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Henry Ford’s Own Story

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Henry Ford’s Own Story
Chapter XV

Return to Henry Ford’s Own Story
Return to Henry Ford’s Own Story - Chapter XIV - STRUGGLING WITH THE FIRST CAR

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TEARS, almost hysterics, from the woman who for seven years had been the quiet, cheerful little wife, humming to herself while she did the house work it was more than startling, it was terrify ing.

Ford realized then, probably for the first time, how much the making of the automobile had cost her.

He quieted her as well as he could, and prom ised that he would take her back to Greenfield. He would give up his job at the Edison plant and move to the farm to live, since she cared so much about it, he said. His work on the machine could wait.

He took her into the house and made her a cup of hot tea. When she was sitting comfortably warming her feet at the heating stove and sip ping the tea, he said he would just run out and fasten the shed door for the night.

The machine was almost finished. A few more screws, a tightening of the leather belt, the placing of the steering lever, and it would be com plete. He had spent four years of hard work, and harder thought, on its building delayed first by his poverty, then by the building of the house, and always held back for twelve hours out of every day by his work at the Edison plant. Now he would have to pi t it aside again, to spend precious days and weeks disposing of his equity in the house, moving, settling in Greenfield, struggling with new hired men, beginning again the grind of managing a farm.

It was only another delay, he said doggedly to himself; he would make the machine run yet. In the meantime he could not resist taking up his tools and working on it, just a minute or so.

The engine was in place, the gears adjusted. He tightened the leather belt and tested the pul ley again. Then he set the rear axle on blocks of wood, lifting the wheels from the ground and started the engine. The cough of the cylinder quickened into a staccato bark, the flywheel blurred with speed. Then Ford tightened the pulley, the broad leather belt took hold. The rear wheels spun.

She was running!

It remained only to test the machine in actual going on the ground. Ford went to work on the steering gear. He had thought it all out before, he had made all the parts. Now he must put them together, fit them into place and test them.

He forgot about his wife, waiting in the house; he did not notice that the fire in the stove was getting low and the hour was growing late. He bent every thought and energy to placing the steering gear.

At midnight he was still working. At 1 o'clock he had the front wheels blocked up and was testing the steering lever. It needed some changes. At 2 o'clock they were finished. He started the engine again and it missed fire. Something was wrong with the spark.

At 3 o'clock, grimy, hollow-cheeked, absorbed, he was hard at work when he felt a hand on his arm and heard his wife say, "Henry!"

"My dear, what s the matter? I m coming in right away. Why, you re all wet!" he exclaimed, seeing her dripping shawl.

"It's raining hard. Didn t you know it?" she said.

"You shouldn t have come out; I thought you were going right to bed," he answered.

"Well, I couldn t sleep very well. I got to thinking Henry, we mustn t go back to the farm. It was just a notion of mine. I guess I was tired, or something. I ve changed my mind. We d better stay right here till you get the ma chine finished."

He laughed.

"Well, little woman, I guess that won t be so very long. It s finished right now," he said. "You wait a minute and you ll see me running it."

She stood and watched, more excited than he, while he started the engine again, nailed a couple of old boards together for a seat and opened wide the shed doers. The rain was falling in torrents and underfoot the light snow had turned to thin slush on the frozen ground. It was very dark.

He pushed the machine into the yard and hung a lantern over the dashboard for a headlight. In side the shed Mrs. Ford, in a voice shaking with excitement, begged him to wait until morning, but he did not listen. The engine and steering gear were protected from the rain and no discom fort could have equaled for him the disappoint ment of another delay.

The time had come when he could prove his theories. He would not waste one minute of it.

The engine was already running. He stepped into the car, sat down, and slowly, carefully, tightened the pulley.

Then, in the first Ford automobile, he rode away from the old shed.

When he felt the machine moving under him he tightened his grasp on the steering lever. Sud denly the light of the lantern showed him a dozen things he had never noticed in the yard before. The clothes-pole loomed menacingly before him, a pile of flower pots seemed to grow out of all proportion to its ordinary size.

The machine wobbled unsteadily, while he desperately struggled to drive it in a straight line. He turned it from the flower pots, jerked it back in time to avoid running into the fence, and headed straight for the clothes-pole. It seemed to jump at him.

At the last minute he thought of the pulley. He loosened the leather belt, the engine spun wildly, the car stopped. Henry Ford got out, breathing hard, and pushed the machine around the clothes-pole.

"You see, I not only had to make the machine, but I had to get into it and learn how to steer it while it was running," he says. It occurred to him that he would like a good wide space for the job.

After he had rescued the machine from the clothes-pole he turned it toward the street. Chug-chugging away, he passed the house, drove over the gravel sidewalk, and turned down Edi son avenue. The scattered houses w T ere dark and silent; every one was asleep.

The little machine, rattling and coughing, pro ceeded through the thin slush in jerks and jumps, doing valiantly with its one cylinder. Perched on the rough board seat, Henry Ford battled with the steering lever, while on the sidewalk Mrs. Ford, wrapped in her shawl, anxiously kept pace with them. It was not difficult to do, for the car was not breaking any future speed limits.

At the end of the first block Ford turned the car successfully, and rode down the side street, zig-zagging widely from side to side in his effort to drive straight ahead. Fortunately, Detroit s streets are wide.

When he had passed the second block he be gan to wonder how to turn and drive back. At the end of the third block he solved the difficulty. He stopped the car, jumped out, lifted it around, and headed it for home.

By this time the engine was missing again, but it continued gallantly to jerk and push the light car forward until Ford had reached his own yard. Then he stopped it, pushed the machine into the shed, and turned to Mrs. Ford.

"Well, it runs all right. Guess I ll have some breakfast and go to bed," he said, and Mrs. Ford hurried in to make coffee.

"How did I feel? Why, I felt tired," he explains now. "I went to bed and slept all next day. I knew my real work with the car had just begun. I had to get capital somehow, start a fac tory, get people interested everything. Besides, I saw a chance for a lot of improvements in that car."

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 XVI - ENTER COFFEE JIM

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