We are a long way from Detroit, however there is a surprisingly long history of automobile manufacturing here in the East Bay beginning in 1916 with a Chevrolet assembly factory located on E. 14th Street on the Oakland/San Leandro border. The Ford Motor Company followed by building a huge manufacturing plant in Richmond in the 1920’s that later relocated to Milpitas in 1955. San Leandro was also the site of a Chrysler/Dodge Manufacturing Company facility that assembled Plymouth automobiles beginning in the late 1940’s. Thousands of cars can still be found daily at these locations except that they now occupy the parking lots of the Durant Marketplace in Oakland and at Milpitas’s Great Mall, both former assembly plants. The Ford and Dodge plants closed permanently while the Chevy plant moved to Fremont and continued producing General Motors vehicles until joining with Japan and forming the New United Motors Inc. (NUMI) producing Toyota vehicles up until 2010. Sandy, Clint and I live just a couple of miles from the former NUMI plant to what is now the burgeoning Tesla automobile assembly plant and it’s 20,000 plus employees. It’s perfectly normal to see hundreds of electric Teslas on Fremont city streets, stored in mass in parking lots awaiting shipment, or heading to distant dealerships on car carriers and in special railroad cars. While Elon Musk struggles to make delivery quotas to satisfy stock holders, there’s not a shortage of Tesla’s in our neighborhood as dozens of popular Tesla’s sit in driveways or in front of houses or at charging stations in local retail centers. I wish that my father was still here to see these impressive battery-operated cars. His 50-year career as a machinist was building diesel engines for Caterpillar tractors and he also loved working on cars. It seemed like we always had a car project in process in our Castro Valley backyard. He could disassemble an automobile engine, refurbish or buy new parts at Comet Auto Supply on A Street in Hayward, and then reassemble it for another 10,000 miles. My occasional “job” of helping out was usually to hand him wrenches and to wash parts in buckets of gasoline. Dad only bought one new car in his lifetime, a shiny 1940 blue Buick that he loved. All the other dozens of cars that he had through the years were used (now identified as “previous owner”) and that he was able to keep in running condition for years. I can remember never traveling anywhere without his trusty tool box in the trunk in case of roadside troubles. I’m sure that if he were still around dad would love to get his hands on a Tesla to see what makes it tick, or at the very least, tour Fremont’s Tesla plant and marvel at the incredible advanced technology of near driverless cars. East Bay automobile manufacturing is still a viable industry that has evolved since 1916 and in the 60 years since dad would take me to Cull Canyon for driving lessons in the old blue Buick.
The United Church of Hayward has evolved as well during those 60 years and as we make the tough decisions about our own East Bay legacy. Once again, we are reminded to remember and celebrate the past, savor the wonders of the present, and embrace the challenges of the future. -Bill