by DAN BROOKS
This summer of 2003 is sure to go down in the annals of automotive history as “the Ford Summer”. The celebration of the Company’s 100th year provided visitors from around the world with a myriad of once in a lifetime Centennial experiences. With the events at The Henry Ford II World Center, the re-opening of the revitalized Greenfield Village and with tours of the Ford Homes, Ford Piquette Plant and new Ford River Rouge Visitor’s Center, there was enough Ford history on display to make a convert of the most ardent GM or Chrysler aficionado.
For members of the Henry Ford Heritage Association, the HFHA Centennial Tour will remain one of the most memorable happenings of the Centennial weekend.
On June 17th, over 80 HFHA folk assembled in the courtyard of the historic Ford Piquette Avenue Plant for an auto tour that included three of the most significant sites in Ford Motor history. Many members brought along their own beautifully restored vintage Fords, models that included: 2 1903 Model As, 9 Model Ts and 5 – 2nd generation Model As, a 1934 Ford Phaeton, 2 1956 Fords, a 1957 T-bird and a 1978 Lincoln (along with 5 modern Ford products).
As HFHA President Mike Skinner arranged rides for those without cars, members mingled about. Suddenly Mr. Henry Ford himself appeared (aka HFHA past president and board member Dick Folsom) and agreed to accompany the group on their trip to the site of the first Ford factory and on to Detroit’s Hart Plaza, site of Malcomson Coal Company where Ford Motor papers of incorporation were signed, June 16th, 1903. (For his first time Dick finally donned the paper mache Henry Ford head and costume borrowed from Detroit’s Parade Company).
Led by Rick Lindner’s wonderful 1903 Model A, with Mr. Ford bobbing along high in the rear, the convoy of vintage Fords left Piquette and traveled the streets of Detroit to what has now been determined as the exact site of the Ford Mack Ave Plant. The fledgling Ford Motor Company began operations on the site in a rented facility provided by Ford stockholder and building contractor Albert Strelow and continued to assemble cars there until the move to Piquette in the fall of 1904. The original Mack Avenue Plant survived until August of 1941 when it was destroyed by fire. Shortly thereafter Henry Ford had a 2/3rds scale replica constructed at his Greenfield Village in Dearborn. Ironically, the structure that currently occupies the site had also burned just one month before the HFHA event. Its semi demolished appearance and inner city locale did not sway the enthusiasm of the die-hard Fordophiles.
Upon arrival, the line of Fords parked along the street directly across from the site as Rick Lindner positioned his ‘03 A under a Centennial banner placed by Dick Folsom and Mike Skinner earlier that day. Quite a stir arose among the locals as they watched the picture taking that ensued and HFHA members crisscrossing the street to “have a photo” with Mr. Ford at the site of his first factory. To add to the mêlée, Rick unloaded his 2nd non-running ‘03 Model A from a trailer (it had broken down during the Motor Muster at Greenfield Village two days before) and with the helping hands of a few tour participants positioned it behind his first car for another photo shoot.
With all the activity and quite a heavy traffic flow, it was not long before the tour received a visit from two representatives of the metro Detroit constabulary. Soon thereafter, Mike Skinner was relieved of his traffic directing responsibilities. After a short discussion with Skinner and some urging by HFHA Webmaster Dan Brooks to have photos taken in the operating ‘03 Ford, Seventh Precinct officers William Brewster and Rebecca Leyder gave the tour a safe and enthusiastic police escort from Mack avenue to downtown Detroit’s Hart Plaza, site of the Malcomson Coal Company.
Rain was falling and limited parking was available, so tour participants placed their vehicles under the entry of the abandoned Henry and Edsel Ford Auditorium. Rick Lindner was graciously allowed to take his Ford onto the plaza and park it next to the Michigan State Historical Marker indicating the site of the coal yard where Ford Motor Company was legally founded. Again, another round of picture taking took place as Mr. Ford stood next to the marker and Mike Skinner noted the history of the site. As the rain diminished, members returned to their cars and after a bit of maneuvering the tour was on its way again. On passing a convention of over 12,000 Baptists, which was taking place at Detroit’s Cobo Center, the sun broke through and it was clear sailing all the way down Washington Blvd. to Woodward Avenue and back to Piquette. Only a few traffic lights, a stop in front of the Fabulous Fox Theater and one other at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, site of Henry and Clara Ford’s funerals, broke the procession’s stride.
Finally, HFHA members were treated to a tour of the birthplace of the Model T during one of the most opportune times since the days of Henry Ford. For in celebration of the Centennial, a most unique assemblage of Piquette built cars were amassed on the 3rd floor of the historic plant. A nearly complete set of letter cars (Models A through T) was on display as were a number of Piquette era cars, Wayne, Flanders, EMF, Oldsmobile and Cadillac. A short ceremony took place and a beautiful Centennial cake, decorated with edible images of the Mack Ave. plant and Henry Ford’s original Ford stock certificate, was served as participants took in the atmosphere of one of Detroit’s hidden jewels.
Such events come around but once every 100 years. All in all, it was quite a trip to remember!
(President’s Note – A special thanks to all of the historic Ford vehicle owners including 14 members of the Model T Ford Club of Detroit and several HFHA members. This event would not have been a success without the participation of so many enthusiastic Fordophiles. It was important that a Ford Centennial event be held in Detroit where the company was founded and headquartered for 7 years. It was most appropriate to hold such an event precisely 100 years from the date that papers of incorporations arrived and were approved at the state capital in Lansing Michigan. I am proud that our association sponsored such an event.)
Text on the Michigan State Historical Marker, indicating the site of Malcomson Coal Company.
Ford Motor Company was incorporated as an automobile manufacturer on June 16, 1903. The articles of incorporation were drawn up and signed in the office of Alexander Y. Malcomson, who operated a coal yard once located on this site. Henry Ford gave the company its name and designed its first product, the 1903 Model A. The purpose of the company was to manufacture and sell motorcars and related parts. In addition to Ford and Malcomson, the original stockholders included other figures important in the history of Detroit: John S. Gray, John F. Dodge, Horace E. Dodge, Albert Strelow, Vernon C. Fry, Charles H. Bennett, Horace H. Rackham, John W. Anderson, James Couzens and Charles J. Woodall. Over the past seventy-five (now 100) years the Ford Motor Company has become one of the leading auto producers of the world.
(Installed in 1978 on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Ford Motor Company).