know what she was building until a family friend called and told her she should work there.
“I put an application in,” Thomas said. “I said 'OK, I’m just going to work there, get a couple of checks and go back to school.’”
She wasn't the only one who thought that.
"I thought 'I'll go out there for a few years and then find me another job,’" Baggett said.
But, here they are, 40 years later and still working at the plant.
While there are some familiar faces, things have changed a lot over the years. Thomas said they didn't have but one machine of everything when the plant first opened.
"It took us probably a week to do 10 tires,” Thomas said. “We had to build them, cook them, and bring them through the plant."
As for the first tire that was made in Lawton, it wasn’t easy, but workers made it happen.
"It was about 10:30 one night in February that we built the first green tire on the tire machine,” Copeland said. “It was uncured and so there was three of us. It didn't operate very well on that first tire, but it was the first green tire manufactured in Lawton."
The technology and machinery have changed tremendously since the plant first opened, but the mission hasn’t. Now, they’ve built close to 700 million tires.
While some might've steered clear of the challenge and changing technology, others embraced it.
"It kinda challenged me and I loved that challenge,” Roberts said. “I didn't realize it at that young age. I couldn't just stay in one job at that time. It was kinda nice."
“I think it’s impressive to see the technology that it was in 1979 versus what it is in 2019,” Baggett said. “It’s really impressive to watch a machine build a tire.”
Anderson also started when the plant opened but left to work at a different location before coming back. He said they have the system and the equipment needed, but it's the people who this plant special.
"This is a true American success story and we don't celebrate that enough in Lawton Oklahoma," Anderson said.
Baggett and Copeland said the people and their work ethic has made Goodyear Lawton continue to grow and be what it is today.
“Goodyear Lawton has had more stuff come here because of people that we work hard, we’re willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done safely,” Baggett said.
"The workforce for the Lawton plant has always been outstanding,” Copeland said. “The work ethic is incomparable with any other location that I've been with and Goodyear is just a good team environment. That has stayed constant from when we first started up to the day I retired."