This is it – the future is now. For any self-respecting Child of the Eighties, October 21, 2015, has been circled on the mental calendar since November 1989 when Back to the Future Part II hit theaters. I was 13 years old when I first saw Doc Brown and Marty McFly take their time traveling DeLorean to the fantastically futuristic world of Hill Valley 2015 – old enough to realize that we probably weren’t going to get hoverboards and flying cars, but young enough to still hope that we might. The year 2015 seemed impossibly far off (like, as far off as 2041 seems today), and one could imagine that some of those wonderful things in the movie might just come to pass. Well, not so much…
Predicting the future is a fool’s errand. Any movie that tries to imagine future technologies will inevitably miss the mark. Back to the Future Part II’s creative team knew this well, so they chose to go all in and make their 2015 as over-the-top as possible. That tech optimism is a big part of the movie’s appeal. BTTF II gives us happy robots that pump our gas, serve our soft drinks, and welcome us home at the end of the day. They’re a pleasant contrast to the tortured replicants and cyborgs of Blade Runner and RoboCop.
Being a transportation curator, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the transport technologies featured in Back to the Future Part II. Let’s start with those flying cars. The dream of an aircraft in every garage is an old one. It shows up in books, magazines and – on rare occasions – in reality. (Even Henry Ford spent some time and money on the concept.) The flying cars in BTTF II are there because they have to be. It’s the future we all want! Needless to say, we didn’t get them by 2015. Personally, I think flying is well beyond the skills of the average driver (myself included). Flying cars aren’t a good idea until we can take most of the operation and navigation out of the driver’s hands. And that’s the good news here in the real 2015 – driverless cars are edging ever-closer to practical reality. Give me a car that operates itself, and then I’ll start clamoring for it to fly.
In addition to the 150th anniversary of Henry Ford’s birth, this year brings us another important milestone. It was 100 years ago that Ford Motor Company combined the standardization of interchangeable parts with the subdivision of labor and the fluid movement of work to workers to create the world’s most influential assembly line. We are unusually fortunate that two keen observers of industry, Horace Lucien Arnold and Fay Leone Faurote, were there to document it.
Arnold, a correspondent for The Engineering Magazine, grasped the significance in Ford’s work and began a series of articles on the company’s Highland Park factory. After Arnold’s untimely death, Faurote completed and compiled the articles in the 1915 study Ford Methods and the Ford Shops. The book’s detailed descriptions, numerous photographs and careful diagrams give us a vivid window into Highland Park at a seminal moment in technological history.
A century later, the most remarkable aspect of Ford Methods and the Ford Shops is the liberal level of access Ford gave to its authors. It is difficult to imagine Google or Apple opening their doors to today’s press and giving unfettered access to employees, workspaces and sensitive production figures. The company’s cooperation speaks volumes about Henry Ford’s confidence in Highland Park. He knew that his methods were far ahead of his competitors, and there was little fear of them catching up too quickly.
The assembly line came to Ford Motor Company in stages. Around April 1, 1913, flywheel magnetos were placed on moving lines. Instead of one worker completing one flywheel in some 20 minutes, a group of workers stood along a waist-high platform. Each worker assembled some small piece of the flywheel and then slid it along to the next person. One whole flywheel came off the line every 13 minutes. With further tweaking, the assembly line produced a finished flywheel magneto in just five minutes.
It was a genuine “eureka” moment. Ford soon adapted the assembly line to engines, and then transmissions, and, in August 1913, to complete chassis. The crude “slide” method was replaced with chain-driven delivery systems that not only reduced handling but also regulated work speed. By early 1914, the various separate production lines had fused into three continuous lines able to churn out a finished Model T every 93 minutes – an extraordinary improvement over the 12½ hours per car under the old stationary assembly methods.
The incredible time and cost savings realized through the assembly line allowed Henry Ford to lower the Model T’s price, which increased demand for the car, which prompted Ford to seek even greater manufacturing efficiencies. This feedback loop ultimately produced some 15 million Model Ts selling for as little as $260 each.
The peak annual Model T production of 1.8 million in 1923 was still years away when Arnold and Faurote made their study. They did not capture Ford’s assembly line in a fully realized form. In fact, the line never was finished. It existed in a state of flux, under constant review for any potential improvements. Adjusting the height of a work platform might save a few seconds here, while moving a drill press might shave some more seconds there. Several such small changes could yield large productivity gains.
Ford Methods and the Ford Shops captures a manufacturer that has just discovered the formula for previously unimagined production levels. The assembly line is groundbreaking, and Ford knows it. The company’s openness with its methods, and Arnold’s and Faurote’s efforts to document and publicize them, helped make the Model T assembly line the industrial milestone that we still celebrate a century later.
One of the key issues for the decision to begin the work on Number 7 was the availability of the skill sets and facilities required to accomplish a high quality restoration. This was a major undertaking and as one of the most respected transportation museums in the world it is necessary to only do things that you can do very well. Fortunately, The Henry Ford had a group in place (Railroad Operations) that was responsible to maintain two operating steam locomotives, rolling stock, tracks and signal system to provide historic railroad transportation on a daily basis.
The facility where the Railroad Operations personnel performed this maintenance was the Greenfield Village’s Detroit, Toledo and Milwaukee Roundhouse. Built in 2000 to closely replicate the 1880s DT&M facility in Marshall, Michigan; it was well equipped and had the necessary tools and machines to maintain the Village’s railroad operations.
The expertise to maintain this railroad goes well beyond the service and replacement aspects of a shop. Since there is no steam locomotive “AutoZone”; if something has to be replaced you make it. This requires extensive machining and fabrication capability. Additionally, since replacement of castings or other items sometimes requires detailed relationships with outside suppliers, extensive design and drafting skills were often required.
The physical aspects of Number 7’s restoration began in 2007 with the disassembly process. Disassembly of a locomotive is a time consuming and physically demanding process. Before the major assemblies could be removed many tubes, valves and ancillary systems had to be removed. The fact that these parts had not been touched for over 80 years made this especially challenging.
In September of 2007 the removal of the major components began with the separation of the cab (pictured below) from the chassis. In early December the boiler was removed so it could be worked on with unobstructed access to the areas that would need to be replaced (pictured below).
Early in 2008 the process of removing the sections of the boiler and firebox was started along with the removal of hardened scale from the boiler walls. Work on the boiler proceeding through the year removing the sections that would be replaced and preparing the surfaces for installation of the new ones.
After the preparation phase, fabrication of the new sections of the boiler began. One of the most complicated and demanding sections was the rear tube sheet. This is the part that faces the firebox and holds the heat tubes in place so that the heat generated in the firebox can be drawn through the boiler to heat the water and develop steam.
The first phase of the tube sheet forming began with the use of McCabe flanging tool. This pneumatically powered machine, built in 1921, was a common tool in roundhouses of that period. This machine has the capability of forming flanges on sheet steel up to ¾ of an inch thick. The flanging tool would save a significant amount of work but was limited as it could not flange the tight radius needed for the top corners. Forming those portions of the tube sheet would require hand forming.
To facilitate the hand forming an approximately 1.5 inch thick metal die had to be fabricated. This was done by an outside company to Train Operations developed drawings. The partially formed steel sheet was then rigidly attached to the die and the remaining forming was done after the immediate area being formed was heated to red hot by acetylene torches. The heated portion could then be formed by the use of special hammers. These hammers were made of reinforced hard wood that would not put dent marks in the metal when it struck the red hot steel. Dent marks would structurally weaken the metal. The upper corners of the sheet had be cut at the centerline of the curve so that, when formed, there would be a smooth joint that could be welded with integrity.
After the forming process was completed the sheet would have to be drilled to accept the heat tubes and stay bolts. Since the heat tubes were almost 12 ft. long and required a very close fit at each end to assure sealing; locating and drilling the holes had to be accomplished with complete accuracy.
Work on the boiler continued through the end of 2008 and into 2009 with fabrication of the firebox floor and door sheet. Throughout all of this fabrication the parts had to be very precise to provide accurate fitment. Repairs like these are critical to the safety of a trains operation. Boilers are very closely regulated by the government and all welding has to be done by a boiler certified welder. These welders will not compromise on flushness and alignment of the components to assure high quality welds.
The welded elements of the boiler are only part of the story. The non-cylindrical parts like the firebox and crown sheet have to be held in position inside the boiler by a device called a stay bolt. Stay bolts are threaded rods that hold the firebox and crown sheet into position while still allowing the water to circulate around it. New stay bolts would have to be sized and machined for each individual location by the roundhouse crew.
Once the stay bolts are installed (above) the exposed ends are “upset” like a rivet so they are sealed and fixed into position. When the stay bolt is fabricated it is drilled down its center (above)so that if it cracks or breaks during service, a small trail of water or rust will appear on the head indicating an internal failure of the stay bolt.
A locomotive boiler like the one in Number 7 has hundreds of these bolts that have to be individually machined to assure proper fit and sealing. Many of these would have to be replaced due to the new sections of the boiler.
Once the components of the boiler were installed it was painted with high temperature epoxy paint and the insulation blocks began to be installed. The “calcium silicate” insulator blocks (above) replaced the asbestos removed in 1997 and was necessary to help keep heat in the boiler and provide an insulated barrier to protect the “jacketing.” The “jacketing” was decorative but primarily served to keep the insulation blocks in place, heat inside the boiler and protect train personnel.
Parallel to the work on the boiler was the restoration of the tender. To ensure that Number 7 would have a tender that would hold up to daily use it was decided that a new frame would be required. Additionally, the original frames wooden construction would be replaced by a stronger all steel frame assembly, an option on the original factory builds.
The upper part of the tender was sand blasted to bare metal and the 3,350 gallon water tank was tested to assure integrity. After the sandblasting was complete, it was painted the “as delivered” green with the name Detroit & Lima Northern hand painted on the side along with the painted trim indicated by the Baldwin photos.
Although the Baldwin “as built” information identified a specific color name there were no color chips to tell exactly what that name actually looked like. The color established was the result of significant research and the color mix selected came from Chris Dewitt of the Nevada State Railroad Museum. A 1913 Baldwin in their collection had a small section that provided the only known “color chip” of the original paint. This sample was analyzed and they provided a chip from that analysis for our restoration. For the railroad purists it is important to note that each Baldwin painter mixed his own paint; it is unlikely that anyone could point to a replicated color and say “this was an exact match.”
The tender restoration was completed later in the year and the work on Number 7 locomotive started to show real progress.
Don LaCombe is Supervisor of the Transportation and Crafts Program at The Henry Ford.
Back in the late 1990s when The Henry Ford offered the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Story of Ichabod Crane program in Greenfield Village, there was a need to flesh out some areas with unique, yet iconic “set dressing” that would augment the rural and spooky flavor of the story we were trying to tell. Scarecrows were ubiquitous fixtures of kitchen gardens and some field crops over the years to deter birds and other such creatures from unintentional feasting. “Scarecrows” are still used today although a variety of designs, materials and articulations are very few of which take on a human form or shape - a far cry from the days of old.
It didn't take long until our team was challenged with the premise that we needed something large enough to make a visual impact and yet manageable and nimble enough to be used as temporary structure. Inspiration began to pour in from various imagery, films and shows, and descriptive language from literature, along with my own imagination, I created a 16-foot tall scarecrow affectionately named Mr. Irving after author George Washington Irving. Since those autumn nights more than 15 years ago and still today, Mr. Irving has been a part of the Greenfield Village’s fall and Hallowe’en programming. He has been photographed by thousands of guests and his inspiration lives on with many Mr. Irving lookalikes popping up in yards all over southeastern Michigan.
New to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village this year is the Top Hat Side Show. Led by Andrew D'Ascenzo, a professional circus and fire performer, the vaudeville-style show features unique acts in several fields including circus, fire, sideshow, magic, and comedy. Vaudeville performances aren’t new to The Henry Ford; every summer in Greenfield Village our dramatic programs in Town Hall combine music, comedy, and dance revues that pay homage to the great music and zany humor found in vaudeville.
Suwanee Park, a turn-of-the-century-style amusement area, opened in Greenfield Village in 1974—featuring an authentic, hand-carved wooden carousel made by the Herschell-Spillman Company. While this carousel may have seemed quaint and nostalgic in 1974, it harkened back to a time when amusement parks were new and novel, delighting young and old with their promise of escape, entertainment, and thrills.
American amusement parks had their roots in European pleasure gardens—large park-like settings in which people relaxed, strolled, and socialized. Over time, pleasure gardens—like Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Vauxhall in London, England—added refreshment stands and sporting activities like tennis and shuffleboard, then noisier features like balloon ascensions, concerts, plays, and crude mechanical rides. Lights were installed to keep the parks open at night. Fireworks displays became eagerly anticipated nightly events.
The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, was the first international fair in America to offer a distinctive amusement area in addition to the formal exhibits. This mile-long “Midway Plaisance” included an international village of restaurants and entertainment, along with a variety of concessions, side shows, and mechanical rides. The crowd-pleasing Midway inspired the creation of American amusement parks.
Marketed as ‘the material of a thousand uses’, Bakelite was the first truly synthetic plastic, patented bythe American inventor Leo Hendrik Baekland in 1907. Very soon, dozens of household and technical uses were found for it from fountain pens and ashtrays to electrical and communications equipment, including radios and radio equipment. It’s no surprise that conservators working on the IMLS communications grant encounter it so often.
Leo Baekland had already achieved commercial success with the invention of Velox photographic paper, and was able to maintain a home laboratory in New York State.
As the story goes, William Ford traveled to Philadelphia for the Centennial Exposition in 1876. William, a farmer from Springwells Township in Wayne County, Mich., took a keen interest in the agricultural displays. One device struck him as particularly useful, a Stover Windmill, or as the Stover Wind Engine Company's advertisement called it, "Stover's Automatic Wind Engine."
Digitizing what one of our curators refers to as “the bottomless pit of wonderfulness” results in some strange, and often highly entertaining, adventures. One such recent project, undertaken to accompany an upcoming story in The Henry Ford Magazine, had us combing through our holdings for artifacts that some might consider trash. One item we heartily enjoyed working on was this collection of animal bones and teeth retrieved from the original site of Firestone Farm, and stored in our archives in a box labeled “loose items.” Other similar items we’ve just digitized include fragments found at Henry Ford’s birthplace, as well as some of the “mute relics” that Henry Ford had retrieved from the original site of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory (and which were previously exhibited in Greenfield Village). Visit our digital collections to find more artifacts you might call trash—or treasures—and keep your eye out for our magazine to see which “trashy” artifacts made the cut.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.
Almost exactly two years ago, The Henry Ford embarked on a project to identify, conserve, photograph, catalog, rehouse, and make available online at least 1,000 items from our communications collections. This project was made possible through a generous $150,000 Museums for America grant (MA-30-13-0568-13) from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, or IMLS. Though we will continue to work on some straggler artifacts that have not yet made it through the entire process, the grant officially ended on September 30, with a total of 1,261 artifacts available online. One of the very last artifacts to be added during the official grant period was this computer trainer, used in the metro Detroit area in the 1960s to teach students to operate computers, a skill increasingly needed in the American workforce. You can see some of the other artifacts that worked their way through the IMLS grant process by browsing our digital collections for such communications-related artifacts as typewriters, radio receivers, phonographs, amplifiers, cameras, motion-picture cameras, mimeographs, and magic lanterns, among many others. We extend our thanks once again to IMLS for enabling us to make these significant collections accessible to everyone.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.