Henry Ford’s Own Story
MEANTIME back in Greenfield there was a flurry of excitement and not a little worry. Henry did not return from school in time to help with the chores. When supper time came and went without his appearing Margaret was sure some terrible accident had occurred.
A hired man was sent to make inquiries. He returned with the news that Henry had not been in school. Then William Ford himself hitched up and drove about the neighborhood looking for the boy. With characteristic reserve and inde pendence Henry had taken no one into his confi dence, but late that night his father returned with information that he had been seen taking the train for Detroit.
William Ford knew his son. When he found that Henry had left of his own, accord he told Margaret dryly that the boy could take care of himself and there was nothing to worry about. However, after two days had gone by without any word from Henry his father went up to De troit to look for him.
Those two days had been full of interest for Henry. He found that his hours in the machine shop were from seven in the morning to six at night, with no idle moments in any of them. He helped at the forges, made castings, assembled parts. He was happy. There were no chores or school to interrupt his absorption in machinery. Every hour he learned something new about steam engines. When the closing whistle blew and the men dropped their tools he was sorry to quit.
Still, there was that extra dollar a week to be made somehow. As soon as he had finished sup per the first night he hurried out to look for an evening job. It never occurred to him to work at anything other than machinery. He was a machine "fan," just as some boys are baseball fans; he liked mechanical problems. A batting average never interested him, but "making things go" there was real fun in that.
Machine shops were not open at night, but he recalled his experiments with the luckless fam ily clock. He hunted up a jeweler and asked him for night work. Then he hunted up another, and another. None of them needed an assistant. When the jewelers shops closed that night he went back to his boarding-house.
He spent another day at work in the James Flower shops. He spent* -another night looking for work with a jeweler. The third day, late in the afternoon, his father found him. Know ing Henry s interests, William Ford had begun his search by inquiring for the boy in Detroit s machine shops.
He spoke to the foreman and took Henry out side. There was an argument. William Ford, backed by the force of parental authority, de clared sternly that the place for Henry was in school. Henry, with two days experience in a real iron works, hotly declared that he d never go back to school, not if he was licked for it.
"What's the good of the old school, anyhow? I want to learn to make steam engines," he said. In the end William Ford saw the futility of argument. He must have been an unusually reasonable father, for the time and place. It would have been a simple matter to lead Henry home by the ear and keep him there until he ran away again, and in 1878 most Michigan fathers in his situation would have done it.
"Well, you know where your home is any time you want to come back to it," he said finally, and went back to the farm.
Henry was now definitely on his own resources. With urgent need for that extra dollar a week weighing more heavily on his mind every day, he spent his evenings searching for night work. Before the time arrived to pay his second week s board he had found a jeweler who was willing to pay him two dollars a week for four hours work every night.
The arrangement left Henry with a dollar a week for spending money. This was embarrassing riches.
"I never did figure out how to spend the whole of that dollar," he says. "I really had no use for it. My board and lodging were paid and the clothes I had were good enough for the shop. I never have known what to do with money after my expenses were paid can t squander it on myself without hurting myself, and nobody wants to do that. Money is the most useless thing in the world, anyhow."
His life now settled into a routine eminently satisfactory to him a routine that lasted for nine months. From seven in the morning to six at night in the machine shop, from seven to eleven in the evening at work with a microscope, repairing and assembling watches, then home to bed for a good six hours sleep, and back to work again.
Day followed day, exactly alike, except that every one of them taught him something about machines either steam engines or watches. He went to bed, rose, ate, worked on a regular schedule, following the same route the shortest one from the boarding-house to the shops, to the jew eler s, back to the boarding-house again.
Before long he found that he could spend a part of his dollar profitably in buying technical journals French, English, German magazines dealing with mechanics. He read these in his room after returning from the jeweler's.
Few boys of sixteen could endure a routine so exacting in its demands on strength and en durance without destroying their health, but Henry Ford had the one trait common to all men of achievement an apparently inexhaustible energy. His active, out-of-door boyhood had stored up physical reserves of it; his one direct interest gave him his mental supply. He wanted to learn about machines ; that was all he wanted. He was never distracted by other impulses or tastes.
"Recreation? No, I had no recreation; I didn t want it," he says. "What's the value of recreation, anyhow? It s just waste time. I got my fun out of my work."
He was obsessed by his one idea.
In a few months he had mastered all the intricate details of building steam engines. The mammoth shop of James Flower & Co., with its great force of a hundred mechanics, became familiar to him; it shrank from the huge propor tions it had at first assumed in his eyes. He be gan to see imperfections in its system and to be annoyed by them.
"See here," he said one day to the man who worked beside him. "Nothing's ever made twice alike in this place. We waste a lot of time and material assembling these engines. That piston rod'll have to be made over ; it won t fit the cylinder."
"Oh, well, I guess we do the best we can," the other man said. "It won't take long to fit it."
It was the happy-go-lucky method of factories in the seventies.
Men were shifted from job to job to suit the whim of the foreman or the exigencies of a rush order. Parts were cast, recast, filed down to fit other parts. Scrap iron accumulated in the cor ners of the shop. A piece of work was aban doned half finished in order to make up time on another order, delayed by some accident. By to-day s standards it was a veritable helter-skel ter, from which the finished machines somehow emerged, at a fearful cost in wasted time and labor.
When Henry was switched from one piece of work to another, taken from his job to help some other workman, or sent to get a needed tool that was missing, he knew that his time was being wasted. His thrifty instincts resented it. With his mind full of pictures of smoothly running, exactly adjusted machines, he knew there was something wrong with the way the iron-works was managed.
He was growing dissatisfied with his job.
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