Last week, Jim Stoufer went to the Walmart in Liberty at 1 a.m.
He had just gotten off his shift at the Ford Motor Co.’s Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo. The plant had closed for the week for its annual summer maintenance, and local businesses were feeling the effect.
“The lady said, ‘Ford must be shut down because we’re dead in here,’” he said.
Stoufer wasn’t surprised. He’s been a Ford employee for 38 years. He’s also the longtime mayor of Claycomo (or technically, the "Chairman of the Board").
Ford and Claycomo have been inextricably linked for over 60 years. The Village of Claycomo — as it’s officially known — was incorporated in 1946. Ford opened a plant there in 1951 to build bomber wings.
Located by Worlds of Fun, at the crossroads of interstates 435 and 35, Claycomo is a small town with around 1,400 residents. U.S. Highway 69 is its main thoroughfare; it’s a four-lane road that goes by the fire station, City Hall, the library and the Ford plant, along with other businesses.
It’s a divider, said Stoufer; most people live a few blocks north or south of the highway. And some of the streets are named after poets — Whittier, Lowell, Eugene Field Road. (The man who started the town liked poetry).
“It’s a nice quiet place to live and raise a family,” he said.
Ford, which employs around 8,000, is a big force in town. According to Stoufer, there are two basic big shifts, with workers clocking in and out early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Trucks also travel in and out of the plant non-stop, he said.
“Anytime you have that volume of people congregating in one area, they stop, get gas and food,” he said. “When you pull 8000 people out of the mix, you lose money.”
Lonnie Bush agrees. The Raytown resident has been working at Ford for 25 years.
“If you go to Liberty to Walmart or the Corner Café, everybody knows Ford coveralls. If we was to ever go on strike, those businesses would lose revenue,” she said.
While the atmosphere inside Ford is family-like, said Bush — it’s not unusual to see sisters, husbands and wives, fathers and daughters working there — she said that most people commute to Claycomo.
Dan Verbeck, a longtime local reporter (and former KCUR reporter) has spent a lot of time at the plant.
“A company town brings to mind old coal mine towns, where you’re beholden to the company and company store and everyone is always in debt,” he said. “Everyone to some degree (in Claycomo) has some connection to Ford.”
According to Stoufer, several Ford and GM retirees live in Claycomo. As a 30-year resident, he’s seen the population shift; an elderly generation is giving way to younger people moving in, along with some new faces over the past couple of years. They’re drawn to the small-town way of life, a low crime rate and great city services, he said.
Claycomo offers tax breaks to the plant, and in return, it’s able to sustain a full-time police force, a fire department and EMS services — which helps because Claycomo gets a lot of traffic due to its location.
“If you have 1,467 people in a rural area, you’d have a volunteer department and Barney Fife on duty,” he said. “We’re pretty fortunate here; it’s amazing the amount of drugs and illegal guns that come through here because of the highway.
“Ford is independent of us, but we work together for a common goal: To keep the plant operational.”
This is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.
We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them.