On Sunday May 28th. KCVJMC sponsored a club ride to an old Ford automobile factory which was in operation between 1913 to 1957.   This factory was said to have been the first Ford assembly plant to be built outside of Detroit.  Kansas City has actually been the location of a number of vehicle manufacturing plants.

General Motors had a Buick, Pontiac, Oldsmobile assembly plant in Kansas City which currently builds Buick and Chevrolet automobiles.  The GM Fisher Body plant (Leeds), a few miles to the south, was built in the 1920's and operated until the 80,s.  The Ford plant moved from the Shefield district, north around 15 miles, to the current location in Claycomo, Missouri.  Paccar had Kenworth  and KW Dart assembly plants in Kansas City as did Cline trucks.  Before the 1920's there was the Kansas City Car Company, the Stafford Car company and at least two electric car companies all being manufactured in Kansas City.  Independence Mo. had an Allis Chalmers Combine and tractor assembly plant after WWII.

Around 14 motorcycles and riders uped kickstands and we began the tour which included several stops.  Our first stop was in an old lot on Gardner Ave which was the location of the first Kansas City owned truck factory. The factory built Cline trucks, a now defunct company.  Gardner Ave was ground zero for trucking companies servicing Kansas City in the 40,s and 50,s. Many repurposed truck terminals were pointed out.  Our second stop was on Gladstone Blvd allowing for a panoramic view of  the East Bottoms area dating back to before the turn of the 20th century. Old buildings and a large railroad area was visible.  On one side we could see at least several thousand acres of the East Bottoms and on the other side, the old mansions of the business owners.   This one time neighborhood for the wealthy is now listed as one of the most 25 dangerous areas in the country.  Our next stop was in front of the Kansas City Museum; The R.A. Long mansion donated it to the city and is now a museum.  The land area of the mansion was a full city block square and included numerous buildings including a planetarium!   The mansion, built in 1907, was the home of Robert A. Long who made his fortune in lumber.  

Our final stop was at the old Ford factory.  Pat Yelton explained that Henry Ford himself was very   involved in the construction of the factory back in the early teens.  The first automobiles   built at this factory were Model T,s.  It is interesting that the Model T was first built in 1908 but was not a big seller till after 1910 when automobile sales were growing exponentially.  By 1918, the Ford Model T represented nearly 50% of all cars which were on the road.  This Kansas City factory was the site of the first ever sit down strike in 1937.  Several interesting observations about the factory were mentioned by Pat.  First, there are no floor drains because the sewer system was not yet fully developed in 1913, the roof has huge vents which can be opened for light and air circulation, and the original steam plant was closed in 1957 and remains there unmolested.  Pat led us through his own shop located half way down the old assembly line.  The Ford plant was at least four or five city blocks long with ceilings of 30 to 40 feet high.  Much of the original building could be seen such as the old radiator heating system.  The corrugated roof area had a ceiling walking ramp for workers to maintain the heating, venting, and lighting equipment.  It was easy to imagine the building as an automobile factory with cars lined up along the main traffic lane.

The entire area reflects early industrial history.  The streets are lined with old brick buildings dating back to the time that the factory was in operation, there are blocks of "shotgun" type houses where the masses of workers would have lived, and the lines of demarcation between the wealthy families and poor factory workers are clearly evident.  When the factory opened, the plant had around 700 employees which rose to over 3,200 in the late 1930's.  After the factory closed in 1957, as was noted above, it was moved to the current location in Claycomo which had previously been a military airplane factory.  The old Ford factory was purchased by Armco Steel and was labeled Sheffield Nut and Bolt.  The factory was abandoned by Armco in 1985. Since then it has housed a number of miscellaneous businesses.

The entire area continues to house a number of diverse businesses.  Silo Nut & Bolt used abandoned bolt makers to continue making fasteners. One of the other businesses located within eyesight of the old ford factory is the old Vendo factory.  Vendo was the inventor and manufacturer of the first carbonated beverage dispensing machines.  Butler, to the southeast of the Ford plant, was the inventor and manufacture of the first galvanized steel stock watering trough in the early thirties. Every farmer purchased one of these.  The entire area was the industrial heart of Kansas City and is filled with the history of the blue collar worker and early American industry.

Pat is an active member of our Kansas City VJMC club and is a collector of vintage motorcycles as well.  We appreciate his help at events and his willingness to lead the ride to the old Ford factory.  It was great fun!   He had several of his bikes in his shop including a 1970's Honda Twinstar, a 1980's Suzuki, and a few other related vintage motorcycles.  If you are ever in Kansas City Pat would be happy to give you a personal tour of this historic old place.  If this were to occur, just make sure you bring your camera, you would certainly be in for a treat!

See pictures of the ride here:  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1590289057671763.1073741848.281534391880576&type=1&l=44e9f0fecf

Mark Bayer  President KCVJMC
Kansas/Missouri VJMC Field Representative