A visit to The Henry Ford Museum

Recently we had a trip to The Benson Ford archive to work on some documentation. One day it seemed like time to go for a walk through the museum. As a matter of fact it is always a great time for that. The Henry Ford Museum and the adjacent Greenfield Village complex and farm are one of the many great things that resulted from the genius and vision of Henry Ford and the industrial greatness that is typical of of Detroit. Let’s take a trip through the museum and see the exhibits this month.

This 1928 Ford Tri-Motor was used on the Robert Byrd Antarctic expedition which was financed by Edsel Ford and others. The three engines are Wright model R-1750 rated at 525 horsepower each. The aircraft was named in honor of Floyd Bennet, who lost his life to pneumonia while on his way to rescue three stranded explorers who had broken down with their Fokker Tri-Motor on a remote island in the northern seas just south of the Arctic. Bennet and another man were flying another Ford Tri – Motor when he succumbed to illness.

One of the most famous Ford automobiles of all time is on display near the entrance to the museum. It is the 1901 “Sweepstakes” car which carried Henry Ford to victory against Alexander Winton who was also driving a car of his own manufacture. Photos do not do justice to the car, it is quite large.

Another car which is famous for its performance is this 1903 Packard which was one of the first automobiles to make a trip from to the Atlantic ocean from the Pacific ocean under its own power. The car was driven by Tom Fetch, an exceptional man who made the trip in about two months which sounds like a long time today, but was remarkable in those times. More about the trip is here:

Tom Fetch and his transcontinental drive

Of course the Ford Model A is featured in a “Letter Car” exhibit. The Model A / AC was made during 1903 – 1904 and was quite a success for Ford Motor Company with about 1750 cars built in the two model years.

The Model B was Ford’s first four-cylinder car and the first to have the engine mounted up front in the European manner. Design difficulties delayed production of the Model B and, although conceived much earlier, it went on the market long after the two-cylinder Model C. Priced at $2,000, the Model B was the most expensive Ford yet, and sold poorly according to the text on the placard displayed in front of the car.

The Henry Ford owns at least two Model K Fords which were produced and sold from 1906 – 1909. None were on display, but a placard next to the other letter cars told the story.

Lovely little 1908 Model S runabout was displayed as part of the Letter Car exhibit. The Ford Model S was a composite of the Models N and R. The Model R had used the engine and chassis of the hot-selling Model N, but added running boards, a wider body, and larger wheels. When Ford ran out of Model R bodies and wheels the company put the new running boards on the Model N and called it the Model S. Model S sales were brisk with 3750 being built and sold during 1908 – 1909.

The Henry Ford owns examples of many brass era cars, not just Fords. This 1904 Packard was a very advanced American car for its day. It had a 20 horsepower four cylinder engine and the vehicle was relatively light at 1850 ponds. It had a sturdy three speed sliding gear transmission.

Inside the 1904 Packard Model L we see plenty of wood, leather, and brass trim. This was quite an expensive car with a list price of $3000. Packard sold 250 of them.

I didn’t write down the name of the car, but it was an enormous limousine made about 1910.

1914 Chevrolet “Royal Mail” roadster had 24 HP and three speed sliding gear transmission. It cost $750 or $860 if equipped with optional electric starter and lamps as this car has.

Looking much older than it really is, this 1914 International Harvester Model AW (Auto Wagon) truck had a simple two cylinder, 20 HP engine under the seat. These vehicles were made for muddy, deep rutted farm roads.

A 1914 Model T Ford was on display. This is not one of the reproduction “T100” cars that were built in 2001.

The upholstery in this car was nicer than any 1914 received when it was new!

A 1921 center door sedan has a lovely paint job, again nicer than anything Ford ever applied to a Model T when they were new.

This 1922 Model T “blow up” is fun to look at.

In 1908 George Robertson drove this car to victory in the Vanderbilt Cup, America’s first great automobile race. It marked the first time an American car had won a major international road race in the United States. Built at a cost of $20,000 (at a time when a decent house could be had for $1,500), the Locomobile set the fastest lap in the 1906 Vanderbilt Cup, but repeated tire failures resulted in a tenth place finish. There was no race in 1907, but in 1908, shod with improved tires and wearing race number 16, the thundering Locomobile swept to victory. It has been known forever after as “Old 16”. The car is typical of pre-World War I race cars: a huge engine (990 cu. in.); mechanical brakes on the rear wheels and the transmission only; and minimal bodywork. A riding mechanic kept fuel and lubricating oil flowing and helped the driver change tires. Engine: Locomobile inline 4-cylinder, overhead intake valves, side exhaust valves, 990 cu. in., 120 hp – description courtesy of The Henry Ford.

A 1915 “JB Rocket” cycle car built in Detroit Michigan by Scripps Booth. These guys built some of the weirdest and most wonderful cars during their company’s short existence. The leather belt drive used on earlier 1913 / 1914 models was not weatherproof so a chain drive was substituted, which was no doubt quite dangerous. Weight was 750 lbs. Wheelbase 100, tread 36″, top speed was 47 mph. These cars used a two speed planetary transmission. There is a drive chain on each side of the car, no differential was used.

Over in the trucks and tractors section of the museum we see a tractor built by Ford around 1905 using a left over Model B engine. Apparently it was successful enough that it also received a 1907 – 1908 Model K radiator at some point.

Photo of Henry Ford using the tractor on his farm.

Ford did not produce any tractors for sale until many years later when the Fordson began to be built around 1918.

Massive Avery Steam tractor was a common sight in the Midwestern United States prior to the introduction of cheaper alternatives by International, Waterloo, and Deering. All of these other tractors led Ford to introduce the Fordson tractor. Large steam tractors like the Avery continued to be used through the early 1930’s.

Early 1950’s Federal tractor mated to a similar vintage Freuhauf semi trailer. Rigs like this were commonly seen in the Midwestern and northern USA. Federal trucks were assembled in Michigan using mostly off the shelf parts. Federal went out of business in 1959 with the plant and its contents sold to a manufacturer in Turkey where Federal lookalikes were built for another ten years or so.

Common all over the North American continent for decades were the popular Ford C series COE (Cab Over Engine) heavy trucks of the 1960’s. This one is a restored Roadway box truck. Versions of this truck were also sold as semi – tractors, all with gas engine power.

At one end of the Henry Ford museum is an exhibit of the iconic Oscar Mayer weinermobile. In the background you can see one of the restaurants in the Henry Ford. They sell great hot dogs of course!

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