Wayne Hamilton, of Raymond, is pictured fixing his Honda OSX car in his garage, with a radio quietly babbling in the background. Hamilton has had Honda in his life since 1979, when he got a job as a boiler operator and engineer. As one of the original employees of Honda, he he saw the original car assembly rise from the ground-up.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Jacob Runnels)
Forty years ago, the Honda Motor Company decided to build a motorcycle plant in Marysville, and later America’s first Japanese car assembly facility.
With motorcycles and cars came the cultural and economic impact brought by Honda. For some residents, Honda had brought them new employment opportunities and overall helped stimulate the local economy.
“If Honda hadn’t have come here, Marysville would be a ghost town,” former Honda assembly worker Ronald Itnyre said. “Look at what Marysville is doing now; it’s booming and growing.”
Itnyre, of Marysville, applied after he was working as a truck driver and wanted something new. Since it was built a mile away from his backyard, he could have walked to work every day.
He said, during his hiring interview to work at the motorcycle plant, there were some “strange” questions, such as whether he does any house cleaning.
As clock number 145, he laughed at the fact they did exercises and listened to music before work because it was such a foreign concept to him. The question about cleaning was apparently important because everyone served as a janitor there.
“They wanted you to clean everywhere,” he said. “Then, I thought to myself, ‘I’m not going to last here, this isn’t for me and I can’t do this.’ It was so strange, and I never experienced anything like it.”
Itnyre said the first wave of American Honda employees were known as the original 64, who had unique three-digit clock numbers, starting with 101. Some of the employees still remember each other since the plant’s conception.
“There were a few of us and, once we got started, we became our own family,” former secretary Nancy Rider said. “We were in an exciting, new time and we were (eager) to see where we were going.”
Rider, of Marysville, was brought onboard as number 101 in January, 1978, as a secretary in the administrative department. After seeing the Journal-Tribune post on Facebook about the original 64, Rider said it brought back many memories of those whom she worked with in the past.
Though she was there until 1982, she enjoyed the fact Honda brought jobs to the area and stimulated Marysville’s economy. She said she and most of her friends were excited to hear about a new manufacturing facility coming to town.
“It was a very fast-paced experience because there was so much going on,” she said. “There were a lot of people coming and going… on a regular basis.”
That experience at Honda eventually changed over the years, as technologies improved and government policies within the auto industry changed.
Over time, former boiler operator and engineer Wayne Hamilton, of Raymond, said things had changed a bit too much for him. As clock number 111, he said policies changed, making them stricter on car production and had kept changing the old ways of Honda.
“You always like seeing things the way they were because they were easy to take care of,” he said. “Is it better? I don’t know. But I know one thing, I miss the ways things were, and it was a great experience.”
He said Honda gave him a great experience, even though he originally applied for the job on a dare. He said he enjoyed being able to see the factory be built and improve over the years, despite the many changes over the years.
Hamilton said Honda back then had promoted a more relaxed perception of the workplace, where there wasn’t even a punch-in system. He said the administration was very forgiving to those who were late to work, though the work hours would go beyond 12-hour shifts a day.
“We had involvement in saying what was a good idea and what was a bad idea,” he said. “Their biggest selling point was, ‘we understand if a train on a track made you late for work. We understand flat tires. We understand your child got sick that morning.’”
With how fresh into the scene Honda was back then, some things weren’t there or were improvised at the plant. Former plant manager Bob Muth, of Paris Township, who worked for 23 years under clock number 104, said there wasn’t even an employee handbook at the time.
In the beginning of the plant, Muth said it started “at ground zero,” so there were no ties worn, everyone ate in the same cafeteria and there wasn’t any reserved parking.
“We called everyone associates,” he said. “A lot of the things we did when we started, we wanted everyone to be treated equally.”
He said, though now there’s more advanced technology used at Honda, the strong and positive worker’s attitude remained at the facility.
“As far as technology, systems and know-how, I think they’ve done wonderfully,” he said. “As far as enthusiasm and culture, it’s just as good as it was. I think it was a very big asset to the community and the associates.”
The plant built itself from the ground up with its employees, incorporating their ideas and trying to make them feel welcome. However, there were some cultural differences that set the Japanese apart from the Americans.
To start, Rider said the Japanese and Americans had a hard time understanding each other, as there was a definite language barrier between them.
She said there was also uproar in the community about why Honda chose Marysville and not somewhere else.
Muth said the language barrier had caused complications, but they eventually hired translators. Despite the “odd” ways the Japanese told the Americans how to work, he said there were still similar qualities they both shared.
“The goals were still similar among the associates, which is to promote high quality,” he said. “The Japanese were very engineer-minded, very technology-minded and teamwork-minded.”
Itnyre said he had a neighbor, and many members of the community, who didn’t like the fact he got a job at Honda. His old neighbor held old opinions about the Japanese, as he had served in World War II.
“As time went on, I think he had seen what (Honda) did for the community and he was more accepting of it,” he said. “But it was hard for him to swallow. I never held it against him, as he grew up in a different period.”
The next historic landmarks in the creation of the Honda plant take place Nov. 1, when the first Japanese car produced in America, the Honda Accord, rolled off of the assembly line.
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