The Parking Brake Lever

In my quest to find out the proper way to restore my 1910 touring there is only one place to find out all the answers. That place is the Benson Ford Archive at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

This past July I spent three days doing research at the Benson Ford, something I have been doing off and on for the past ten years. Every time I go to the archives there is some new discovery that makes me gasp with glee. There is always something new to learn. Normally I am sitting in the reading room with only one or two of the docents. It is a very quiet place. The history of the Model T is heard here, loud and clear.

One of the questions on my mind this time was the exact date that the finish changed on the parking brake lever and release handle. I knew that this set of parts was brass plated during 1909, and that the early 1910 cars continued to have it brass plated. My quest was to find out the exact dates of the change from brass plating to black enamel.

Each part has a Ford part number, and a “factory” number. The brake lever has two main components, one being the lever itself, the other being the release handle, called the Hand Brake Lever Pawl Lift Assy in Ford documentation. My particular 1910 Model T was very late,  having been shipped from the Highland Park plant in October 1910. We know this for sure due to two different sources of documentation at the Benson Ford. The first is the factory build sheet. Benson Ford has these documents stored on microfiche, a process of miniaturizing photo negatives that was popular from the 1940’s until the 1970’s. The original build sheets were destroyed years ago after the microfiche records were created.

The so – called “build sheets” are in fact a production inspection traveler checklist that was used on the shop floor to denote what parts were used and a tool for the inspector to ensure nothing was overlooked. The brands of many items were noted, such as the headlamps, carbide generator, speedometer, top, windshield and tires. The inspector would “grade” the paint finish, which always seems to rate only “fair”.

The second source of documentation are the Accounts Receivables Archive, known as Accession 623 to the docents. This is a hand written accounting ledger that documented every Model T that rolled out of the factory. It lists who each car was sold to, the car’s serial number, body style, date of sale, and price. My car was shipped to the Northwestern Motor Company on October 31, 1910. It went by rail to Minneapolis, Minnesota where presumably it sold very quickly. Northwestern Motor Company was one of the most successful Ford dealers in the nation. The record for this dealership has dozens of pages of entries.

Close up of an Accounts Receivables Ledger entry from November 17 – 22, 1911.

Towards the end of my three days of research I finally turned the pages of Northwest Motors entries in the Ford Motor Company ledgers. I found entries for August 1910. Several pages later I was in October 1910. I was getting close to the serial number and date of my particular car when suddenly I was looking at pages of January 1911 serial numbers. My heart sank, I was not going to find the record after all. I started leafing through the 1910 entries again and flipped a page to find serial numbers very close to mine, and dates in October 1910! As it turned out, the ledger must have come apart at some point and the pages were out of order. Upon finding the entry for my particular car I let out a squeal of delight that probably sounded like a school girl! I looked over at the docent, and she gave me a knowing look. It happens all the time around here.

Each part of the Model T Ford has a part drawing. Each part drawing is found on microfiche. Each part drawing has a separate document assigned to it that documents any change made to the part, the date of the change, and usually the engineer who specified the change. This “Record of Change” is found in Accension 575 which consists of dozens of boxes of microfiche slides. There is a clunky old microfiche reader from the 1980’s connected to a similar vintage printer. The docent trained me years ago how to load the reels of microfiche and how to operate the printer. You pay a certain fee per page to the museum, and sign a release form that basically gives usage instructions for the documents but assigns no liability to the Benson Ford, nor does it grant copy rights.

In the case of the brake release handle Factory Number T-879 “Hand Brake Pawl Lift” the record of changes is as follows:

Date                                    Text

12-13-07                           Adopted

6-21-10                             Changed material from brass plate and polish to coppered brass plate and polish (Howard)

12-23-10                          Changed the #3 drill hole to #2 drill, equals .221. (Howard)

2-17-11                               To be black enameled when assembled, instead of being coppered and brass plated and polished.                     (Diehl)

10-24-12                           Changed material from steelstamping #14 BWGa. – .083 to C R Steel Dead Soft, #14 BWGa. – .083, sheets to be 5″ X 72″, 12 sheets – 100 lbs. 54 lifts per sheet

4-22-13                           Changed material from CR Steel, dead soft #14 BWGa. – .083 to C R Steel, Cold pickling and annealed steel #16 BWGa. –   .065 which is material from which the Hood Supports are made. We have therefore added not specifying this piece is to be made from hood scrap.

9-12-13                           To be known in the future as T-1563 Hand Brake Pawl Lift Assy (Galamb)

In the case of the actual brake lever the date of change to stop brass plating and to start painting the parts black is the same, February 17 1911.

With that question settled, I now can state with authority that all brake levers, handles and attaching parts were brass plated from the first 1909 Model T until the date of February 17, 1911. There would have been hundreds of finished assemblies already made, so likely there would be a week or two of overlap where some brake handles were brass and others black.


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