Michelin employees look back on the last 50 years

Drew Butler
The Daily Ardmoreite
Terry Jones
Jerry May

Fifty years ago today the first tire rolled off the line at what was then the Uniroyal Tire plant. Over the next five decades, the plant changed names twice — becoming Uniroyal Goodrich in 1986, then Michelin as it is known to this day — and employed thousands of people. There are three men, however, who have been there to experience almost everything. 

Terry Jones and Jerry May were there from the beginning. Though Jones retired in February of this year, May remains at Michelin to this day. Billy Cross joined the team soon after in 1973, and he too is still working at the facility. All three shared a few of their experiences working at the plant.

Jones is a graduate of Dickson High School, and after going on to college he returned to Ardmore to look for a job. He put his application in at Uniroyal, and started work in September 1970.

“There was not as much opportunity in Ardmore at that time unless you went to the tire plant,” Jones said. “I went out, filled out the application, and went from there.”

He started out working in stock preparation before transferring to the supply chain department after about six months. In the early 80s he went into the Optimized Production Technology department where he was in charge of making the schedule to fulfill orders.

“We could have an order and then, within 24 hours, we’d have a finished product,” Jones said. “We were actually a little bit too fast for the computerized scheduling process we had at the time!”

In 1998, he moved into the warehouse and shipping logistics aspect of the corporation, and he remained there until his retirement earlier this year. 

May also began in 1970, and he was a member of the third training class brought on board. His first job was in the finishing department where he repaired tires and transferred into tire production in late 1979. He later went on to become a drum major, a position he holds to this day.

“I change the tubing on the tire building machines when they need to change the dimension size,” May said. “So I change the tubing from a 16-inch tire to an 18-inch tire when we change dimensions.”

May said he had planned to retire earlier this year but changed his mind after the coronavirus outbreak.

“I was looking at retiring just before this COVID stuff hit, but I decided to postpone it,” May said. “So I might stay on for another year or two now. I’m just taking it day to day.”

Billy Cross joined the team as a recent high school graduate in 1973.

“The plant at that time was three years old, and that was where everybody was wanting to work because you made such good money,” Cross said. “I was hired in at $2.90 an hour, and that was a high paying job around here. I remember a lot of girls around town thought I was rich because I worked at Uniroyal!”

Cross has been building tires throughout his tenure at the plant, and he said he has no immediate plans to retire.

“Right now I’m still feeling good, and I still enjoy what I do,” Cross said. “As long as I’m enjoying what I do, I’ll probably just stay here.”

One date that stands out in the memories of all three is May 7, 1995. On that date a tornado tore through the facility causing millions of dollars in damages and temporarily halted production. Over 300 people were inside working when the tornado touched down, but fortunately no injuries were reported.

May said he was just coming back from break when the storm hit.

“They had TVs in the break room, and they were showing that a tornado was heading our direction,” May said. “I went back from break and said we’re going to have to go to the storm shelter because there’s a tornado heading this way. The shelter I went to had two big double doors where they could bring in materials with a forklift, and some of us had to hold the doors shut because they were trying to open up.”

After the tornado passed, he walked out of the shelter and saw the sun shining through holes in the roof and insulation scattered everywhere. His vehicle received major damage in the parking lot.

“One side of it looked like it had been sandblasted,” May said. “The roof at that time had pea gravel on top of it, and it had blown that stuff out into the parking lot. It broke out every window except for the rear glass.”

Cross was also on duty when the tornado came through.

“The tornado alarms went off and we all went into the storm shelter,” Cross said. “At first we thought it was just the normal precaution and that we’d be in and out really quick. Well, we were in there a long time and started to get nervous. The next thing I can remember is the lights started flickering and everybody started panicking. I was sitting on a box and there was a big exhaust vent right behind me. All of the sudden dust shot out probably seven or eight feet and then got sucked right back into the vent.”

Cross then heard someone scream that the tornado was coming.

“All the lights went out, and there were probably five people on the door that we came in trying to hold it shut because it was trying to get sucked open,” Cross said. “It seems like it only lasted five seconds, but when we walked out there was no roof. That’s when what happened really started to sink in.”

Though Jones was not in the building when the tornado hit, he was soon back at the plant trying to get things running again.

“At that particular time I was running what is called the membrane shop, and all the other plants in the organization were dependent on some of the membranes that we made here in Ardmore,” Jones said. “That was the first key operation we needed to get back in process, and I want to say we had the membrane shop back and running in less than four or five weeks. Then we brought the rest of the plant back up as quickly as possible.”

Jones said though many changes took place during his tenure, he always enjoyed the people.

“I always worked for excellent people, and everybody always seemed really fair,” Jones said. “I’ve also had several people that worked for me, and I tried to treat those folks the way I wanted to be treated. I feel like I had a pretty successful run of being out there.”

Cross agreed that it’s the people that make Michelin a great place to work.

“The people are good people, and you make a family out here,” Cross said. “I think if I was to retire that’s what I would miss the most, the interaction with the people. They really are our second family.”