The ubiquitous Ford F-150, arguably the state’s most popular vehicle and certainly the country’s best-selling pickup, operates because of a key component produced in an eastern Oklahoma town with origins tied to French fur traders.
Sallisaw’s SLPT Global makes oil pumps for F-150s, Jaguars and Land Rovers, says Chris Thomas, the company’s human resources director. The plant, originally opened by BorgWarner in 1974, should also begin making an innovative oil pump for reconfigured Jeep vehicles this year.
“Jeep is designing a new engine around our new pump, which allows it to keep running at an angle, or even inverted, with a secondary solenoid,” he says.
Thomas is matter-of-fact about 250 Sallisaw workers producing an essential element for some of the mostly widely seen vehicles on the road.
“The plant has been around for many years, so we have workers long-established in the community,” he says. “We’re one of the top employers in town.
“But we have a lot of hometown pride in knowing that any oil pump in the F-150 is ours.”
A creek running through the area was called Salaiseau in the 1600s and 1700s by Frenchmen who preserved slain bison with salaison (salt provisions). Over time, it became anglicanized into Sallisaw.
In a sense, SLPT continues the international commerce begun by those fur traders. The Sallisaw facility has sister factories in Rochester Hills, Michigan; Birmingham, England; and Ningbo and Huzhou, China.
“We have fluid interaction with all the plants,” Thomas says. “We hosted holiday parties and people from those plants came. But to those outside Sallisaw, it’s kind of a shock to know what and how much we do.”
Since bicoastal Interstate 40 bisects Sallisaw, the town sometimes is a way station for national and international drivers. Katie Napier, owner of the Oasis Coffee House in the old Palace Drug Store, says she’s had customers from Europe and Australia “and they were the neatest people I’ve met so far.”
Napier says her place, in Sallisaw for a year, has its own vibe, just as more established places, like Ruger’s Grill, the Blue Ribbon Diner and Aroma’s Coffee Shop have theirs. Oasis, akin to big city coffee shops, doesn’t have a “typical rural, western farming atmosphere. High schoolers, young business professionals and working moms come here.”
The irony is that Napier, with a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Oklahoma State University, “grew up doing FFA and riding horses. I knew I didn’t want to do an office job.”
She says her husband, Judd, a Hawaii native who (more irony) competed and worked in rodeos, “fits right in to Sallisaw. He loves it.”
Thanks, but No Thanks
The Joad family, central to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, is from Sallisaw. The author knew the seat of Sequoyah County wasn’t on the Mother Road (Route 66) and wasn’t ruined by the Dust Bowl, but he liked the sibilance of the town’s name. Still, Steinbeck’s dry, dusty, dreary depiction of Sallisaw falsely remains in many people’s minds.
Spanish, Not French
Sallisaw High doesn’t offer French, but Spanish teacher Lisa Hawkins reminds her students that sal means salt and the town’s link to salt deposits. Her classes often focus on cultural appreciation; she shows how many Spanish speakers in Central and South America converse in native languages, too, just as students from the nearby community of Marble City speak Cherokee and English interchangeably.