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Birthplace of the Model T: Ford Piquette Plant

July 20, 2013 by · Comments Off on Birthplace of the Model T: Ford Piquette Plant 

Yesterday television and media sources reported a sad tale about the city of Detroit facing bankruptcy. The news made me reflect on a visit,  and specifically to a place in Detroit that profoundly impressed me.  The Piquette Plant continues to stand out as one of those magical ah-ha moments.

So, to honor the Motor City, I offer a revised story, similar to the one  I wrote for Automotive Traveler back in 2011.  I sincerely hope the Piquette Plant will continue to thrive as a museum, even as the city around it struggles.

 My Visit to the Piquette Plant

The Ford Piquette Plant, Detroit

The Ford Piquette Plant, Detroit

Experiencing emotional consciousness from global wonders should come as no surprise for me, a seasoned traveler. Places like the Tower of London are so steeped in history, you cannot help but literally feel the presence of the past.  But, I was caught quite off guard by the tingling sensations that overwhelmed me as I stepped in to the historic Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit. You see, I wasn’t expecting the place to be much more than just another old brick building packed with vintage cars.

Henry Ford 1919

As I entered the factory from a secured rear parking lot, the original wooden stairs suddenly came alive—they creaked and groaned and I swear I could hear the footsteps of America’s automotive pioneers. Henry Ford, John and Horace Dodge, Harvey Firestone, Earl and George Holley, William Durant and Walter Flanders trod here. Mr. Ford’s gossamer ingenuity hung in the air making me wonder if perhaps he is a ghost.

The three-story wood and brick factory resides in a semi-abandoned section of Detroit. Still, 411 Piquette Avenue is National Historic Landmark and home of the Experimental Room where Henry Ford and his team designed the Model T. The corner lot remains one of the 100th most significant industrial sites in the 20th century.


In 1904, Henry Ford began his third attempt at automobile production here –his first Ford Motor Company factory. By early January 1907, Mr. Ford had the corner of the third floor walled-off for use as his dream-team’s brain storming emporium. Here, R&D projects thrived, like race-car driver Spyder Huff’s work on the fly wheel magneto. This important innovation delivered high voltage energy to fire spark plugs. Ford was unrelenting toward his goal of producing a simple, affordable “universal car” that could be easily mass produced.


The “T” was jointly designed in 1908 by Henry Ford, C. Harold Wills and Joseph Galamb at the Piquette Plant. The early black painted models were assembled at stations, with workers and parts moving around the factory as the car came together. Completed vehicles were taken down from the second floor by elevator, test driven on the streets around the Plant and parked in the courtyard where engines were fine-tuned. After passing final inspection the “T’s” were driven to the shipping room at the rear of the building, cleaned and provided with tags and then placed on the railroad freight platform to await shipment.

Inside the Piquette Plant


Prior to 1907 all parts used at Piquette were out-sourced, such as the Dodge Brothers’ (original shareholders) engines and transmissions, while Earl and George Holley supplied carburetors and Harvey Firestone delivered the tires.  Eight different models were produced between 1904 and 1920: the B, C, F, K, N, R, S, but it was the1908 Model T that put everyday drivers around the world behind the wheel.


Of the 15 million Model T’s eventually made, the first 12,000, produced at the astounding rate of 175 vehicles per day were built at the Piquette plant. In the factory’s early years, cars took eight to twelve hours to assemble—prompting experimentation with faster assembly lines. Instead of having workers move from car to car to do their work, Ford used a rope to pull the car frame on wheels past the workers as they attached their assigned parts.

 Move to Highland Park

This process continued until 1910 when the company moved out of the overcrowded Piquette Palant to the Highland Park Plant and began the more sophisticated moving assembly line work. By 1913, this innovative approach dropped the time needed to construct a Model T down to twelve minutes. Wow, four cars produced in under an hour!


The Studebaker Corporation bought ownership of the Piquette property in 1911 and over the years multiple owners used the building. Amazingly, little changed from the landmark 1904-1910 Ford production days, which is itself a marvel. Visitors can easily slip back in time to envision sweating workers riveting parts, men contorting into awkward positions to screw bolts and others inhaling fumes while painting the vehicles.


They meander displays of  vintage cars arranged within the naturally sunlight space, some in restored condition and others well-used. The building includes 355 towering windows—most with original glass. Thick wooden columns and beams graced with the patina of peeling paint and exposed pipes adds to the authenticity of old work arena.



Imagine riding in “Miss Elizabeth,” a 1909 Ford Victorian red beauty or as the chaperone in the whimsical 1911 “Mother-in-law’s T” with a rear seat to observe the dating couple. Take in the intriguing cleverness—such as a 1922 Model T’s snowmobile adaption–a chassis with skis replacing the front wheels and chains on the rear tires. Best part, the car could be converted back to regular use in non-snowy months.

"Miss Elizabeth"

“Miss Elizabeth”



A Model T Snow Mobile


If you are even slightly interested in America’s automotive history, then the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant–Detroit’s only pioneer automobile factory–is a definite must for your bucket list.

If you go:

A visit to the birthplace of the Model T begins with a short video to familiarize visitors with Detroit in the early 1900’s. The worthwhile film explains the creation of the Ford automobile company. Tour guides are extremely knowledgeable.


Riding in a Model T at Greenfield Village

Riding in a Model T at Greenfield Village


The Piquette Avenue plant is pleased to announce that it has joined with 20 other automotive related sites as partners, working with and through the MotorCities Automotive Heritage Area, in the National Parks Service Passport Stamp program.

The Passport Stamp program is a national program to feature historic sites that define the American heritage, including the National Parks, National Historic Landmarks, and other related venues. Proceeds from the passport stamp program are donated to help protect, interpret, and preserve these historic landmarks. The MotorCities coordinated effort in south and southeast Michigan is promoting automotive related tourism and other visitation to the participating partners agencies, including the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant.



My first, but the 145th Running of the Belmont Stakes

July 17, 2013 by · Comments Off on My first, but the 145th Running of the Belmont Stakes 

The Finish Line at Belmont

The Finish Line at Belmont

Torrential rain hammered New York on Thursday morning and continued unabated through Friday night. Taxi queues snaked so long the idea of sloshing on foot appealed more than the wait. If only I brought my galoshes. I kept thinking that racetrack conditions on Saturday would be mud-bowl miserable.

Entering Belmont Park

Entering Belmont Park

However, sunshine blessed Saturday morning and the Big Apple awakened with delicious looking dry skies. A limo scooted us out to the Belmont Stakes grounds, not far from LaGuardia Airport. We arrived early to get the lay of the land and watch the event come to life. As we strolled in, we discovered booths of festival food, craft beer in an outdoor bar, tents selling horse racing memorabilia and the paddock area where horses were being saddled.

Belmont Stakes Trophy

Belmont Stakes Trophy





My pass permitted me into the Belmont Club where I found impressive sterling silver trophies shining with aged patina. Who would win the title this year and add their name to the prestigious list?  No Triple Crown possibility; Orb captured the Kentucky Derby and Oxbow the Preakness, but both would compete in the race later in the day.


In addition, there was a talented field of twelve others and plenty of possibilities to consider like the jockeys such as Rosie Napravnik riding the filly Unlimited Budget. At Belmont, the question of endurance is paramount as the course is the longest race of the three.

As a historical back note: Twenty-six horses have been eligible to win the Triple Crown coming into the Belmont Stakes and eleven have succeeded. In the last three runnings, horses that won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (Silver Charm, Real Quiet, and Charismatic) were denied racing immortality in the Belmont Stakes. Racing has not seen a Triple Crown champion since 1978, when Affirmed swept the three-race series.



Box Seat at Belmont

Box Seat at Belmont

Back in the clubhouse, gentlemen arrived in coat and tie and women gussied up in fine dresses, many with hats. They helped themselves to a sumptuous buffet and dined over horsey conversations at linen-clothed tables. Tuxedoed waiters scurried to bring champagne, refill drinks and open doors.

Patron boxes sat directly in front of the finish line outside the Club’s glass fronted room. These were the best seats in the house and one was mine for the day!

Races run a half hour apart and the big race was scheduled as number 11. The minutes between pass as bets are placed at a slew of teller windows. White ticket stubs record bets and offer the chance at big payoffs or end up as trash. Up to the moment odds are reflected on the official board. All this frenzied hubbub drew me in; it’s rather addictive.

As a newbie, I attempted to learn how to read the program and race records as well as interpret the complicated lingo used to handicap the horses. While the stats appear to lend an edge, to me, it all seemed like pure chance. I could bet on my favorite number or the color of jockey’s silks with about the same chance. I didn’t follow the rules or wasn’t very lucky because all day long I never picked a winner.

Belmont Paddock-3

Belmont Paddock

Belmont Paddock

Belmont Paddock-5

But, I was captivated by my surroundings and had fun listening to the bugler call everyone to attention. Then, the announcer would report that the horses were entering the track. Best of all, I admired the pageantry of the gorgeous parading thoroughbreds in front of the stands. Before the official Stakes, “New York, New York” blasted through the speakers and many in the stands joined in song.

The escort horses eventually trotted off and the racehorses and jockeys entered the starting gate. “And they’re off,’ shouted the caller. The cheering voices in the grandstands rose as the competitors completed the final turn and the volume accelerated as they neared the finish line. Folks jumped up and down, clapped their hands or pulled their fists through their hair. Many of the races were won by a nose- a photo finish displayed on the jumbotron and frequently followed by jubilation or harsh words.

This time Oxbow finished second, three and a quarter lengths back, and Orb was third. Palace Malice surprised the crowd and completed the mile and a half distance in 2 minutes 30.70 seconds on a track that was upgraded to fast. The winner paid $29.60 on a $2 bet to win. As a comparison, Secretariat’s amazing 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont Stakes established the world record for a mile and a half at 2:24.

No doubt about it, horse racing is a thrill. On this day, Belmont was the place to be and this time I was indeed lucky; I was there.

Here’s a short 15 second video of the start of the Race:

Disclosure:  Attendance at this event was made possible by the generosity of a good friend.

Amenities Add Up for St. Francis Inn Guests in St. Augustine, Florida

July 11, 2013 by · Comments Off on Amenities Add Up for St. Francis Inn Guests in St. Augustine, Florida 

St. Francis Inn, St. Augustine, FL

St. Francis Inn, St. Augustine, FL


A Hotel Review: St. Francis Inn


St. Francis of Assisi gave up all the trappings of a privileged lifestyle to follow God. Not necessary for guests at the St. Francis Inn in St. Augustine, Florida. In fact, the St. Francis Inn lavishes lodgers with more amenities than one might pray for.


The cozy Bed and Breakfast, located in the oldest section of America’s oldest city, offers a bountiful breakfast buffet for a few hours each morning (time depends of day of the week).  Guests do not need to sit and eat with others in the dining room unless they choose to. Lodgers have the option of using a tray to take their breakfast goodies out to the courtyard, into their room, or for that matter anywhere they choose.

Full Breakfast Buffet

Full Breakfast Buffet


Afternoon snacks include hearty hors d’oeurves plus wine, beer, ice tea, soda or flavored water. Cucumber and melon flavored water were beautiful displayed in glass containers when I visited. Complimentary non-alcoholic drinks remain available throughout the day.


Room at the St. Francis Inn

Room at the St. Francis Inn

Desserts are offered each evening from 8:00 – 9:30pm.  The scrumptious baked items are masterful homemade creations by Janice, the chef at the Inn. She makes special birthday, anniversary or other occasion delights upon request. Her chocolate covered strawberries are some of the best I have ever tasted.  And, late night snackers may help themselves to chips and soda.

The St. Francis Inn Beach Cottage

St. Francis Inn Beach Cottage

But St. Francis extras don’t stop with food.  Guests at the historic area inn are offered the option of exploring St. Augustine Beach, about 8 miles away, with access to reserved parking, beach chairs and full bath/shower facilities. This is a real plus in my mind because beach parking can be difficult. The Inn also offers beach sleeping options. Reserve their Beach Cottage and you’ll get 2 bedrooms, full kitchen, living and dining room, plus indoor Jacuzzi.


Complimentary high speed WiFi runs throughout the inn and the St. Francis has their own solar heated swimming pool. Guests also have complimentary use of bicycles in the Old City, free tickets to the Lighthouse and 50% off discounts for tours of the Oldest House.


A special promotion in 2013 gives Inn guests who stay for two nights Sunday thru Thursday at regular rates a complimentary admission (valued at $59 plus tax per person) for a two-hour Segway Through History ride. Advance reservations are required but this is a way cool way to see America’s oldest city.


Innkeepers Joe and Margaret Finnegan maintain a generous spirit and like to spoil their guests with abundance. Guests clearly feel welcome and many find they simply must return to re-experience the charm of the St. Francis Inn in St. Augustine.


Cozy Room of the St. Francis Inn

Cozy Room of the St. Francis Inn

279 Saint George St, St. Augustine, Florida 32084
Toll-free: 1-800-824-6062
Tel: (904) 824-6068 • Fax: (904) 810-5525
Mobile Site:


My stay at the St. Francis Inn Beach Cottage arranged by Leigh Cort Publicity.

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