For Daytonians of a certain age, the memories of the city’s glory days as a post-World War II manufacturing center are vivid. Louis Eckert started working at Delco Products in the 1970s, while still a student at Patterson Co-Op High School in Dayton, and he attended the General Motors Institute of Technology in Flint, Michigan. He recalled his GM career in this Senior Voices interview with Dayton Metro Library volunteer interviewer, Carol Jackson.
Louis Eckert: When I was a high school co-op I started working at Delco Products over on First Street, and then when I went to General Motors Institute I continued working with Delco Products through that period. My dad also worked at Delco Products, as well as three of my uncles.
Now we started out in the mail room and with that assignment then you covered all the different factory areas and office areas, so I got to know all of the facilities very well, and then went on into GMI and assignments with that, where you had to work within different aspects or divisions of the company, then when I went on into mechanical engineering I already had a good basis for how to move through the factory and what the different work segments like accounting or sales or how they would all interact, and such that made it a little bit easier to adjust to get into those kind of careers. I thought it really worked out very well for me, with my early start, I was actually able to retire at a fairly early age.
Carol Jackson: Yeah, any complaints about that time at all?
Louis Eckert: I remember when we had a Delco strike, and my father was off work for that time frame. I remember crossing picket lines when I was working because of some of the strikes that were going. Now, none of those were more than a day or two while I was working, but still you had the aspect of just how unions and management interacted with each other and how that friction sometimes would carry over into the job and negatively impact the product.
And I found that General Motors or Delco, at the time that I started General Motors was extremely powerful, as time went we saw where labor relations and the union aspect and then foreign development and competition impacted it in a negative format, that aspect essentially led to the deterioration of Delco and General Motors as a whole. So I’m very disappointed that General Motors has gotten so weak, I no longer feel like General Motors is an American company, I feel like it’s essentially an Italian company now. I’m glad to see things beginning to bounce back, I think we’re in a good direction now, I think the city council and I think the mayor is moving things in a good direction, but we certainly went through a very deep period there, and I think the time when NCR left was the bottom.
The good interaction between the education areas and Wright Patt is really helping to bring a rebirth of some of the industry in the area. I think Dayton History and Carillon Park has good thing or aspect for me to look at things as a broader picture. As a volunteer at the park we speak to a lot of people from all over the world and all over the U.S. Some other cities have rebounded a little faster than Dayton in how they’ve responded from the loss of manufacturing and moved on, and I think Dayton is moving in that right direction now.
This interview was edited by Community Voices producer Dave Barber. Senior Voices is a collaboration between the Dayton Metro Library, Rebuilding Together Dayton, and WYSO. This series is made possible through the generous support of the Del Mar Healthcare Fund of the Dayton Foundation.