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Flashback: The Last Days of the Oklahoma City Wonder Bread Bakery

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The Wonder Bread bakery is shown in this 1998 photo shortly before it torn down to make way for the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Wonder Bread bakery is shown in this 1998 photo shortly before it torn down to make way for the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The emails and calls came, as expected. Where, they asked, was the Wonder Bread/Hostess bakery downtown? The truth was it disappeared long, long ago – though the union turmoil that led to the collapse of the company today was clearly evident when the Oklahoma City operation shut down in 1986. The plant itself stood empty for a dozen years until it was razed in 1998 to make way for the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Here’s the story that was done on the closing:

Wonder Bread’s City Bakery Closes Down After 75 Years

By Tim Chavez

Saturday, February 8, 1986

Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS

 

Raltson Purina Co. Inc. closed the Wonder Bread Bakery in Oklahoma City on Friday after 75 years of operations, scattering the 160 workers here toward different futures.

“I’m getting out of the baking business,” said Greg Coats, a shipping worker with nine years at the bakery.

“It’s all going down,” he said.

The bakery operated under Continental Baking Co., a Ralston Purina subsidiary. Of the 160 workers affected by the closing, 61 have been offered jobs at other bakeries, said Patrick Farrell, manager of corporate information for Ralston Purina.

The company will help in the relocation, Farrell said. The company has not determined what it will do with the bakery, which made bread, buns, muffins and pies.

The city plant was closed as part of the company’s program to get optimum use from its assets, it said.

Some of the workers will have to scramble quickly to begin their new futures.

Earl Rester, a 20-year worker in the bread shop, has accepted a position in Tulsa. As he completed his last shift here Friday afternoon, Rester said he had to be in Tulsa by Sunday to begin work there.

He has rented an apartment in Tulsa and will move his family later.

Others left Friday so they could report to work today in Dallas, said Norman Booze, an 18-year Wonder worker in the bread shop.

He is one of the fortunate ones.

“I’m going to be manager of the Thrift Store,” said Booze, pointing across the street to the retail shop just south of the plant.

Wonder’s other thrift store in Moore also will remain open.

Booze, Rester and others interviewed Friday say everyone was caught by surprise at the announcement one month ago that the bakery would be closed.

“I heard it on television,” Rester said.

One factor that has led some workers to turn down a transfer offer is that the new jobs are not full-time, said Danny Cranfield, a 12-year shipping worker at the plant.

“I can’t transfer for that,” he said.

Some Wonder workers have already gone to a local dairy to look for employment, Cranfield said. But wages there would be for only $4 to $5 an hour, he said.

Shippers were receiving about $10 an hour.

Delmer Boone, an 11-year sanitation worker at the bakery, said he hopes to stay in this industry. Before joining Wonder, he worked four years for the Rainbo Baking Co. When the Rainbo bakery at 1920 N Broadway starts a third shift, he hopes to be part of it, Boone said.

About 100 of the Wonder workers were represented by Local 173 of the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers union. Another 20 drivers and two mechanics were represented by Local 886 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The remainder were represented by Local 850 of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Coats said the closing was part of Ralston Purina’s attempt to break the union.

However, a spokeswoman for the local bakery workers union said the only people making union-breaking comments are the media.

She said workers were not bitter over the transfer situation and non-full-time status, because they understand that such things are based on seniority.

If the situation were reversed and a bakery were closed in Dallas or Tulsa, workers here would not allow those affected elsewhere to come here, jump ahead on the seniority list and take full-time positions, she said.

Local workers will receive full-time positions in Tulsa and Dallas when the positions open, she said.

About 40 of the 100 workers represented by the bakers’ union have 20 or more years experience with Wonder.

 

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Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's... Read more ›

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