HENRY FORD MUSEUM (1998)

By Jug Varner

Unless you are old enough to remember riding in or driving a Model-T Ford, you probably don't know that many early drivers broke an arm because the hand crank wouldn't release when they tried to start the engine; or that they got sopping wet trying to fasten its flimsy window coverings in a rainstorm; or had to stop to repair flat tires three times during a 40-mile journey on rutted, muddy roads; or endured the scorn of passers-by as this new-fangled “Tin Lizzie” frightening cattle, horses and people along the way.

You probably never give a thought to how much has changed since those early times, as you zoom along on a smooth highway in your quiet, high-powered, comfortable, air-conditioned, space-like vehicle — going faster than aircraft used to fly. After talking to someone in London on your cellular phone, you follow-up with a quick fax to acknowledge your verbal agreement. Then after you check your satellite navigation system to make sure of your exact location on planet Earth, you switch on your digital CD player for music better than Beethoven ever dreamed it could sound, and wonder why your computer displays only 32 miles per gallon after that last fill-up. Life on the road is tough these days!

If that description resembles you, consider a vacation at Dearborn, Michigan and visit the “100 years of the Automobile in American Life” exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum. Take in Greenfield Village while you're there. It is the world's largest indoor-outdoor museum, 90 acres of interesting and enjoyable displays gleaned from more than a million objects and 25 million historical papers.

You'll soon realize that Dearborn is Henry Ford country, as almost every turn brings reminders of that great industrialist. His concept of mass production made it possible for middle and lower class Americans to purchase his famous Model-T and is credited with “Putting America on the road.”

Of the many Ford landmarks, none is more popular than the museum at Greenfield Village, which he established in 1929 to show how far and fast we have come in transforming America from a farming to a manufacturing society. Ironically, even greater and faster transition has taken place since that time.

Ford built a fine hotel nearby in 1931, now enlarged and operated as the Marriott Dearborn Inn. It was a pleasure to stay in this historic building, with its ballroom-size lobby and excellent food service, where the Fords held many family and business socials through the years. We also enjoyed the photos displays depicting those earlier times. The Inn's garden area is very much in demand today for weddings, three of which took place the day we arrived.

Our visit coincided with the annual “Motor Muster” of Midwest area drivers and their families. They paraded their 600 classic cars past the Museum's “Independence Hall” facade, then on into the Village area for public display. The parade was a fitting prelude to my two-day journey through history, first at the museum and then at the Village. I learned in talking with other visitors that many folks purchase annual memberships and come here frequently for the special events such as the Muster and the Summer Festival programs then in progress.

Inside the museum are 160 cars, not only all of the Ford cars dating back to the Quadricycle, but other manufacturer's, too.

Of special note are displays of:
the only existing 1896 Duryea Motor Wagon;
several limousines of former Presidents, including the one in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated;
Old 16, the Locomobile racer that won the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup;
the first Oscar Mayer Weinermobile; and
Charles Kuralt's “On the Road” touring van.

Also, there is the 600-ton (world's largest) railroad steam locomotive “Allegheny;”
Admiral Byrd's trimotor polar aircraft on skis;
Sikorsky's first practical helicopter;
a room from an early “tourist court;”
a room from an early Holiday Inn motel;
President Lincoln's assassination chair from the Ford Theater;
the revolutionary Massey-Harris Grain Combine;
numerous Henry Ford artifacts; and
countless other items and displays featuring American ingenuity. This auto wonderland pleases kids and adults of all ages.

The nation's oldest daily steam locomotive pulls its cars along a standard-gauge rail bed that encircles the Village, providing passengers a view of the entire area and various stops for loading and unloading. I took that ride before exploring the Village, where authentic buildings and equipment have been imported from around the country.

Some of these include:
Thomas Edison's Menlo Park Complex;
1880s Firestone Pennsylvania Farm;
Wright Brothers' Ohio home and Cycle Shop;
George Washington Carver Memorial log house built in 1942 with wood from each state;
Noah Webster's 1823 Federal style house;
Henry Ford's Michigan birthplace, and his early factory;
1860's era Susquehanna Plantation;
Steamboat Suwanee;
Smiths Creek Michigan Depot (where the AmTrak now stops); and
Logan County Illinois Courthouse (where Abe Lincoln practiced law).

There are other authentic stores, shops, buildings, windmills, a town hall, a village green, a church, tributes to innovators, and more. This American treasure is an excellent vacation place for the entire family, even if you don't love cars!

See also http://www.hfmgv.com/