When General Motors made known in February 1956 that it would be building a Chevrolet division assembly plant on 184 acres of land in Lordstown, no one knew what this business would mean to the Mahoning Valley, especially those who were there in the beginning.
"I was just glad to get an inside job on the account of I was getting to be older,'' said Richard Seaman Sr. "I was 38 and I couldn't handle the outside work in the wintertime. Wrote to Detroit to ask for an application. They called me up and accepted me."
Seaman started on March 7, 1966. Prior to this, he had worked for Local 171 in Youngstown as a residential carpenter.
The “First Car Group,” workers who helped build the first car at the General Motors Corp. Complex in Lordstown, pose with the car.
Herbert Baker Sr. of Austintown started working at the Chevrolet Fisher Body Assembly Plant in December 1966. His previous position was as a chief inspector at the Youngstown Air Force Base, which was rumored to be closing. At the plant, he was a reliability engineer. Both positions involved quality control.
In 1967, after deciding that he needed a change of employment, Roger Bartscher of Liberty also left the Youngstown Air Force Base for Chevrolet Fisher Body Lordstown Assembly. Bartscher was hired as an electrician. He also had a short stint in a salaried position, then returned to electrical work until his retirement in 2004.
Groundbreaking took place nearly 10 years after the plant announcement on Sept. 29, 1964. The first Chevrolet Fisher Body Lordstown Assembly Plant vehicle was a Chevrolet Impala sport sedan. It rolled off the line on April 28, 1966. The Tribune Chronicle purchased this first Lordstown-made automobile.
For these men, their previous employment made them valuable employees.
"I had about 18 years training before I went into that carpentry / maintenance at GM Lordstown," Seaman said. "The maintenance people had an advantage because they weren't tied to the same spot. You move around all over, every day."
This suited his work style since he worked in various locations as a carpenter.
Baker recalled a smooth transition from one job to the other since he had similar duties in each position, though there were different criteria to his new job, such as travel.
"I was gone a lot," Baker said. "I went a week or two weeks at a time to Canada, or to Detroit. We were the sister plant for the Canadians. I went to the home plant (in Detroit) and I went to the corporate office, which was a sea of white shirts with a big, big, big conference table."
Bartscher's new position fit his strengths.
"I was always mechanically inclined," Bartscher said.
At the plant, he also had on-the-job training. His willingness to learn new things and his job experience helped him when his station became more computerized and used robotics to pinpoint a problem on the assembly line that he needed to fix.
The retired Lordstown employees witnessed the growth of the plant, literally from the ground up.
"When I hired in there, they weren't even in production yet," Seaman said. "They were still constructing inside the building."
Baker remembered taking a drive to the plant before he started work, so he knew how to get there. He got lost on that first drive, but eventually found it next to a farm and across the street from a trailer park.
Bartscher's first memories were of the innovative assembly line machines and the large complex housing thousands of workers.
"The size of the place - I had never seen so much stuff confined and things moving here and there, up, down, over, and the noise," he said. "The engineer that met me took me into my assigned area. I didn't know where I was. After I got there, he told me, 'You're going to work in this section right here.' I said OK, and he said, 'See you later.' They paired you up with a guy who knew the job.''
Baker, who retired in 1985, Bartscher and Seaman, who retired in 1990, all said that working at the plant was the right thing for them to do - so much so that Bartscher and Seaman's children followed their fathers to the same place of employment.
Now known as the GM Lordstown Complex, which includes vehicle assembly, paint shop, metal center stamping / body shop, it has recently been given the contract to build the next generation of the Chevy Cruze.