For the Saturday of Father’s Day Weekend, we went to Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Greenfield Village, the outdoor living history section of the Henry Ford complex, was opened to the public in June 1933. Nearly one hundred historical buildings were moved to the property from their original locations and arranged in a “village” setting.
The village includes buildings from the 17th century to the present, many staffed by costumed employees. In addition to the famous buildings such as the Wright Brothers bicycle shop and home, Edison’s Menlo Park lab, Henry Ford’s garage, and others there are buildings for glass blowing, pottery and a tin shop.
Throughout the day they offer rides in historic Model T’s, buses and the steam locomotive.
Once a year, during Father’s Day Weekend they host a car show amongst the buildings, called the Motor Muster. Some 850 cars, bikes, commercial and military vehicles gathered in Greenfield Village for the celebration of automobiles built from 1933 to 1977. This year they featured muscle cars, specifically the iconic Pontiac GTO and the rise of the muscle car.
As we walked up to the entrance we ran into 3 bus loads of Mennonite teenagers from Ohio, which seemed strange they would pick this day to come to Greenfield Village.
Our first stop was the Roundhouse, where workers were maintaining the steam engines. This round house was built in 1884 in Marshall, Michigan, for the Detroit, Toledo & Milwaukee Railroad.
Across the lawn sat a Ford Mustang and Plymouth Road Runner in front of the Detroit Edison Building. Power in front of power! Inside the building itself is original equipment including two Armington and Sims engines and the original Jumbo Dunamo from the first Edison Illuminating building in New York.
At this point I was looking for a snack and we were passing a food court. Inside they were offering some breakfast options, and pastries. Amazingly they were selling ‘Buckeyes’ in Michigan, so I had to get one. It was terrible, clearly people in Michigan just don’t get ‘Buckeyes’.
Just to add to the interesting cultural mix of the Mennonite kids and the motorheads, apparently you can rent the church in the village for weddings, and they were having an Asian wedding that day.
Participant vehicles were spread through nearly every corner of the village, grouped by decade. The 1930s and 1940s cars sat in the suitably serene environs of Suwanee Lagoon and Maple Lane, while the World War II-era military vehicles looked right at home alongside the English Cotswold Cottage. The 1950s and 1960s participants stretched from the Ackley Covered Bridge past Menlo Park and onto the Village Green, while the 1970s cars assembled on the other side of Main Street, arcing from the Roundhouse to the Machine Shop.
One of the nice features is nearly all of the cars had been restored to original condition, not customized. The few that were customized were done so tastefully. Many people had accessories for their cars, such as a 1969 Dodge Coronet station wagon that had an entire plaid picnic set out, along with matching tennis racket covers, bowling ball bag, golf bag, and period correct Stroh’s beer carton. Next door were period bicycles.
The workers who are there all the time dressed in period correct costumes also added to the event. There were ‘police’ directing traffic, the railroad workers, and shop workers. In addition many of the participants, especially the ladies, dressed in period costumes, many times color coordinated with their cars.
With cars heading for the review stand, and the constant rattling of the omnipresent Model T’s giving rides, it felt like a real town, only with great cars. In the background you would often hear the whistle of the steam locomotives.
Since it was yet again looking like rain, we chose to take a break from the car show and take a tour of the Ford F-150 truck factory, an option we purchased when we bought our tickets for the day. Just as we boarded the bus that takes you the mile or so to the factory it started to pour down rain.
As you arrive you make your way into a visitor center. We arrived about 11:45, and they warned us when we were going over that the factory shut down from 1200-12:30 for lunch. They encouraged everyone to go watch a 20 minute video but as usual have no patience for things like that (why watch a video when you are limited on time that you can see at home), so we headed straight for the self guided tour.
The Dearborn Truck Plant, where Ford F-150 truck is made has a 1/3 mile elevated walkway and view the plant’s final assembly line.
From the elevated walkway you’ll see the complex web of equipment, robotics, parts delivery and workers that together can build 1 truck per minute at full line speeds. The tour includes trim lines for cab, box, and door as well as final testing. You’ll see the F-150 come into the plant as an empty shell and leave as a fully tested F-150.
In the Legacy Gallery you can see examples of Ford’s history of innovation – five legendary vehicles made at the Rouge: the 1929 Model A, the ’32 Ford V8, the ’49 Coupe, the 1956 Ford Thunderbird and a 1965 Ford Mustang. Completing the timeline is the Rouge’s latest creation: the all-new 2015 Ford F-150.
During the break for lunch we took the elevator up 80 feet to the Observation Deck. From here there is a panoramic view of the Ford Rouge Center complex and a spectacular way to see the Living Roof atop the Dearborn Truck Plant’s Final Assembly building. The Living Roof is exactly that, plants and grasses on top of the factory, one of the largest of its kind in the world.
From here you can also see the extensive network of environmental innovations throughout the Rouge Complex including: a naturalized habitat, porous pavement, solar arrays and energy saving photovoltaic panels.
Once we returned to Greenfield Village we made our way to the Walnut Grove Field, where they play 1870s style baseball. This field is in the back of the grounds next to the train tracks, and every time the train went by play stopped so the players could waive at the passengers, and vice versa. And the train came by a lot.
Up the hill from the field is the Noah Webster house and Cotswold Cottage, with it’s stone walls and fences. This area was being used for the military vehicles, which looked as though they were in a World War II movie in Europe.
Easily one of the favorite stops of the day was the Edison Menlo Park labs. At Menlo Park, Edison and his collaborators invented the first sound recording technology and a complete electric lighting system—all while pursuing innovations in telegraphy, electric railroads and other fields. Edison assembled a vast range of talents, from scientific researchers, machinists, bookkeepers and glass blowers to ambitious novices—a combination that allowed him to not only innovate quickly but also benefit from the exchange of variant ideas, skills, and methods.
When we arrived they were doing a demonstration with the Edison Recorder. Upstairs is a full reproduction of the original lab, with authentic pieces from New Jersey. In the rear building is a collection of large belts that were used to generate DC current.
The original Henry Ford shop had the Fifteen Millionth Model T produced. In most museum or car shows this would easily be the center piece, here it was relegated to a corner of one of the buildings.
A stop in the weaving shop allowed us to watch the craftsmen and women create wonderful fabrics. As it stood on its original site, most of the first floor of the Weaving Shop was open, allowing access for horses to the drive mechanism for a cotton gin located on the upper floors, which were enclosed. When it was initially rebuilt in Greenfield Village the first floor remained open, but by 1944 the entire first floor had been enclosed and a one-story well had been added.
After a quick stop in the print shop, we went to the tinsmith. They too had amazing skill and produced some great products.
Our final demonstration stop was the glassworks. Here, much like at Franklin Park Conservatory, the glassblowers were hard at work. Only here they were making multi colored vases and other stemware. By this point we had spent the entire day, and even though the car show was scheduled to run into the evening hours, with music later, the shops were closing and some of the cars were leaving.
As we were leaving we walked over to check out the Harvey Firestone Farm, which was strange as used to see this house all the time in the small northeastern Ohio town of Columbiana.