Friday, 19 August 2016

The Ford Trifecta

 The Henry Ford, Dearborn Michigan

19-21 August 2016

We spent a couple of days visiting the factory, the museum and the living museum.

The Ford Rogue Factory Tour

With some help from the technical magazines he read, Henry Ford worked on cars in his spare time. His first car was the Ford Quadricycle Runabout which he built in 1896 with the help of his like minded friends.

The Ford Quadricycle in Henry's shed. He had to knock a hole in the wall to get it out as it didn't fit through the door.

Henry’s vision was that he would make a car that everyone could afford that was robust and reliable.

After his first company failed he rebuilt his reputation with a race car. Henry won the ten mile race at Grosse Pointe, Michigan in the 1901 Ford Sweepstakes race car.

Henry's race car
Model T

In the beginning cars were made by craftsmen, a group of men would work on one part of the car and then move onto the next car.

When Henry Ford first started making his Model-T it took 24 hours to build and cost $875. He wanted to make a car that was available to the masses, so it had to be made more cheaply. He noticed two industries that were working on a production line – meat processors and the textile baling. This gave him an idea that instead of the people going to the car, let the car come to them. He used conveyer belts to move the production around the factory at the same speed. It was the first of it’s kind in the world and changed production forever. They could now roll a car off the production line every 54 minutes. The Model-T had come down in price to $260.

By 1919 there were 6.6 million cars registered in the USA, nearly half of those were Model T’s. By 1929 every state and the District of Columbia had implemented a gas tax to pay for improvement of the roads.

one of the later models that had colour

He would often have to employ 4 people for every one person he needed because they wouldn’t last. Working on the production line was hard work. So in 1914 he offered people more than double the normal wage - $5 a day. So when they thought of quitting, they usually didn’t. The other car manufacturers were not happy that Ford’s employees were being paid more than theirs. The extra wages helped those people afford to buy the car they made. The extra wages came with a codicil – Henry had departments that would make sure you had assimilated to the American way of life and had learned English, if not, you didn’t get the extra pay. Thousands of people came from all over the country and world to apply for a job. He employed people for the person they were, not what their history was and he employed all races without prejudice. Detroit is one of the few cities that has enclaves of different nationalities and you can get any type of food in the world there.

Not only did Firestone Tires benefit from Ford as they were put on every car they sold, they used their production system to make their tyres more profitable too.

He managed to buy some land in Detroit not far from home that was on swamp land that was very cheap.

From the observation deck, this is the roof of the factory

There was a huge uproar when his workers wanted to join a union. Henry Ford’s opinion was that he had looked after his workers and couldn’t understand why he had to give them more. He was actually talking of shutting down the business but his wife said that if he ruined the family business, she would leave him. He backed down and the workforce was able to join the unions.

Henry didn’t want to be dependent on any other suppliers, so he had all the raw materials delivered to his factory and everything was made from scratch.

The Factory Tour

A bus takes you 20 minutes away to the factory. There are 6 sections to this tour. The first section is short movie on the history of the Ford Motor Company. The second was a hi-tech video on the making of the F-150 made by the production company that makes Disney films. There were 7 screens around the room, music that made the floor vibrate but it didn’t hurt your ears. It was pretty captivating.

The third section led you to an observation area so that you could read about their eco practices. They used to have the largest green roof in industry. They are happy that they have slipped down the list as this means more companies are using this innovative technology to make the workplaces cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

The fourth section was what we had come for. They make the F-150 here. Our F-250 is made down in Kentucky. Unfortunately owning a Ford didn’t get us free parking. We were able to see a number of the items being fitted or put together – windscreens, back windows, headlining, sunroofs, doors being assembled, tailgates fitted, and the robots doing the final check. You don’t get to see the seats or the engine being installed.

The fifth section was a display of the historic vehicles. The highlights were the Thunderbird and the Mustang. The sixth was to do with the green roof but we skipped this.

Henry Ford Museum

This museum has many areas, a number of them had something to do with the Ford Company; while others obviously meant something to Henry. 

All the models are here

Henry had three companies. The first one failed after three years. The second the Henry Ford Company, failed after three months due to a dispute between him and his financiers. Henry then produced a race car to attract attention and publicity. He then started the Ford Motor Company, which still survives today.

Henry's first building for the third company


As you would expect there is an incredible range of vintage and cars through the ages. They have a Model T that they take apart each day and let visitors put back together. So I got to screw on a front fender.

Building a Model T

Anything with an engine

Henry Ford also made airplanes, trucks, farm machinery such as tractors, sponsored people to travel to the north and south poles.

Ford Tractor

Automobile clubs started for drivers to share tips and socialize. In 1902 a number of clubs joined together and formed the AAA.

The 1901 Columbia was an electric car that looked like a carriage – it only had a 20-30 mile range between charges.

Traffic Signals

Illuminated traffic signals started out with only red and green. A Detroit traffic officer William Potts added amber to warn motorists when the signals were about the change. This became standard by the 1930’s.


Henry Ford’s air division never turned a profit, losing over $5.5m. It was only in operation between 1925-1932. Henry stopped producing small planes when his favourite test pilot Harry Brooks was killed in a Flivver crash. Henry patented the “radio range beacon” which was installed in airports so that pilots didn’t have to delay their flights because of bad weather.

Greenfield Village

We spent about 5½ hours at this living museum and were exhausted by the end of it.

This must have been the science lab at the school but used to be Edison's Lab
Henry built a school on the land given to him by his in-laws which became Greenfield Village. He wanted his students to have a hands-on approach. I think it was started in the 30’s and the last student graduated in the 50’s but the school didn’t actually close down until 1969. They have just reopened schooling for years 9-12 again.

The actual bicycle shop, Henry just bought things and had them transported.
The Wright Brother’s original bicycle shop where they built their planes and their house. We watched a short play between Orville, Wilbur and Catherine their sister, which was excellent and just added to what we have learned about these brothers.

The Wright Brothers re-enactment
Another play we watched were some slaves at a plantation house, which was also very good.

Visitors can ride one of the villages steam engine trains. Each train is in service for two weeks and then put back in the shed via a hand propelled turntable. It is then serviced and one of the other three trains is put in it’s place.

One of the three steam trains
Other modes of transport you can take are a horse drawn bus/carriage. Many Model-T’s and a few other models.

The Model T

The 1931 Bugatti it was $43,000 in it's day - not all the cars here are Fords
The Jeep

In the Liberty Craftworks section is a printing office where they show you how a printing press works, tin shop where he made up a duck biscuit/cookie cutter out of tin. A carding mill which had particular interest to me as my grandfather used to make blankets, so they probably had a few of these at the mill – certainly a lot quicker than using thistles or carding paddles. Plus a lot more which I won’t bore you with.

The light bulb from Thomas Edison. He never did anything by accident, it came from hard work. His goal was to create a major invention every six months and a minor one every ten days.
The amazing thing is that a lot of these buildings and items (there are a lot of machines here) were purchased when the owners were alive and they were able to come and see what Henry did with their workshop (Edison) or house.

One of the first Airstream campers, with the advent of campers, motels, diners and tourism sprung up
We have never met any Australians on our travels over here in the past four years. This year we have met four couples from Oz and also a number of people who have been to our country and love it. At the campground here near Detroit, we were invited to drinks with three couples who are travelling together. One of which has Australian friends that they visit on a regular basis. It was very amusing to hear them come out with the Australian sayings and talk about our country from an outsider’s point of view. 


Wayne County RV Park and Fairgrounds, Belleville, MI

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