In 1906, shortly after developing his first automobile, Henry Ford began collecting things. Weird bicycles including one for 16 people to ride, early automobiles developed by other inventors, electrical machinery and generators, a replica of the Wright brothers’ first plane, the chair Lincoln was shot in while sitting in the Ford Theater. It went on and on and in 1929 he secured and had moved to Dearborn, on the grounds of what came to be named Greenfield Village, Thomas Edison’s laboratory from Menlo Park, New Jersey.
The end result, after all these years and continuing long after Henry’s passing, is an amazing collection of machinery, automobiles, locomotives, aircraft and even Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House within The Henry Ford Museum. And outside, in a village based on a 19th century Midwestern farm community, is Edison’s Laboratory, Daniel Webster’s home, slave quarters, the Wright brother’s bicycle shop, Luther Burbank’s office, even the garage where Ford built his first Quadricycle.
But let’s give you a chance to see some of these wonders for yourself:
What had at least as much impact on us was a tour we took of part of Ford Motor’s River Rouge Automotive Plant. Unlike the other auto companies, Ford was initially a ‘vertically integrated’ company, meaning that everything that went into the automobile was made by Ford. So the River Rouge plant contained a steel mill, stamping facilities to shape fenders, doors and all the other parts of the car, a glass factory for windows—everything was built by Ford and finally assembled into a car at this particular facility.
Now things are different and not so vertically integrated. Like the other automotive companies, Ford buys its glass, its steel, its plastic parts, its nuts and bolts from other companies and even assembles cars all over the world. Reopened in 2003 after several years of reorganization and rebuilding, the River Rouge plant now is the site of Ford F150 truck assembly. This is usually the single most popular vehicle sold in America each year, and while this facility puts out 7,000 trucks a week, there are other assembly plants as well even for this single vehicle.
We so wish we could show you pictures of what we witnessed high above the assembly area from a balcony that circled the entire final assembly floor, but security was very tight and there was constant monitoring to make sure no one took pictures. This method of assembly is obviously one of Ford’s most valuable company secrets, so it was no surprise.
It was simply amazing to watch as each truck, on its own wooden platform, worked down and back across the floor, raising and lowering the truck so that workers could do their tasks as ergonomically as possible, fitting parts together until finally driven out under its own power for testing.
Watch the doors move down their own assembly line as all their mechanical and electrical parts are inserted before the handle on the outside and the upholstery on the inside are attached. Look at the way those dashboards go into each truck on a long robot arm and how workers push them into place. Did you see the way that robot just took the windshield off that rack and popped it into place perfectly? We hope you can somehow picture something of what we were witnessing as this massive ballet of machine and human came together beneath where we stood.
Our trip to the museum, Greenfield Village and the Rouge Plant were just about the last things we did in the Detroit before leaving and heading southwest. From there we drove three days to Santa Fe where we had five days of putting things into storage, making sure our house there was in good shape, and enjoying our friends and Margeaux and Joan’s casita and company. We then headed south almost to the Mexican border to dodge a big blizzard that went through and after two more days ended up with our dear friend Susan Meredith in Indian Wells, California in her lovely new home. Then we headed north to the Bay Area for almost two weeks with friends and family there, and finally drove south down the coast of California and finally across the border at Tijuana and once again into Mexico.