There is no doubt that Henry Ford changed everyone's life back in the early days of the 20th century. We do not really remember the days of currying, cleaning hoofs, feeding and caring for the old mare or team of mules that offered us transportation. Some of us remember the little Ford coupe that carried three in the front and three in the back, and in the summer let two of us ride happily in the rumble seat -- a darling name for a position that ruined our hair and covered our beings with road dust that became a peculiar shade of orange as it dried on our arms and face. A place from which we waved to friends and strangers as if we were having a grand time, and in truth really thought we were. However, that was in the 1930s. Now, in this year of 2008, the Ford Motor Co., the very business that made that little car, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The Transportation Museum in Chester is doing its best to offer residents an opportunity to see and relive those years through films and sound tracks that made the present day mode of travel all that it is.
If you watch those souped-up cars race around tracks going more than 150 mph, you should, in your heart, remember old Henry, for he certainly made it possible for your ancestors to own a car that changed their lives and probably lengthened their years, too. Taking care of a car was certainly less stressful than caring for a horse or mule. Gasoline and oil was the trick with the ol' "T," while the work of taking care of animals was a never-ending chore.
True, there were things that you had to learn. Take the crank, for example. That required ability, the power to turn and the deftness to know when to let go; otherwise, you would be standing at the doctor's office with a broken arm, and it happened many a time. The quickness of action was the thing that made that little car "act right."
The reward was when that mighty little engine gave one groan and then turned over, and the little "flivver" shook and roared into action. The hood rattled a bit, the fenders reacted, and the narrow tires made ready to roll. The farmer, the grocery man, the newspaper editor and the doctor were all on the same transportation level -- an automobile was an equalizer. It was possible for almost everyone to own one. It was the beginning of a social change in American society.
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The 1908 model was called the "T" by Ford and the "Flivver" or "Tin Lizzie" by its every-growing group of owners across the nation. No matter the name, the Volkswagen was penned years later by Adolf Hitler when he called it the car of the people. Nuts, the car of the people was the one Henry Ford began to put together in the early 1900s at the old Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich.
Henry Ford was a man of extreme neatness and dedication to making everything, including men and machines, work properly so that everyone could enjoy his great invention. He introduced assembly-line production that produced a car a day. Imagine, one man doing the same job repeatedly. Henry Ford encouraged black men to come to Michigan and apply for work. He gave them jobs, and they were paid the same as the white fellows. This man, this engineering genius, made huge and important social changes in labor history.
The late Mary Saye Gaston in her "Spoken History" told her granddaughter Beth her vivid memory of the first automobile she ever saw. It was on a Sunday morning when a Chester doctor roared by in his new car. Mr. Saye pulled the mule-drawn wagon over to the side of the road. He spoke gently to the mules, who simply watched and, after the loud machine passed, ambled on down the road toward home and their day of rest.
Chester County became home to many owners of the new mode of transportation. The first cars purchased on record were a Cadillac Runabout purchased by Dr. W.B. Cox and a Ford Runabout by J.G. Johnson on June 2, 1906. The car bug must have bitten Dr. S.W. Pryor, for on June 4 that same year, he purchased an Olds Runabout. J.C. Carpenter bought a New Era Motorcycle. Not to be outdone, Paul Hardin bought a Rambler on the June 30, 1906. Hardin was to set a record: In three years he owned three cars. On April 3, 1907, he bought his second, and then in 1908 he purchased another from the Cameron Car Co.
In the old records, we found that Dr. S.W. Pryor was the most exuberant buyer. He bought two cars in one day, April 18, 1910 -- different brands purchased from different companies. He must have driven one while the other was being gassed and dusted.
Most all of these owners carried a feather duster in the back of their car. You know, just to keep it neat.
All of this information and much more are on the file at the Transportation Museum, a place where you can sit comfortably and watch a film on the history of Henry Ford and all he accomplished in his life.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. There is always someone there to tell you about what you will see, including a perfectly restored 1916 Ford. The ever-important crank is right there for all to see.
Do yourselves and your children a favor; take them to see and to learn all that has been accomplished in this nation and in this county. There are pictures of long-gone Cestrians, the proper name for the people of Chester, and their cars and travel tales of the county.
The Transportation Museum is a gift of great value. It lets us know the good things that started happening here on June 1, 1906, when J.M. Bell brought the motor bicycle to town.