Standing in the Shadow of the Greats
WHILE IN DETROIT RECENTLY
FOR THE WOODWARD DREAM CRUISE (SEE FULL COVERAGE ON MUSTANG-360.COM), I MADE TIME TO VISIT A FEW OF THE CITY’S HISTORIC AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY POINTS OF INTEREST— FOCUSING, OF COURSE, ON FORD-RELATED SITES. If you’ve never spent any time in the Motor City, here are a couple places that I highly recommend seeing.
First up is, of course, The Henry
Ford museum at Greenfield Village.
The museum is full of historic Ford vehicles and some amazingly significant Mustangs and concepts, but it’s also a history lesson in the development of our country and the manufacturing model that revolutionized the entire world. Vehicle-wise, there’s everything from a recreation of the legendary #999 race car that put Henry Ford on the map and launched his company, to Jimmy Clark’s Indy 500–winning Lotus race car, to the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, to pretty much anything between them that you can think of.
Aside from the modes of transportation, there are also dioramas for all of the generations of American life—examples of enormous pumps and machines that make me stand there slack-jawed
wondering, How in the world did they build that?—and a collection of train engines and cars that are equally incredible. The exhibits rotate all the time, so you’ll always see something new, but I’ve seen the chair and hat that President Lincoln was sitting in and wearing when he was assassinated, test tubes with Thomas Edison’s “last breaths,” and so much more. Though we often think of The Henry Ford as a car museum, it’s so much more than that and is a must-see if you’re ever in the area.
The museum is set in Greenfield Village, an 80-acre plot of land in Dearborn that illustrates 300 years of American perseverance and shows that where there is a will, there is most certainly a way. As history is taught increasingly less in school, this is a must-do field trip for anyone under the age of 20. I had been to the museum several times, but I was there during Woodward week for the debut of Little Red—the experimental Shelby coupe that was thought to be lost to the crusher decades ago, only to be found and saved by a gang of Mustang collectors led by Craig Jackson of Barrett-Jackson fame. You can also read about that on our website.
But perhaps the most significant place I visited was the Piquette Plant—located on Piquette Avenue near downtown Detroit, sandwiched between the utter decay and vandalism that has given the Motor City a bad reputation in the last few decades, and the upcoming area of Corktown near the old Train Station. (It was once the pride of Detroit, but is now a dilapidated manse full of homeless people and graffiti—though Ford just purchased the building and is restoring it.) The Piquette Plant was home to Ford Motor Company from 1904 to 1910. The three-story brick building housed Henry Ford’s office on the second floor; it was the building where the assembly line was conceived and also where the Model T was designed and first built. There’s a room at the far end of the third floor of the Piquette Plant that is perhaps the most significant room in the entire country, save for the Oval Office.
This room was off-limits to all but Henry Ford’s most trusted engineers, and it is where he spent most of his time. It is in this room that the Model T was first envisioned, engineered, and designed. And if you know your history, Henry’s Model T and the assembly line he created to build it revolutionized American manufacturing, which is what revolutionized manufacturing for the entire world. That room is where American ingenuity for the 20th century took root—where the “Arsenal of Democracy” first began.
To stand on the exact same wooden planks that Henry Ford and his team stood on (the place is almost exactly like it was in 1909, including the floors) gave me shivers. In a good way. It was the same feeling I’ve had at places like Gettysburg, Pearl Harbor, and Normandy Beach if I ever get to check it off my bucket list. To take in the sights, smells, and aura of a place so steeped in history gives me chills up and down my spine and cements memories that will never fade. The Piquette Plant does that.
Some of those chills were from the realization that, in the grand scheme of things, 110 years is not all that long ago, but look how life and technology have changed since then. We now consider routine things that were thought inconceivable back then. It makes my head spin trying to figure out what the world, and cars, will look like 110 years from now—hell, even 20 years from now. Maybe we’ll finally get the flying cars they promised us in the 1960s!