Joyce Dyer wrote a very personal story about her father and his life in Akron's rubber industry, but in so doing tells a tale that countless others-both inside and outside the industry-will relate to.
Ms. Dyer is author of ``Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town,'' a memoir published by the University of Akron Press. The story details the career of her father, Thomas W. Coyne, at Firestone's Xylos Rubber Co. reclaim unit.
Mr. Coyne's history was like that of many others who moved to Akron in the 1930s to work in the city's flourishing rubber industry. The Coynes came from the coal mines of West Virginia, Ms. Dyer said, and relocated to the city when her grandfather, W.T. Coyne-a gifted mathematician-was invited to join the company by Harvey Firestone.
Ms. Dyer's father joined Firestone in 1936 as a watchcase vulcanization press worker. During World War II, Firestone had him recalled from active military duty to serve as a ``soldier of protection,'' building truck tires for vehicles for the Allied forces.
Mr. Coyne hoped to be plant manager of Xylos, Ms. Dyer said. However, she's not sure if that really was her father's dream, or if he inherited the idea of being a ``company man'' from his father, who was a comptroller for the firm. ``His father had actually lived the life of Firestone my dad dreamed of living,'' Ms. Dyer said. ``My father always suffered that he never quite lived up.''
It became apparent in the early 1960s that Mr. Coyne never would become the Xylos plant manager after experiencing the first in a series of demotions, supposedly because he lacked a college education. He toiled in the reclaim factory until it was closed in 1972, the first of the major local Firestone factories to shut down.
Mr. Coyne, who died in 1990, saw earlier than most the fate that would befall Akron's rubber factories. He actually regained his membership in the United Rubber Workers-from his early days in the plant-so he could be ``laid off'' rather than ``fired.'' He even served a short stint on the URW staff to try to organize the salaried staff at Firestone, an effort that failed miserably. He finally went back to work for the company as a janitor before health problems forced his retirement. Mr. Coyne's message to all who held onto the notion the company would take care of them for life was: ``Don't be fooled.''
For Ms. Dyer, the project started as a simple local history of the two neighborhoods she grew up in, then evolved into the story of her father and his Firestone career. The book ultimately became a memoir that helped fill the many holes in his history and their relationship.
The author had lived in most ways the typical existence of the many children of Firestone workers who grew up in Firestone Park, the neighborhood built around the tire maker's Akron complex. The family banked at Firestone Bank; she learned to read at the statue of Harvey Firestone; and she attended Firestone Park School, where the lobby had six-foot high portraits of both Mr. Firestone and George Washington.
``Until I was in junior high school, I thought they were the co-founders of our country,'' Ms. Dyer said. ``My whole education was rubber. I thought air was black until I left town. That smell in the air was like perfume to me.''
But as she became an adult, she realized she'd been unaware of many things going on around her. She noticed her father dressed differently, seemed depressed at times and started taking his lunch to work. ``I never connected his depression and serious health problems to the demotions and disappointment with his job,'' Ms. Dyer said. ``Part of it may have been he was trying to protect me.''
As she did interviews and research for the book, she also searched for answers in her own life. ``By asking questions, I found out who I was as a daughter and a person,'' she said. ``I couldn't find my father without asking hard questions. There were too many gaps in his life.''
Ms. Dyer is quick to point out that ``Gum-Dipped'' is not meant as a corporate or local history, but as a memoir of one family's perspective. ``Ultimately, the way I see things is determined by my emotional vision, the way I ask questions and the kind of questions I ask,'' she said.
Yet she has heard from many who have read the book that it is a vision and a story they share. ``Even though it's the specific story of Tom Coyne, it's also a general story about industry and about fathers and sons and daughters,'' Ms. Dyer said.
And it's also a part of a bigger story about the changing of corporate America, which was-and still is-struggling to survive. ``One of the casualties was my father and people like him,'' she said.