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Life on the Assembly Line – Views of Autoworkers on the Job

Today’s feature follows last week’s post showing photographs of autoworkers performing various tasks on automobile assembly lines. This installment begins with a circa 1950 image of two men in a pit below the line tightening the bolts that attach the bumper irons to the frame on a DeSoto. The note the wooden fixtures with metal bottom edges and dissimilar metal, rubber, or leather top ends that support the bumper to keep it at the correct height while the bolts are being tightened.

The circa 1948 image above shows two men on the outside of the car and another man on the inside of it behind an assembly fixture installing the rear window along with a rubber gasket, and stainless steel outer trim molding. The car appears to be a Hudson Super Six featuring a new and revolutionary body design. Learn more about the unique post-war Hudson step-down model here.

And finally below from a different era is a view of a man operating an eight-gang machine that reground the valves and seats on a 1910s Chalmers four-cylinder engine before final assembly. A note with the photo stated the engine had been test run earlier (note the used head gasket hanging from the lower side of the engine).

You can view earlier assembly line photos here on The Old Motor. The images are courtesy of the Detroit Public Library.


11 responses to “Life on the Assembly Line – Views of Autoworkers on the Job

  1. Nothing glamorous about working the “line”. It was honest reliable work, but that’s it. 8 hrs on 16 off, and when they punched that clock at quitting time, they didn’t give their job a 2nd thought, until starting time the next day. Unlike the ladies jobs earlier, these were hot, noisy, boring, dirty jobs, without a lick of safety. From what I’ve heard, many people tried it, and usually didn’t last. ( I made it 2 days on the Briggs and Stratton line in MIlwaukee) Machines do all the work now, and bottom pic, when you could reuse a head gasket!!!

    • I can tell you from observing the workers at the Nissan and the old Saturn plant machines do not do all the work. Interior assembly is very physical.

  2. My dad did this exact job. He went to school on the GI bill and worked one summer on the Oldsmobile line. The money earned was enough to buy a new 51 Chevy. Heater, no radio. My mom liked it ‘ cause it would start without fiddling something under the hood. I wonder if you can still buy a new car with a summers worth of work?

    • Lets say a summer job pays $10 an hour (typical in Indiana where I live for part year unskilled labor), and you work 40 hours a week for 14 weeks, you would make $5600. The cheapest new car sold in the US for 2017 is a Nissan Versa S for $12,855. So not only no, but more than a factor of two from buying a new car, even ignoring income tax, sales tax, plates + registration, delivery, doc fees, etc.

  3. Guess it was a damn sight better than toiling in the fields from sun-up to sun-down. Been on a couple of lines myself, pretty boring.

  4. Incredible photos here David. As mundane as the job was, it is still something to see a car come together by human beings rather than robots. Also, I know the workers would be moved around to brake up the monotony. This would also make them more familiar with the product they were producing. Like the shot of the guys working on the rear window of the Hudson. With a rubber mallet no less.

  5. Sometimes, the lowly 2 X 2 and 2X4 wind up being the best solution for an automotive assembly issue or maintenance operation. Mercedes Benz does their best to inform a Customer on how to operate their vehicle by providing a very comprehensive Operators Manual. Such was the case CIRCA 1970 when I was an Assistant Shop Foreman For Checker California Sales – Alhambra California, I had the privilege and honor of working directly for and with Zacharrias Minnetian, our Shop Foreman, former Mechanic to the King of Lybia . The regular Mechanic Staff were responsible for all Standard M-B Sedan products and Checker products. The Shop Foreman and I were responsible for ALL “Specialty Products” such as All “SL” vehicles 190. 220, 230, 250, 300, 300 SEL (etcetera) ,all 600 series Sedans and 600 Series Limousines and all EARLY classic M -B vehicles belonging to members of the M-B Owner’s Club. Each new 280 (etc.) SL had its Verrrrry special top erecting mechanism explained to —(& practiced by) the Owner , to prevent “Troubles”. Great for the Original Owner, but somewhere along the way, — an “expert” with an “ego” gets in the way —and the mechanism —“Zigs when it should have Zagged “! — and it will not close (anymore)! The solution? A specially notched 2 X 4 wooden block —- with which to reset the retracting spring(s). Yes, an American problem with an American solution! ( A verrrry strange Service Call!, indeed!) A particular Coke bottle with a 45 degree break on its neck was a very important “Universal Tool” on our Lube Rack for pouring 140 weight gear oil into Steering Boxes!!! None better ! Universal! (Most steering boxes!) Edwin W. I have total respect for the simplest tools that “get the job done”!!! Edwin W,

  6. I have always been fascinated with automobile assembly plants. When I was in college I worked summers in a Ford plant in Louisville, and installed the windshield and back glass in the first Edsel Ranger! Later, prior to retirement, I worked with a major automotive interiors supplier, and spent a lot of time in GM assembly plants. I still relish the experience. Everyone should have a chance to tour an assembly facility.

  7. The left man appears to be using an air powered right angle drive power torque wrench to tighten the bumper brace bolt while his helper is using a large box-end wrench to hold the nut in place. “Teamwork“ on the line. The precision wood blocks is still a bit disturbing to see in a Chrysler product assembly line. They must have known a better way or the engineering jigs broke or were being used by another team that day. I generally don`t like Chrysler products of that vintage (particularly the goofy semi-auto transmission offerings), this just verifies some of my beliefs I think.

    I`m sure all brands had plenty of slightly dirty laundry (upsetting to buying public?) methods on their assembly lines that buyers would not like to see like the rubber mallet joker (ever so gently) whacking the stainless rear window trim into place onto the new `48 Husdson! Let`s hope he didn`t get carried away at times tapping out a favorite rhythm or giving it a little more when he thought neccessary to give a nice “set“.

  8. In my senior year at North Texas State University our business ed class took a field trip to Dallas to visit the Ford plant. They were installing windows the same way as the window being inserted into the Hudson rear window opening. Two men guided the glass from above as the car was slowly moving down the line and using rubber mallets insert the window into the rear window opening of ’63 Fords. A couple of taps and it was in. I was surprised at how much the rear window flexed before it locked into place

  9. Eh, I lasted one day on a Mack Truck dashboard production line. Same series of repetitive movements for 8 hours, one ten minute bathroom break after 2 hours, 1/2 hour to eat your lunch. There was also the “time and motion” man who periodically visited to tell me I should be working faster. At least the pay was lousy.

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