Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

At the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death last year, The Henry Ford honored his legacy with the help of news legend Dan Rather, best-selling author James L. Swanson, former Secret Service agent Clint Hill, and two sold-out crowds determined to remember 1,000 brilliant days, 20,000 days on.

Dan Rather and James Swanson

On November 18, Rather sat with Swanson mere feet from the Kennedy Presidential Limousine, housed at The Henry Ford since 1978. One of the first to break news of President Kennedy’s death, Rather noted how three years before, Senator Kennedy won over those who saw him as too young, too rich and too Catholic with articulate idealism, self-deprecating wit, and an unprecedented understanding of politics-as-theatre.

But JFK had an additional asset – his wife. Young and chic, with a shrewd intellect and a romantic understanding of America’s past, Jacqueline Kennedy was an immensely popular first lady. The front and back covers of Swanson’s new book on JFK’s assassination shows Mrs. Kennedy wearing the shocking pink and stark black in which pop artist Andy Warhol would immortalize her image.

It was Swanson who noted the irony of Jacqueline Kennedy’s pervasive aesthetic influence, citing an essay the future style icon wrote as a college senior, in which she expressed an interest in being an “overall Art Director of the Twentieth Century”.

Clint Hill

On November 19, it was Mrs. Kennedy’s Secret Service agent, Clint Hill, who left the museum in silence. Also standing feet from the presidential limo, Hill recalled for journalist Lisa McCubbin the friendly crowds that met President and Mrs. Kennedy in San Antonio and Houston on their first day in Texas, the unexpectedly warm welcome shown them in Dallas, and his lingering guilt over not getting to the president in time to save his life.

But Hill took no credit for potentially saving the first lady’s life, in her last moments as first lady. Hill saw Mrs. Kennedy crawl onto the trunk of the Lincoln, reaching for a piece of her husband’s skull, just before the car’s hand-built, 350-horsepower, 430 cubic inch V8 deployed it with full force toward Parkland Hospital. It’s Hill seen in the now sadly familiar images, racing forward, jumping aboard, and shielding Mrs. Kennedy from the unknown with his own body.

Touchingly, Hill also revealed many of the small, human moments Swanson alluded to the prior evening – details sadly overshadowed by decades of myth and conjecture: of a father promising a child he’d be home in just a few days; of a husband taking his wife’s hand in a jostling crowd; of a wife clinging protectively to a husband she already knew belonged to history.

By inviting Rather, Swanson and Hill to share these stories and these moments, The Henry Ford did what museums do best – ensure that nothing is lost to time as one generation fades into the next. For those whose lives were changed forever a half-century ago, it was a lovely remembrance. For President Kennedy, whose life was shaped by the heroes and glories of the past, there could be no more fitting tribute.

Justin Mularski is a writer based in Detroit. He occasionally forsakes his laptop to read of times long past, cheer for the Tigers, or make lists of home improvement projects he’ll never actually complete.

JFK, limousines, presidential limousines

On October 23, 1934, the husband-and-wife team of Jean and Jeannette Piccard navigated a balloon as high as 10.9 miles above the earth, starting from Dearborn, Michigan, and landing many hours later hundreds of miles away in Ohio. This flight reached the stratosphere, and set the women’s altitude record for Jeanette, which she held until the early 1960s. The Henry Ford has digitized about 40 photographs and documents related to the flight, including this quirky photo of Charles Roscoe Miles, a Lincoln portrayer visiting Dearborn at the invitation of Henry Ford, examining the gondola a few days before the flight. Find more material documenting the adventure before, during, and after the flight on The Henry Ford’s collections website. (If you want even more, browse additional Piccard material in the digital collections of the Detroit Historical Society, and read their accompanying blog post.)

flight

Andy Williams was off by a month. Auto industry insiders and enthusiasts know that January is the most wonderful time of the year, as it brings the annual North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). Since 1907, automakers have used the event to showcase fresh designs and innovative technologies. New models are introduced with suitable razzmatazz, and concept cars tantalize us with possibilities for the future. I set out to Cobo Center this year excited for everything, but with three particular must-sees on my checklist.

Chevrolet wowed crowds last year with the return of the Corvette Stingray (it took “Car of the Year” honors at this year’s event). For the 2014 show, the Bow Tie gives us the 2015 Corvette Stingray Z06. With 625 horsepower surging from its 6.2 liter V-8, the Z06 is a legitimate supercar. No, it’s not going to sell in any significant quantity, but these halo dream machines are what make NAIAS so much fun.

The 2015 Chrysler 200. Chrysler makes a play for the mid-sized market.

Chrysler is making headlines with its introduction of the next generation 200. This car could be a coup for the Pentastar. There’s a lot of money to be made in the mid-sized segment, and Chrysler wants to increase its take. The 200 also builds on shared design and technology from parent Fiat – efficiencies that can help the company thrive. Analysts will keep a close eye on the 200’s sales, but what really caught my eye is the 200’s rotary dial transmission shifter. I’m a fan of the traditional floor-mounted lever, but buttons and paddles have their supporters, so why not a dial?

2015 Ford F-150, well lighted and well lightened.

Ford made its 2015 Mustang splash last month, so its NAIAS presence is heavily focused on the aluminum-bodied F-150. This is a big play by the Blue Oval. The venerable F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States for close to 20 years (and the best-selling pickup forever – well, at 43 years, practically so!). But fuel efficiency is vital for environmental and economic reasons. With the 2015 F-150, Ford improves gas mileage by converting much of the truck’s body structure from steel to aluminum and dropping 700 pounds of curb weight in the process. It’s a breakthrough, but it surely takes courage to invest in expensive new metalwork and try major experiments on your most popular product.

The Mustang lover's dream jukebox.

The F-150 gets the headlines, but don’t think that the Mustang is ignored. Prototypes of the 2015 model are there for ogling, and The Henry Ford’s own 1962 Mustang I concept car and 1965 Mustang Serial Number One production car are on prominent display. Best of all, though, Ford has created a sort of museum to Mustang’s place in popular culture. Head upstairs into the gallery and you’ll find everything from die-cast models, to Avon cologne bottles, to movie posters. (Yes, Bullitt is there.) There’s trivia too. Who knew, for example, that “Mustang” is one of the most popular computer passwords? Or that a Mustang was one of the original 16 Hot Wheels cars? My favorite display consisted of a jukebox playing nothing but Mustang-related songs, from Wilson Pickett to Vanilla Ice. “Rollin’ in my 5.0” indeed.

On a final note, there is a real treat in seeing Cobo Center itself this year. The new atrium and Grand Riverview Ballroom (fashioned from the old Cobo Area) are absolutely breathtaking. Detroit has much to be proud of this year – on both sides of the NAIAS showroom doors.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

auto shows, Car Shows

In 2012, Dennis Fiems donated hundreds of laundry and other soap packaging items to The Henry Ford that been collected by his late wife, Susan Strongman Fiems. According to Curator of Public Life Donna Braden, this collection is important as it exemplifies several 20th century trends: the evolution of product packaging, the changing nature of housekeeping and “women’s work,” increasing cultural attention on hygiene, and technological advances in these chemistry-driven products. More than 300 of these items are now digitized and available to browse online, including this sample-size box of FAB soap flakes from the early part of the 20th century. You can see additional items from the Fiems collection (plus other related objects) by visiting The Henry Ford’s collections website and browsing keywords such as soap, laundry products, and even clothespins.

boxes, packages, soaps

Did you know Henry Ford had his own personal librarian? Rachel MacDonald joined Ford Motor Company in 1925 to catalog objects acquired by Henry Ford for the educational center and history museum he envisioned--the Edison Institute, what we know today as The Henry Ford. She stayed on to build up a library of 25,000 volumes, including a complete set of the Little Orphan Annie comic strip, a favorite of her boss. She also collected, on Henry's behalf, volumes of Noah Webster's dictionaries and the McGuffey readers, and she started a compilation of verified Henry Ford quotations, among other useful resources. Many of these materials were transferred to the archives shortly after Henry Ford's death. These materials, which became part of the Ford Motor Company Archives, were later donated by the company to The Henry Ford, in 1964, and form part of our collection today.

 

Actor Mickey Rooney and Henry Ford at Menlo Park Laboratory, Greenfield Village, 1940. (Object ID P.188.27104.A, Image ID THF98671.)

 

MacDonald's first library at Ford was in the Highland Park plant. There she met visiting friends of Henry Ford including Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, actor Mickey Rooney, and author Damon Runyon, when they paid calls on Henry, who thirsted after interesting conversation. Mickey Rooney, who came to Dearborn to film a movie about Edison's life, was a particular favorite of Henry's, who enjoyed the young actor's energy and high spirits.

 

Ford Engineering Laboratory Layout, Dearborn, Michigan, circa 1924.This building was completed in December 1924 and still stands today on Oakwood Boulevard in Dearborn. Note the space for the "Dance Room" in the bottom right corner of the building plan.(Object ID P.O.9757, Image ID THF98510.)

 

As time went on, Ford's aides increasingly limited access to the mogul, even going so far as to call ahead to places they knew Henry was going to be visiting--including the library--warning employees to hide. (By this time MacDonald was working at the Engine and Electrical Engineering or "EEE" Building now known as the POEE building, where the library had moved.) As the isolation and formality around Henry increased, he became a very lonely man, MacDonald recalled feeling. Henry turned to square dancing as a social outlet, with dances in the library every Wednesday. MacDonald often danced with Henry and observed that he would chat with her the whole time they were dancing.

Besides notable visitors from around the country and the world, the Ford grandchildren were frequent visitors to the library. MacDonald remembered that Henry II and Benson liked to slide around on the highly polished floors (Henry always liked to keep things in fine finish) as though they were at a skating rink.

 

Clara Ford and Henry Ford birdwatching at "The Bungalow," Dearborn, Michigan, 1910-1915. Henry and Clara soon selected this secluded site for their Fair Lane estate. (Object ID P.O.701, Image ID THF96013.)

 

Both Henry and Clara Ford were avid birders, and they created a bird sanctuary on their Dearborn estate, Fair Lane. One of MacDonald's favorite anecdotes to relate about her days at Ford was the time Henry called her with an urgent request for information on the "correct size for a hole in a wren house." She found the answer (⅞ of an inch) and promptly informed him. She later learned that Henry had been inspecting the wren houses built on his grounds by his staff and thought that the holes were too large. A larger hole would allow other bird species, including the ubiquitous sparrow, to invade. Upon learning that the holes were not the correct size, Henry, ever the stickler, had them all recut.

In an interview with the Detroit Free Press given around her retirement, MacDonald had more recollections about Henry Ford and the library she helped him amass. Ford was not popularly thought to have had much use for books, but MacDonald countered that he was in fact very interested in them. Henry wanted have a collection of books on hand on all manner of subjects should the need arise for him--or his staff--to look something up. He was, according to MacDonald, a frequent visitor to her library and would spend time there skimming through books, often walking off with one in his pocket. (According to her and others at Ford Motor Company, it was at Henry's insistence that many company publications were pocket-sized, reflecting his preference for portable reading material. Think what he might have done with a smartphone or an e-reader today!) Another useful resource that she and other Engineering Library staff created and kept available at the library for their knowledge-hungry boss was a vertical file on the many topics he was interested in. It is still available for research today as the Engineering Library Vertical File, in many ways a window into Henry Ford's mind.

As an interesting aside, though MacDonald was her married name, Rachel MacDonald was always referred to within the company as "Miss"--perhaps a reflection of different times and moeurs, when a married woman was not expected to remain in the workforce (or indeed, was expected not to remain there).

MacDonald, who had studied library science in Massachusetts before moving to Michigan, kept active professionally and was a charter member and president of the Michigan chapter of the Special Libraries Association. She retired in 1963 after long career as a librarian at Ford (37 years). MacDonald died at the age of 83 in 1981, in Florida, where she had moved after she retired.

As Neil Gaiman has famously noted (to the extent that it has become an Internet meme), "Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one." While today, the answer to the "wren question," and many others, is available at our fingertips, Rachel MacDonald's work at the Ford Engineering Library shows how important both amassing a wealth of resources and deploying the expert knowledge to use those resources were in the time before online search. Today, the field is more democratized in terms of the knowledge and resources that are available, but experts (like my colleagues in the archives, library, and museum professions) are still needed to help identify, collect, preserve, and promote access to important information and artifacts--and in this digital age, to ensure that more and more resources are made available online for all.

Sources

Newspaper clippings for MacDonald, Rachel, in the Ford Biographical Vertical File, Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.

Noble, William T., "Librarian Remembers Henry Ford as 'Lonely,'" Detroit Free Press, January 6, 1963, pp. 1E-2E.

books, libraries

The Henry Ford has a number of banks in its collections, ranging from piggy banks to commemorative banks to corporate promotional giveaway banks to mechanical banks. We’ve just added some banks to our digital collections, bringing the total number available for browsing online to about three dozen. One of our most recent additions is this “Arabian Safe” bank from the late 19th or early 20th centuries, featuring exotic scenes of camels and palm trees. See this and other banks by visiting our digital collections.

banks

On January 5, 1914, Henry Ford and his vice president James Couzens stunned the world when they revealed that Ford Motor Company would double its workers’ wages to five dollars a day. The announcement generated glowing newspaper headlines and editorials around the world. The notion of a wealthy industrialist sharing profits with workers on such a scale was unprecedented.

In the century since, many theories have been posited for Ford’s bold move. Some suggested the increase was to justify assembly line speed-ups. Others speculated it was to counteract high labor turnover due to increasingly monotonous assembly line work. Ford admirers believed it was pure philanthropy. Cynics asserted that it was little more than an elaborate publicity stunt. As usual, the truth lay somewhere in the middle.

More Monotony, But More Money

To a large degree, Ford’s implementation of the Five-Dollar Day cannot be appreciated without first understanding his advances with the moving assembly line. Experiments through 1913 and into 1914 reduced the time required to build a Model T automobile from 12½ hours to a mere 93 minutes. Increased efficiencies lowered production costs, which lowered customer prices, which increased demand. The public was eager to buy all of the cars Ford could build.

Explosive production gains came at the cost of worker satisfaction. The very goal of the moving assembly line was to take what had been relatively skilled craftwork and reduce it to simple, rote tasks. Workers who had taken pride in their labor were quickly bored by the more mundane assembly process. Some took to lateness and absenteeism. Many simply quit, and Ford found itself with a crippling labor turnover rate of 370 percent. The assembly line depended on a steady crew of employees to staff it, and training replacements was expensive. Ford reasoned that a bigger paycheck might make the factory’s tedium more tolerable.

Ford’s Five-Dollar Day prompted banner headlines around the world. (THF204872)

If the need to retain workers was a partial motivation for the Five-Dollar Day, then the solution may have worked too well. Within days of the announcement, thousands of applicants came to Detroit from all over the Midwest and entrenched themselves at the Ford’s gate. The company was overwhelmed, riots broke out, and the crowds were turned away with fire hoses in the icy January weather. Ford announced that it would only hire workers who had lived in Detroit for at least six months, and the situation slowly came under control.

Strings Attached

Those who did have jobs at Ford soon discovered that there were even more conditions. Lost in the headlines was the fact that the pay increase was not a raise per se, it was a profit sharing plan. If you made $2.30 a day under the old pay schedule, for example, you still made that wage under the Five-Dollar plan. But if you met all of the company’s requirements, Ford gave you a bonus of $2.70.

Part of Henry Ford’s reasoning behind the Five-Dollar Day was that workers who were troubled by money problems at home would be distracted on the job. If higher pay was intended to eliminate these problems, then Ford would make sure that his employees were using his largesse “properly.” The company established a Sociological Department to monitor its employees’ habits beyond the workplace.

To qualify for the pay increase, workers had to abstain from alcohol, not physically abuse their families, not take in boarders, keep their homes clean, and contribute regularly to a savings account. Moral righteousness and prudent saving were all well and good, but they were not generally an employer’s business—at least not outside of working hours. In contrast, Ford Motor Company inspectors came to workers’ homes, asked probing questions, and observed general living conditions. If “violations” were discovered, the inspectors offered advice and pointed the families to resources offered through the company. Not until these problems were corrected did the employee receive his full bonus.

Modifying manufacturing methods was one thing. Modifying the people who carried out those methods was quite another. Henry Ford and his supporters may well have seen the Sociological Department as a benevolent tool to benefit his employees, but the workers came to resent the intrusion into their personal lives. Ford himself eventually realized that the Sociological Department was unsustainable. By 1921, it was largely dissolved.

Wages Up, Sales Up

As for charges that Ford raised pay in pursuit of publicity, there’s no question that the Five-Dollar Day brought a spotlight on Ford Motor Company. But publicity is fleeting, and the Five-Dollar Day’s impact was far greater than newspaper headlines. Other automakers soon boosted their own wages to keep pace with Ford. Automobile parts suppliers followed suit. In time, workers in any number of fields were earning genuine “living wages” that afforded them comfort and security above basic food, shelter and clothing needs.

It’s no small detail that, as Henry Ford slyly observed, in the course of improving his employees’ standard of living, Ford also created a new pool of customers for his Model T. The Five-Dollar Day helped to bring members of America’s working class into its middle class. Better wages, combined with the affordable goods produced by the assembly line, are cornerstones of the prosperity that has characterized American life for so many of the past 100 years.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation of The Henry Ford.

wages

Bobby Unser is one of auto racing’s major figures, counting among his victories three wins at the Indianapolis 500 and 13 wins at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. In 2009, Bobby and his wife Lisa donated papers and photographs documenting Bobby’s racing career and the family’s life to The Henry Ford, and over the course of 2013, we added nearly 2300 of these photographs to our digital collections. Just added is this photo of Bobby and some of his military colleagues, with a handwritten note on the back lamenting too-large Air Force shorts. Explore all our digital Bobby Unser material on our collections website.

Color TV is Here!

December 30, 2013

The centerpiece article in the January 1954 issue of Popular Mechanics introduced its readers to the technical world of color television. Its title, “Color TV is Here” implies a sense of relief – finally we can see the televised world in a palette that reflects reality. Color was far from new when it came to moving images. At the cinema, the 1939 double-dose of Technicolor brilliance captured in Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz helped to anchor color film in popular culture. And, by 1950, Eastman Kodak’s monopack system made color film production even easier. At home, color television had been a long-standing promise with a lot of fanfare, but its lack of realization had begun to frustrate its supporters. Much like the early history of color photography, many complicated experiments occurred before the process was simplified and perfected enough to make a mass impact. Although test broadcasts using color equipment had been made in 1951 by CBS Broadcasting, it was not feasible to execute this mode of television on a large scale. Slow sales, bitter lawsuits, and a halt on broadcasting experiments as a result of the Korean War all played their part in a sluggish beginning for the new medium.

One of the biggest hurdles for color broadcasting was the need to conserve bandwidth. Many companies tested ideas, but it was RCA’s “all-electronic” system that eventually won the approval of the National Television Systems Committee (NTSC) in June 1953. By splitting information related to image and brightness into separate signals, less bandwidth was used. In the television studio, RCA TK-40 and TK-41 cameras were the first favorites to broadcast live color images, and remained the preferred technology through the 1960s.

When NBC finally debuted coast-to-coast color broadcasting, its subject matter was the Tournament of Roses parade on January 1, 1954. At this point, the ability for Americans to experience telecasts in color was no longer a futuristic fantasy, but an achievable reality. The full spectrum of the parade’s spectacle, however, was only viewable on a handful of prototype televisions by an elite group of advertising executives and investors. Mass production of televisions soon began, but the cost for early color models remained extraordinarily high. RCA Victor’s first production television for the home, the CT-100, cost $995 in 1954—the equivalent of $8500 today! Sales remained slow in the 1950s.

[caption id="attachment_19630" align="aligncenter" width="700"]Miss Color Tv Marie McNamara, a test model who became known as “Miss Color TV” for her role in NBC late-night color tests. [Broadcast News. Color Television Issue. Camden, N.J: Radio Corporation of America, Number 77, January-February 1954.] (ID: 99.190.2)[/caption]Before telecasts went live, each camera had to be “tuned,” much like a musical instrument. Cameramen were trained to make adjustments to the camera by focusing on and matching large color wheels wheeled onto the filming stage. Set and costume design played up a range of bright hues to be broadcast: colorful backgrounds and multi-layered costumes on actors highlighted the medium’s potential. The NBC peacock’s rainbow tail confidently fanned its plumage across the screens of viewers.

In preparation for the adoption of color programming, New York’s NBC-TV conducted late-night experiments with their “test girls,” who would appear for work in the small hours of the morning after the network had signed off. Marie McNamara was employed as a “living color chart” for two and a half years, and was referred to as “the loveliest guinea pig of the electronic era.” Her porcelain skin tone and shocking red hair put McNamara in a difficult telecast range, but if camera operators could get “Miss Color TV” looking good, the cameras were considered to be perfectly aligned. McNamara built up a cult following, as night owl viewers began to stay up past The Late, Late Show to see the silent, smiling woman. Some viewers even learned to lip-read in order to understand what she was chatting about with the television engineers working in the background.

Snapshot showing the arrival of six RCA Victor color televisions to Brandt Sales, a television and radio shop in Dayton, OH, 1962. (2013.140.1)

In spite of NBC’s national color broadcast in 1954, programming for the next decade remained spotty. A small ratio of network programming was broadcast in color, but the majority of local programming stayed in black-and-white. And the lack of color programs is one reason why monochrome television owners were suspicious of making the switch. It took until the mid to late 1960s for viewers to indulge in the purchase of a color set.

Several factors are thought to have helped to catalyze this decision. First, in 1961, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color began broadcasting on Sunday evenings. The self-referential title reminded black-and-white viewers of the spectacle they were missing. In this same spirit, popular shows like The Andy Griffith Show, The Adventures of Superman, and The Lucy Show began to transition from filming in black-and-white to color. Second, 1966 was the first year of a full color prime time schedule, and NBC became the first all-color network that same year. More programming in color led to more viewer interest and willingness to invest in a stable technology. And finally, by the end of the 1960s, color sales were starting to pick up, with a more approachable set on the market for $495.

Once, Allen B. Dumont, television inventor and network owner, assured the public:

Nobody believes that color will completely replace black and white. There wouldn’t be much point in seeing wrestling bouts or horse races in color. […] There will always be plenty of monochrome shows to watch. (Popular Mechanics, Jan 1954, 282)

From the patience of engineers to that of businesses waiting selling the product, the early days of color television production and commerce were as finely calibrated as cameras upon a test girl. In 1972 color television sales finally defeated those of their monochrome cousins; two years later, two-thirds of American households had color sets.

SOURCES:

  • Day, Michael. “Color TV is Here,” Popular Mechanics Magazine. Jan 1954.
  • Lind, A.H. “RCA Model TM-10A Color Video Monitor,” Broadcast News, Camden, N.J.: Radio Corporation of America, No.77, Jan/Feb 1954.
  • Magoun, Alexander B. Television: The Life Story of a Technology. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2007.
  • Ovington, Reg. “TV’s Only Silent Star,” Detroit Times Sunday Pictorial Review. April 18, 1954.
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    Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

    Industrialist. Outdoorsman. Race car driver. Henry Ford did a lot, and we have photos to prove it - lots of photos.

    Here are 10 more of my favorites... The first is our main image, posted above.

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    Henry Ford driving his Quadricycle, Detroit, Michigan, 1896 (THF206457).

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    Henry Ford driving his "Sweepstakes" race car against Alexander Winton, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, 1901 (THF94819).

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    Henry Ford feeding a deer, circa 1912 (THF97195).

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    Henry and Clara Ford birdwatching at “the bungalow,” the future site of their Fair Lane estate, Dearborn, Michigan, 1910-1915 (THF96013).

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    Henry Ford, lacing his boots during a camping trip, 1919 (THF96265).

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    Henry and Edsel Ford with a player piano during a camping trip in Maryland, 1921 (THF96578).

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    Henry Ford operating a Westinghouse portable steam engine, Dearborn, Michigan, 1922 (THF96847).

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    Henry Ford and George Washington Carver at the Tuskeegee Institute, Alabama, 1938 (THF213775).

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    Henry Ford and chemist Robert Boyer unveiling the “Soybean Car,” a prototype with a plastic body, Dearborn, Michigan, 1941 (THF98874).

    Jim Orr, Image Services Specialist, forgot to pack the player piano the last time he went camping.