There’s Nothing Like A Model T
By MJ Benda, Historical Society Trustee and Volunteer Carriage House Gift Shop Manager
On Monday, July 18 over 450 members of the Model T Ford Club International visited Rose Hill Mansion. Our visitors came from 33 states and 2 foreign countries. Most of them arrived driving their prized Model Ts. I was volunteering in the Carriage House Gift Shop so I was in a prime spot to watch these cars come up the driveway. Not only did I get to see all the Model Ts but I had the terrific opportunity to get some questions answered. First, where’s the gas tank (under the front seat). Second, what’s the proper way to get into the backseat of our 1916 Model T truck (there isn’t any, you just climb in). As the morning went on the owners very generously shared stories and details about their cars. Please understand I claim no expertise in this area, but I found the details to be fascinating and thought others may as well. If there are any factual errors, I apologize.
Many of us are familiar with Henry Ford’s quote “Any customer, can have a car painted any color he wants, so as long as it’s black.” What many of us may not realize is the early Model Ts weren’t black at all. They were red, blue, grey or green. As the demand for the cars increased the Ford Motor Company found these colors did not dry fast enough and production goals were not being met. Henry Ford tasked his team with finding a color that dried quickly and would keep the car affordable. Japan black fit the bill, its ability to dry quickly helped speed up the production line once again.
1915 was the last year the cars were produced with “full brass.” It was explained that in 1916, the factory used any brass parts remaining. So some 1916 models may have more brass than others. Polishing the brass on these earlier models turned out to be time-consuming task, often taking 4-6 hours to complete! Without the brass the cars became all black in 1917. Things changed again in 1926 when the head lamps, radiators and other items started to be plated with nickel silver. As I looked over the Model Ts that graced our grounds, details I had not noticed before became much more apparent.
The Model T was built without fuel, oil or water pumps, gravity did the work. Going uphill when low on gas became somewhat of a challenge, as gravity drained the gas away from the engine. The solution, quickly get sideways in the road and then proceed to go up the hill in reverse. Hills became known as a 6 gallon hill or an 8 gallon hill.
I noticed most of the drivers would exit their cars from the passenger’s door, so I asked why. Henry Ford did not want his drivers to get out of the car and step into traffic. For this reason driver’s doors weren’t included until the 1925 models. His wife quickly spoke up and said “He’s not telling you the real reason, the last person that got in the car had to do the cranking.” Of course, we know who the last person in the car would usually be….
In 1914 Henry Ford decided to increase his worker’s wages and decrease the number of hours they worked. As a result wages doubled to $5.00 per day and the work day was decreased to 8 hours. This opened up a whole new market for the Model T. Sales skyrocketed as workers were finally able to afford to buy the cars they produced.
As the morning went on, I challenged one owner to tell me something I hadn’t heard before. He certainly met the challenge by asking if anyone had told me what they did with the packing crates. Well no one had. He said everyone always thinks the wood was used for the floorboards in the cars, but this wasn’t true. Instead, they burned the wood and made charcoal briquettes which were sold under the name of Ford charcoal. Eventually the name was changed to Kingsford charcoal, a product still in use today.
As the day drew to close I must admit that I was disappointed it was over. It wasn’t likely I was going to see a traffic jam of Model Ts on the grounds of Rose Hill any time soon. Nor would I be able to wander the grounds and marvel over these unique cars. To say I enjoyed the day while it lasted, well that’s something of an understatement!