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Henry Ford’s Own Story

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Henry Ford’s Own Story
Chapter III

Return to Henry Ford’s Own Story
Return to Henry Ford’s Own Story - Chapter II - MENDING A WATCH

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WHEN Mary Ford died the heart of the home went with her. "The house was like a watch without a mainspring," her son says. William Ford did his best, but it must have been a pa thetic attempt, that effort of the big, hardworking farmer to take a mother s place to the four chil dren.

For a time a married aunt came in and man aged the household, but she was needed in her own home and soon went back to it. Then Mar garet, Henry s youngest sister, took charge, and tried to keep the house in order and superintend the work of "hired girls" older than herself. She was "capable" that good New England word so much more expressive than "efficient" -but no one could take Mary Ford s place in that home.

There was now nothing to hold Henry on the farm. He had learned how to do the farm work, and the little attraction it had had for him was gone; thereafter every task was merely a repetition. His father did not need his help; there were always the hired men. I suppose any need William Ford may have felt for the companion ship of his second son was unexpressed. In matters of emotion the family is not demonstrative.

The boy had exhausted the possibilities of the farm shop. His last work in it was the building of a small steam-engine. For this, helped partly by pictures, partly by his boyish ingenuity, he made his own patterns, his own castings, did his own machine work.

His material was bits of old iron, pieces of wagon tires, stray teeth from harrows anything and everything from the scrap pile in the shop which he could utilize in any imaginable way. When the engine was finished Henry mounted it on an improvised chassis which he had cut down from an old farm wagon, attached it by a direct drive to a wheel on one side, something like a locomotive connecting-rod, and capped the whole with a whistle which could be heard for miles.

When he had completed the job he looked at the result with some natural pride. Sitting at the throttle, tooting the ear-splitting whistle, he charged up and down the meadow lot at nearly ten miles an hour, frightening every cow on the place. But after all his work, for some reason the engine did not please him long. Possibly the lack of enthusiasm with which it was received disappointed him.

In the technical journals which he read eagerly during his sixteenth winter, he learned about the big iron works of Detroit, saw pictures of ma chines he longed to handle.

Early the next spring, when the snow had melted, and every breeze that blew across the fields was an invitation to begin something new, Henry started to school as usual one morning, and did not return.

Detroit is only a few miles from Greenfield. Henry made the journey on the train that morn ing, and while his family supposed him at school and the teacher was marking a matter-of-fact "absent" after his name, he had already set about his independent career.

He had made several trips to Detroit in the past, but this time the city looked very different to him. It had worn a holiday appearance be fore, but now it seemed stern and busy a little too busy, perhaps, to waste much attention on a country boy of sixteen looking for a job.

Nevertheless, he whistled cheerfully enough to himself, and started briskly through the crowds. He knew what he wanted, and he was going straight for it.

"I always knew I would get what I went after," he says. "I don t recall having any very great doubts or fears."

At that time the shop of James Flower and Company, manufacturers of steam engines and steam engine appliances, was one of Detroit s largest factories. Over one hundred men were employed there, and their output was one to be pointed to with pride by boastful citizens.

Henry Ford s nerves, healthy and steady as they were, tingled with excitement when he en tered the place. He had read of it, and had even seen a picture of it, but now he beheld for him self its size and the great number of machines and men. This was something big, he said to himself.

After a moment he asked a man working near where he could find the foreman.

"Over there the big fellow in the red shirt," the man replied. Henry hurried over and asked for a job.

The foreman looked at him and saw a slight, wiry country boy who wanted work. There was nothing remarkable about him, one supposes. The foreman did not perceive immediately, after one look into his steady eye, that this was no ordinary lad, as foremen so frequently do in fic tion. Instead, he looked Henry over, asked him a question or two, remembered that a big order had just corne in and he was short of hands.

"Well, come to work to-morrow. I ll see what you can do," he said. "Pay you two and a half a week."

"All right, sir," Henry responded promptly, but the foreman had already turned his back and forgotten him. Henry, almost doubtful of his good fortune, hurried away before the foreman should change his mind.

Outside in the sunshine he pushed his cap on the back of his head, thrust his hands deep into his pockets, jingling the silver in one of them, and walked down the street, whistling. The world looked like a good place to him. No more farm ing for Henry Ford. He was a machinist now, with a job in the James Flower shops.

Before him there unrolled a bright future. He was ambitious; he did not intend always to re main a mechanic. One day when he had learned all there was to know about the making of steam engines, he intended to drive one himself. He would be a locomotive engineer, nothing less.

Meantime there were practical questions of food and shelter to consider immediately and he was not the boy to waste time in speculations for the future when there was anything to be done. He counted his money. Almost four dollars, and a prospect of two and a half every week. Then he set out to find a boarding house.

Two dollars and a half a week, not a large living income, even in 1878. Henry walked a long time looking for a landlady who would con sent to board a healthy sixteen-year-old mechanic for that sum. It was late that afternoon before he found one who, after some hesitation, agreed to do it. Then he looked at the small, dirty room she showed him, at her untidy, slatternly person, and decided that he would not live there. He came out into the street again.

Henry was facing the big problem. How was he to live on an income too small? Apparently his mind went, with the precision of a machine, directly to the answer.

"When your reasonable expenses exceed your income, increase your income/ Simple. He knew that after he had finished his day s work at the shops there would be a margin of several hours a day left to him. He would have to turn them into money. That was all.

He returned to a clean boarding house he had visited earlier in the day, paid three dollars and a half in advance for one week s board, and ate a hearty supper. Then he went to bed.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Source:  Wikisource

Go to Henry Ford’s Own Story - Chapter IV - AN EXACTING ROUTINE

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