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Model T in the Adirondacks

May 27, 2012
By DON WILLIAMS , For The Leader Herald

Henry Ford of the Ford Motor Company was a lumberman, at least according to an article shared with me by automobile enthusiast Bill Crannell of Northville. The old article tells of "Tin Lizzy's Wooden Heart." When Ford revolutionized the building of America's first autos, he was forced to go into the lumber business.

The Model T Ford, in production by 1907, and the later Model A Ford, were, you might say, wooden automobiles. The bodies were really made of metal sheets bolted to a wooden frame. Since Henry Ford wanted an efficient and profitable product, he believed in controlling it from the source of raw materials to the final product. Hence, he created a forest products operation in Michigan with five sawmills. With his bent for success, he produced more lumber than he needed, thereby, produced other wood products which he sold on the open market.

I remember Northville shop teacher, "Mr. Mendenhal," driving a station wagon with varnished wooden sides. It was a beauty. Henry Ford had introduced a wooden station wagon in 1929 which required high-quality wood. Using birch and maple, the car was in great demand but the upkeep of the varnish finish became a problem and rot soon set in. By 1949, the Ford Station Wagon all-wood body was replaced by steel.

The first of the "horseless carriages" to enter the Adirondacks, of record, was in 1902. Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Sackett honeymooned at Paul Smiths Hotel, using an automobile to get there. Another 1905 trip in a Winton Automobile was reported in Hochschild's "Township 34." In 1903, two men had driven through Hope and in 1905, an automobile made it to Wells. The automobile had come to the Adirondacks and changed its life forever; the building of better roads and the influx of tourists and settlers soon followed.

Once the automobile began to show up in the Adirondack settlements, speed became an issue. Speedometers were put in the Fords by 1909. Much like the high number on today's automobiles, the early speedometers registered an unreachable speed of 60 mph when the top speed of the car was 45 mph. On August 24, 1912, Indian Lake set 10 mph as their speed limit, and after some protesting, it was raised to 20 mph on Sept. 9. The town of Lake Pleasant had a limit of 30 mph.

Henry used wood in his automobile production for most of the early years. Up until 1927, little changed, and even after that he continued wood frames along with "all steel bodies." In 1921, the wooden steering wheel was replaced by a wood-rubber mixture. Wire spokes took the place of the hickory spokes in 1927. When the Model A came out that year, it had 4 feet less of wood than the Model T. Wood reduction continued in the 1930s and by 1956, no lumber was needed in the Ford cars.

The wooden Ford Station Wagon, then, had been introduced in 1929 and transformed to a steel body by 1949. Some mahogany panels were continued but were made of plywood. Tailgates became all-metal in 1950 and in 1954, "the last strip of wood on the station wagon was replaced by plastic." Apparently, the death of the "wooden car" was permanent; maybe, just maybe, with today's technology, an ingenious Adirondacker can add a wooden car made from the tree-filled Adirondacks to the some 20 American cars made today.

 
 
 

 

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