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
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.
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.
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.
UPDATE 6/16/2011 PIQUETTE AVENUE PLANT JOINS NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE PASSPORT STAMP PROGRAM
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.
Texas Hill Country: Fredericksburg
as featured in
Tank-of-Gas Adventure: Texas Hill Country.
Food festivals and markets year round plus local wines and bier… Good thing historic Fredericksburg offers plenty of …
To read this feature in magazine format please click the link below:
Travel: Daytona Beach In 5…
By Debi Lander
Published February 07, 2011
To view the video and article as they appeared on Fox News please use the following link:
Daytona may be known as the “Birthplace of Speed,” but today the city beats with intensity for thrill-seeking fanatics, adventure junkies, bikers, sun worshippers as well as racecar enthusiasts. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Daytona Beach earned a reputation as the Spring Break oasis of the south. These days the busty and bawdy scene has toned down, as many college coeds-gone-wild flee to Bermuda or the Caribbean islands.
5…Hit town for the Daytona 500
Every February NASCAR fans flock to the Daytona International Speedway (1801 West International Speedway Drive) for the 57th annual Daytona 500. The day’s event pits 43 of the best stock car drivers in the world against each other in NASCAR’s biggest, richest, and most prestigious race.
Auto and motorcycle racing began on the Atlantic shores of Daytona’s hard-packed sandy beach and turned the corner onto legendary Route A-1A. The Daytona Beach Road Course holds the honor as the site of fifteen world land-speed records. In 1959, the Speedway was constructed allowing cars to move to the safer asphalt surface. The historic venue’s $20 million track repaving was completed just in time for the announcer to call the “gentlemen” to start their engines. And yes, since 1977, ladies too were called, since that was the year Janet Guthrie became the first woman to earn a starting spot.
Encompassing 180 acres and including a 29-acre lake, the speedway attracts about 250,000 spectators — their masses divided between the 165,000-seat grandstand and the infield track. On non-racing days the track offers three separate open-air tram tours through the hallowed grounds enabling a driver’s point of view of the steeply-banked course.
4…Feel the need for speed the Richard Petty way
Attending a race at the International Speedway is a definite bucket list item for race fans: those must-see places and events to accomplish before you die. But imagine instead, testing your own driving skills on the 2.5 mile course in a real NASCAR that roars with 600 horsepower. The Richard Petty Driving Experience puts you in the driver’s seat for the ultimate pedal to the metal thrill. Sit with a professional driver as he coaches you through a few speed controlled practice spins. Then, with hair raising goose bumps, your heart pounding and deep concentration, let it rip and zip around the 31-degree banked turns.
For those wanting a slightly tamer ride, choose the Ride-Along option and sit shotgun while the expert racer makes a 3-lap run. The high performance activity isn’t cheap (driving starts at $595) but the bragging rites remain priceless. To qualify you must be at least 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license, be proficient with a manual transmission, be able to climb through a 15″ high by 30″ wide window that sits 36″ from the ground and fit into a driving suit.
3…Get down and dirty during Bike Week and Biketoberfest
Every March, the leather and chains look hogs the limelight as the world famous Bike Week rolls into Daytona. This festival of vintage and custom bikes is a cultural blend of ages and income levels. Riders living the tattoo lifestyle buzz with hive-like activity hovering around the Harley-Davidson dealership, the Boot Hill Saloon local watering hole (310 Main Street, 386 258-9506) and, of course, the track. Concurrently, the Speedway hosts two weeks of intense motorcycle racing, supercross and dirt track competitions.
The va-vroom of exhaust pipes heralds another noisy week for Daytona during Biketoberfest (www.biketoberfest.org). This extravaganza tends to attract “rubs,” or rich urban bikers, executives, medical and legal professionals. They usually ride in small groups, visit fine restaurants and choose upscale lodging. But make no mistake, the event still garners “Easy Rider”-types and traditional leather-clad bikers.
For anyone wanting to get down and dirty, join in the action by renting a chopper and ride the 22-mile Bike Week Loop. The Chamber of Commerce sponsors this opportunity for novice bikers and show-offs to connect with Florida’s natural beauty.
2…Skydive toward DeLand
For those looking for a supreme adrenaline rush, check into Skydive Deland (1600 Flightline Blvd, DeLand, 386 738-3539, a world-class premier skydive training center located just 20 minutes from downtown. Here you soar with safety minded professionals and ‘chute yourself full of memories.
The gutsy start with ground and safety instruction, being reassured that this is going turn out fine. Then, you ascend to an altitude of approximately two miles for your tandem parachute jump. You, and the instructor strapped on your back, leap from the plane, briefly free-falling at speeds up to 120 miles per hour. The butterflies in the stomach quickly disappear as you revel in the beauty of flight. After about a minute of freefall, your instructor opens the parachute, and together you make a soft landing. To push beyond your weak knees and white knuckles and fears grants one of life’s most empowering experiences and guarantees you’ll have stories to tell the grandchildren. Be sure to hire a videographer to jump with you and record your audacious dive.
1…Yes, there’s a beach here, too
Daytona’s piece de resistance remains its 23 miles of extra wide shoreline. The “World’s Most Famous Beach” consists of sand firm enough to permit driving along designated sections. Find the original North Turn marker off Highway A1A and have lunch at Racing’s North Turn restaurant (4511 South Atlantic Avenue, Ponce Inlet, 386 322-3258 ). While waiting for your order you can peruse old beach-racing photos and memorabilia.
Early morning walkers and runners like to bask in the sunrise as foam rolls onto the shore. But any time of day is good for a walk along the historic pier and boardwalk where you can ride the Ferris wheel and play amusement games, too. Grab a hot dog or some cotton candy and continue to stroll past the Sir Malcolm Campbell Clock tower and the 1937 Band shell which looks like a giant sandcastle. The beach scene hasn’t changed much but remains a must-do in Daytona.