Photos by Carolyn Allmacher
The Detroit Axle Plant is on 6700 Lynch Road in Detroit and Hamtramck, Michigan, near the Forest Lawn Cemetary and Coleman Young Airport, and opposite the old Plymouth plant. Built by Dodge Brothers in 1917 for World War I munitions, it was used by Graham Brothers for truck assembly starting in 1924. The plant was thus purchased as part of Dodge Brothers by Chrysler in 1928; truck production was moved to Hamtramck and the plant was converted to making axles, a role it would continue to fill into the next century.
The first photo shows Detroit Axle in 2008: perhaps somewhat neglected, but still proudly showing its identity, with an intact “Wall of Honor” celebrating plant veterans out front. The second photo shows the plant as it stood in 2011: with its name painted out, the wall of honor stripped, and the word “Chrysler” painted out wherever it appeared on any signage, but a new coat of paint on the walls, presumably to help it sell to a new owner.
Detroit Axle was expanded numerous times from 1956 onwards. In 1998, Detroit Axle had 1,800 employees who
produced 3,400 rear-wheel drive axles per day (to increase to 4,000 by 1999; Chrysler wrote that “The $300 million modernization project is part of Chrysler's $1.3
billion investment in facilities throughout Detroit.”) The plant later made differentials and independent front suspensions.
The final expansion occuring in 2001, resulting in a 1.2 million square foot facility on 48 acres of land. In 2009, it made front and rear drive axles for the Dakota, Ram, Grand Cherokee, and Commander; differentials for the LX cars; and trailing axles for minivans. It also made Durango/Aspen axles until the pair was dropped.
The plant was represented by the UAW locals 961, 889, and 412, with 643 hourly workers, 100 salaried workers. The plant was switched to team-based manufacturing with positive effects on quality. Fred Goedtel used Detroit Axle as an example of how team-based manufacturing worked; when people had problems installing a harness; the team leader called the supplier, had them come see the problem, and told the supplier how to change the harness to make it easier to put in without damage and in less time. The problem was fixed in two days. Fred Goedtel said that problem would have taken quite a bit of paperwork and time to fix using traditional methods, and could have gone on for weeks or months.
The plant borders Mt. Elliott Street, which lent its name to a tool and die plant, and Mound Road, which once hosted Plymouth’s engine plant; it is across the street from the old and similarly unused Lynch Road Plant (Detroit Chassis).
The plant was closed in 2010. Chrylser quietly started demolishing it around March 2012, fencing off the property and taking out the inside first. Their plans for the site remain unknown. The company has switched production to a new, far-off plant in Marysville, Ohio.
Also see... Factory photos: 2009 Dodge Ram - 1995 Neon - Chrysler LeBaron Convertible - Newark Assembly Plant
Working at the plant: Dave Tyjeski (2009), Bill Wetherholt (2009), Matt Wetherholt (2009), Views (2002), Teamwork (1998)
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