AVON LAKE — It will forever be known as job #6286.
That is the in-house identification for the last of more than 8 million Econoline vans built by Ford Motor Co. since 1961 in Lorain County.
The final van rolled off the line at the Ohio Assembly Plant at 9:36 p.m. Friday, said Sheffield Mayor John Hunter, a longtime Ford worker and former president of Local 2000 of the United Auto Workers.
“I was there to build the first ones and I was back there to see the last one being built,” Hunter said late Friday night by phone inside the plant.
Asked what the mood was like inside the plant as the life of the Econoline vans ended after 53 years, Hunter said, “Everybody was excited to see history made. It was the longest-running continual vehicle in Ford history.”
But he also said workers are looking forward to the $168 million retooling that will take place to make the plant ready to begin turning out the Ford F-650 and F-750 medium-duty trucks, which are being brought to Avon Lake from Mexico.
The plant will continue to build the E-Series cutaway and stripped chassis at the plant. Production of the F-650 and F-750 trucks is expected to start in 2015, according to a statement issued Friday night by Ford spokeswoman Kristina Adamski.
“After 53 years and more than 8 million units of production, and 35 years as America’s best-selling van, the last Ford E-Series van rolled off the line today at Ohio Assembly Plant as Ford transitions to the all-new 2015 Ford Transit,” which will be produced in Kansas City, the statement said.
Jerry Donovan, a retired Ford worker who served in a variety of leadership roles in United Auto Workers Local 2000, said he was saddened by the end of Econoline van production.
“This is it, an era finished today,” Donovan said Friday night. “It’s sad, but all things come to an end. Hopefully things can go on.”
It was only three years after Ford Assembly opened in Lorain that workers started making the E-Series vans, which soon became the backbone of the Lorain County’s Ford plants.
The Lorain Assembly Plant opened in 1958, and in 1961 the plant started producing the Econoline.
When the Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake opened in 1973, workers there started aiding in the production of the vans, which were selling well.
Despite declining sales of other Ford models leading to the closure of Lorain Assembly in 2005, the Econoline stayed popular, even increasing in sales that year. As a result, when Lorain Assembly shut down, production of the Econoline vans shifted entirely to the Ohio Assembly Plant.
The following years marked the beginning of the end for the Econoline. Its sales started decreasing in 2008 and in 2010, it was announced that the van would be made through 2015, although the company later announced the end of the Econoline vans would come this year.
Donovan worked at the plant during the years it also produced the Nissan Quest and Mercury Villager vans.
Donovan, who retired a few years ago, spent 41 years with Ford, both at the Ohio Assembly Plant and the old Lorain Ford Plant.
“We knew it was going away a few years ago,” Donovan said of the Econoline.
Both Donovan and Hunter began working at the former Lorain Ford Plant in 1960.
“You could say the Econoline kept Ford going in the early 1980s during tough times,” Donovan said. “It was a mainstay for Ford for many years.”
Hunter recalled the body shop for the Econoline vans shifted from Lorain to the Ohio Assembly Plant, formerly known as the Ohio Truck Plant, in the 1970s.
“That’s when they changed production of the Econoline to the way it looks today,” Hunter said.
The UAW Local 2000 Facebook page Friday posted several photos of the Econoline’s evolution in design over the caption: “We built the Van that Helped Build America: Ford E-Series 1961-2014.”
One worker wrote “So sad to see the vans leave. I think Ford is making a big mistake.”
A handful of workers drifted out of the massive plant headed to cars and trucks in the Miller Road parking lot between 8:30 and 10 p.m. Friday, but those asked for comment declined to speak.
Donovan indicated the F-650 and F-750 lines would employ significantly fewer workers, but Hunter said Friday night that the new truck lines would employ 1,500 to 1,700 after a change-over of production lines.
In January of this year, Ford announced plans to lay off more than 900 Ohio Assembly workers, but a subsequent plan between Ford and the UAW wound up saving the jobs of 1,408 out of 1,605 employees.
Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka said city officials still don’t know exactly how many workers will remain at the plant. He said his understanding is that the plant is shutting down for two weeks followed by three weeks of retooling to get it ready to accommodate the trucks that will be built there.
Zilka said he’s been told that some workers are being offered jobs at other plants, including Ford’s engine plant in Brook Park. Other workers are moving to Ford plants out of state.
Those who remain will work on rotating cycles of two weeks on, two weeks off, he said.
He also said the reduced staffing levels are expected to last at least into 2015. Zilka said that if the new lines do well, Ford will likely bring back additional workers to accommodate production.
The loss of the Econoline will mean a reduction in staffing at the plant, which will impact the city’s bottom line because of a reduction in income tax money flowing into the city’s coffers. Zilka said it’s still too early to tell how significant a dent that will make in the city’s finances.
Because the city didn’t know about the layoffs until after it had planned its 2014 budget, Zilka said officials hadn’t planned on having to deal with reduced revenue this year. He said he’s hopeful the city has done well enough in the first half of the year to absorb the reduced income tax revenue in the remaining months of 2014.
Zilka said the city has always enjoyed a good working relationship with Ford, and that the Econoline has been good for the company over the years.
“It’s been an incredibly profitable and an incredibly popular product for them,” he said.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7147 or email@example.com.
Reporters Anna Merriman and Brad Dicken contributed to this story.