by Glen Quagmire
What do you think of when you hear “The Henry Ford?” If you’re like most, you probably think of the one and only creator of the Model T, the Model A, and the manufacturing innovator who made major contributions to the development of mass production techniques.
There is, however, another “The Henry Ford.” It’s one that comes as a surprise to many people outside of the metro Detroit area. And that’s a shame, because The Henry Ford is a jewel, in many, many ways.
Some of us who visited the Motor City many years ago may have stopped in at a tourist attraction called Greenfield Village, in Dearborn just outside of Detroit. In the early days, Greenfield Village was essentially a museum with an eclectic collection of artifacts that represented the history of transportation in this country. Exhibits included everything from early Ford (naturally…) vehicles to antique motorcycles, steam tractors, aircraft, locomotives, and on and on.
But those who visited Greenfield Village years ago might not recognize it today.
Over the last few decades, Greenfield Village has morphed into a far more comprehensive tribute to the American Way of Life with emphasis, of course, on transportation in general, and the automobile in particular.
In fact, The Henry Ford is now a compendium of five separate and distinct areas/attractions, each of which would constitute its own destination for a Weekend Warrior trip. The Henry Ford now consists of:
- The Museum
- The Village
- A powerful IMAX theater
- A factory tour of Ford’s Rouge vehicle assembly plant
- An advanced FoMoCo Research Center
In this first installment, we’ll offer the highlights of these five attractions. Then, in subsequent installments we’ll explore each of these areas in greater detail.
The Museum at The Henry Ford is what many of us may recall from a visit to Greenfield Village many years ago. It includes a variety of vehicles that are historically or technologically significant or interesting. Any car guy or girl worth his or her weight in SAE 80W-90 gear oil will have an appreciation for all things mechanical, especially those devices that are also vehicular.
Perhaps your passion is classic hot rods or muscle cars, or maybe high-tech EFI, or low-tech carburetion and ignition contact points. Regardless, you’re sure to be intrigued by the thought that went into the design and construction of a locomotive, a motorcycle, or an airplane built more than a century ago. These and other vehicles are on display, including presidential limousines and record-holding race cars.
The Village at The Henry Ford is indeed a village, which includes historically-important buildings, artifacts, and period-authentic demonstrations of fabrication, production, and finished goods. These hands-on demonstrations and product samples represent Americana at its finest.
These displays are not necessarily limited to vehicle-related innovations, but rather offer insights into the American spirit, resourcefulness, and lifestyle. Exhibits in The Village include actual historical buildings that have been carefully disassembled and reassembled in period-authentic dioramas that display these important structures in historically-appearing context.
Other exhibits in The Village portray interesting elements of the American lifestyle. You’ll see displays of farming techniques, home life, and examples of workplace environments of early 20th century America.
Many of us have experienced the sensory feast afforded by a multi-dimensional IMAX theater. Such theaters are becoming more and more popular as they are able to tell their story in a most powerful, intense, compelling, and memorable fashion. The IMAX theater at The Henry Ford is the largest 3D-capable IMAX screen in the region. Showings include both 2D and 3D versions of popular films that have been made IMAX-compatible. Films suitable for large screen format are chosen based on their relevance to the mission of The Henry Ford, and may include transportation-oriented films as well as others relating to Americana in general.
Rouge Factory Tour
Ford’s Rouge facility, named for the Rouge River which it abuts, is a massive assembly complex that incorporates an assembly line for Ford’s popular F-150 pickup trucks. It actually represents its own destination, semi-separate from the Museum and Village complexes, and would certainly constitute a viable Weekend Warrior destination, even without the other attractions.
A tour of the Rouge complex includes both a driving tour and a walking tour, and climaxes with a walking tour from above the F-150 assembly line, where vehicle assembly is taking place. Visitors get to see massive inventories of parts and sub-assemblies, as well as the process in which they are married into actual trucks. Anyone with even a hint of mechanical aptitude will certainly be fascinated by how these components come together to form a vehicle.
On a personal note, if I may: I am certainly intrigued by the assembly process, even as it blends automation with “the human touch,” in creating the vehicles that contribute to the passion and livelihood of those of us who write and read these columns. Yet I confess to being equally intrigued by the genius of those who design and plan these processes so very far in advance.
For instance, I wonder where those engineers are who, right now, are figuring out the steps needed to assemble the next-generation F-150? Someone has to decide whether it’s better to install the transmission into the chassis first and fit the engine up to it later, or if it’s better to mate the engine and transmission together and install the mated assembly into the chassis.
Likewise, someone is figuring out whether the engine and transmission should be installed first and then the suspension and steering, or vice versa. I wonder if, somewhere, there is a giant aircraft hangar-type building where engineers are experimenting with actual components to make sure that, if the engine and transmission are installed first, there will be no interference when the front suspension assembly is lifted into place.
Perhaps some Ford engineer will read this article and explain the back story to me. If so, I will be sure to share it with Weekend Warrior readers.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…
The Research Center
Officially dubbed the Benson Ford Research Center, this facility is named for one of Henry Ford’s grandchildren. If you thought of it as a library of sorts for all things Americana, including vehicles, you wouldn’t be far off. It is open, free to the public, for those researching all sorts of topics focusing on the history of American culture. It is frequented by historians, students, and anyone interested in learning more about America’s recent history. “Librarians” are on staff and available to assist in locating relevant resources. And while materials may not be removed from the premises, many materials may be copied for use off-site.
Watch for upcoming Weekend Warrior columns for more details on each of these attractions at The Henry Ford. In the meantime, you can find more information at www.TheHenryFord.org