DEARBORN - When Willie Fulton started working for Ford, the company was only fifty years old. The company is now 108 years old and Fulton continues to work as if it were his first day at Dearborn Foundry.
"I came here on a Saturday (to apply for work). In fact, Ford had an ad in the paper because people didn't want to work. I read that ad in the paper and I came down to Gate 2 and that's where I filled out my application. I came back Wednesday morning and they put me to work that same day."
Fulton's first assignment was as a machine operator. His hourly wage: $1.58.
July 15 was his 58th anniversary with the company.
"It means quite a bit. I didn't think I was going to be here this long. At my age my health is good. I think 'wow, I'm 79 years old' I'll be eighty next year," he said.
"I'm in good shape. When your body is used to getting up and moving around it is better because a lot of guys retire and after six months they say they made a mistake because they retired and have nothing to do. Once your body goes down you can't bring it back."
Fulton, a native of Artesia, Miss., is a member of the 242-243 line at Dearborn Stamping Plant. That line produces Rear Crew Doors for the F-150.
Fulton plays a key role on the team, as he's responsible for inspecting the doors for defects before they are prepared for shipment to Kansas City Assembly Plant.
"I'm at the back of the line. I inspect the rear doors. If I see something that doesn't look good to me, I put it aside and call people to come over and look at it."
Fulton began at Dearborn Stamping Plant on March 1, 1982 after spending his previous years at Dearborn Foundry and Michigan Casting Center in Flat Rock.
His favorite Ford product is the Crown Victoria LTD, which is different from what most people would say, but that captures the kind of person Fulton is. A laid back, easy-going man, he is father of seven grown children ranging from 40 to 56, twelve grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
He spends his time away from work talking to them on the phone and visiting with them. He also took up golf three years ago after a set of golf clubs was his gift for his 55th anniversary with the company.
"I go out to eat a lot. I do a lot of activities at my church," he said. "I have a lot of (model) antique cars that I put together for the kids. They're mostly Fords but I have a couple of Corvettes because my grandson had me put them together for him. I keep them at my house because he said they'll get torn up at his house."
Currently, Fulton owns and drives a Lincoln MKZ and he really enjoys it.
"They've improved the quality in that car," he said. "That car has the best quality a Lincoln has ever had."
While Fulton does not have the most seniority among all employees at Ford, he ranks highest among non-skilled employees. And the unassuming man doesn't make a big deal out of it, simply saying "That's what I was told by Mr. Mark Fields."
In his time with the company, Fulton has worked on producing parts for many automobiles including Mustangs, Escorts and Focuses.
"You know, that's a good question," he said when asked about how long he plans to work. "I've thought about it. If I see that I'm getting in bad health then I'm going to retire. Right now I'm feeling good, I'm not on any medication. I'm feeling pretty good for my age."
"Ford has done an excellent job maintaining the company. What they did that I liked is when they didn't borrow that government money. We gave up concessions but they didn't have to borrow from the government."
"When I came to Ford, everything they used was built right here at the Rouge. There was a Laundromat to wash the peoples' clothes."
Fulton tries to pass on lessons to the younger people working at the plant but it all comes down to basics with him.
"When they come and ask me a question I try to tell them the best way to do it. If I don't know how to do it I go to the next person that would know."
"The hard work is gone. When I came to work there was no automation, it was manpower. Now there are a lot of machines. But your eyes need to pick up small details that the machines might not."
"I learned a lot by working at Ford," he said. "This is the main brain right here in Dearborn."