Ford Richmond Assembly Plant - Re-Conversion Planning

When production at the Richmond Tank Depot began to decline in the summer of 1944, after the production peaks of May and June, the Ford Motor Company managers at the Richmond branch began turning their attention again to assembling automobiles for the civilian market. In his third quarter 1944 report, Maj. Delbert Ball, commanding officer of the depot, reported observing that Ford employees had begun rearranging conveyor lines and stock, evidence to Ball that they were beginning to prepare for reconversion to civilian production. He reported that Ford officials had assured him that they were committed to the war effort as long the other automobile manufacturers were, but Ford hoped to be the first to return to commercial production when the government lifted its restriction on making cars for the civilian market. Based on his assessment of the situation, he believed that the Richmond plant would be able to resume commercial production within sixty days. Ford did little more to prepare for reconversion until May 1945, when the level of Ordnance production again began to decline as the war drew to an end. Company officials met with officials of the San Francisco Ordnance District to propose that the Richmond Tank Depot be relocated to one of Kaiser's Richmond shipyards. Ford suggested that it could continue to serve as the contractor for the depot functions, but physically removing the depot operations from Ford premises would allow the company to resume civilian production. The main drawback to the proposal, from Ford's perspective, was that a shipyard would not be available until September. The idea was not acted upon.

Ford records show that by May 1945 Abbott was "anxious to get rid of the Jeep job" and reconvert the Richmond plant to civilian production. Max Wiesmyer, who was in charge of Ford's department of branch operations in Dearborn, sent a memo to G.A. Moss in the planning & scheduling department saying that Abbott reported an inventory of considerable jeep stock in Richmond and asking Moss to balance Richmond's supply of stock so that the jeep contract could be terminated soon.

Positive steps toward reconversion began to take place in June, when Ford developed plans to move all Ordnance activities from the second floor of the Richmond branch, clearing the way for the area to serve again as the body department for the production of civilian autos. Part of the plan involved moving Signal Corps facilities elsewhere. Ford also planned to move stock parts that were not in high demand to the Salt Lake City branch. It quickly became obvious, however, that the war against Japan would soon end, so moving the Signal Corps for such a short period seemed inefficient, and its equipment remained on the second floor for the duration of hostilities. In mid-September, Ford superintendent Abbott sent Captain Spiker a letter requesting that removal of the Signal Corps equipment from the second floor be expedited so that the company could proceed with reconversion. Abbott said Ford intended to resume assembling civilian autos on November 1st.

Ford received authorization on July 20th from the War Production Board to resume truck production at its Richmond, Chester, Chicago, and Somerville branch plants and began assembling civilian trucks at Richmond in August 1945, shortly after the last jeep rolled off the assembly line. It cost Ford about $11,000 in labor and materials to rearrange conveyors and other equipment in such a configuration that the Richmond plant could assembly Ford light trucks instead of jeeps. The first civilian truck rolled off the Richmond assembly line on August 29th. The company had hoped to begin assembling civilian autos by November 1st, but strikes by workers at some parts suppliers delayed automobile production at Richmond. Instead, Ford shipped some fully assembled new cars from Detroit, which began arriving at Richmond on October 26th. Richmond did not complete its first civilian automobile until December 6th.