CHAPTER 54. The Ford Factory

On the night Mr. Stewart took us to dinner at the Dearborn Inn he asked whether I had seen the Ford Factory. Of course I had not done so and he told me that he had never had the opportunity of doing so either. It was then arranged that he would take me there the next morning.

Shortly after I arrived at the factory and as soon as he had finished his mail we started out.

World Tour 1938
The revolving globe in the Ford Showroom

At this stage on my trip around the world I was beginning to pass by anything that was not the world’s biggest or best. Ford’s factory was undoubtedly the world’s largest single industrial undertaking.

World Tour 1938
a corner of the Ford Showroom at the Rouge works Detroit

We drove to the Ford rotunda, which is the hospitality building specially erected as a starting point for visitors to the factory. I have already mentioned this building in another chapter as having been brought from Chicago World’s Fair in 1934. It is the most interesting waiting room and there is plenty to occupy the visitor for an hour or so. It is set in 13 acres of landscape grounds where no expense has been considered for their beautification.

These grounds also have reproductions of 18 of the historic roads of the world. Mr. Stewart and I drove around this in a Ford car with a guide who explained them all to us. There was one of the gold field roads from Australia, but nothing from New Zealand.

World Tour 1938
Outside the Rotunda, Ford’s showroom, with some hundreds waiting to get a seat on the many buses used to drive visitors around the factory

We left the rotunda in one of the large Ford buses kept specially for the purpose of taking visitors around the factory. I counted 11 of these buses at one point. This will give some idea of the number of visitors they entertain each day. It was a fair drive to the works, but I understand we were travelling over Henry Ford’s land all the way.

The works are called the Ford Rouge Plant. The plant extends over 1096 acres. We saw Ford’s railway and were told that there were over 90 miles of track within the plant. A little further on we saw the docks and some of the Ford fleet. These large boats are used to bring the raw materials and to take away the finished product. We saw boats discharging ore and were told that it is possible for the iron ore thus brought into the factory on Monday morning to leave the plant in a finished Ford car by noon on Tuesday. This was much easier to believe after I had completed my visit to the factory. I thought I had seen some large freighters on the Hudson but I saw at least one boat which was the largest of its kind I had met in all my travels.

We drove past the foundry. This covers 30 acres. Its power comes from the largest steam generating plant in the world. It uses in a single day more than 538,000,000 gallons of water, which I believe is more than is used by the cities of Auckland and Wellington put together. The electrical power which is generated is more than sufficient to supply twice as much as is used by the people of New Zealand. These figures are staggering but they are correct.

There were men everywhere doing all kinds of work. It was positively a hive of industry. In a single factory we were told that the normal number employed was 80,000 and would go up to 100,000. As everyone has some idea of the number of men employed in Ford work throughout the world it makes us realise that it is correctly stated to be the largest commercial undertaking in the history of man.

I was struck with the cleanliness of the plant. Everything was spick and span. There was nothing out of order. The cleaning work alone regularly employs over 5,000 men. We passed by the blast furnaces but only got a brief glance at the work being done. On account of the risk of accident visitors were not permitted to enter this section. In a 24-hour day these furnaces produce 1500 tons of iron from the ore we had seen them unloading. It is taken in its molten state to another foundry where it is converted into steel. The slag, which is a by-product of the furnaces, is made into portland cement. One day’s output is approximately 2400 barrels. This is placed in special bags which are patented so that it can be handled quickly and easily when it is being used for concreting.

The casting of the Ford V8 engine is a masterpiece of engineering as it is done in one piece. The blast furnaces doing this work use 2600 tons of coke per day and to supply this requires 3800 tons of coal. Is it any wonder that Ford has his own coal mines and boats for bringing the coal to the factory. The coke is made right on the spot and all the by-products of gas, tar, oil, benzol and ammonia sulphate are either used on the plant or sold to the public.

These by-products are almost sufficient to pay for the coal so that Ford gets his 2600 tons of coke per day for almost nothing.

The drive around the Factory lasted quite a long time and then we stopped and were told to leave the bus and go inside the machine shop. Here we started along passages laid out specially for visitors. From this time on we could not hear what was said and had to collect the information afterwards. We saw the various parts of an engine being made.

The carrier system was adopted throughout the factory and whatever a man wanted in his work seemed to be at his hand just when he required it. Every man was doing just one piece of work and nothing else. Of course some operations were longer than others, but the carrier system provided for this. Thus, if a man was simply inserting three screws, by the time he had done that to one piece of the mechanism there was another one arriving at his hand just as the previous one was finished. Where the separate jobs took longer the pieces arriving were spaced accordingly by having more men doing the longer job. The particular part on which the man was working was brought to him on a carrier and when he had done his little part he put it back on the carrier and it went to the next man.

We saw the engine blocks being bored and finished. This was a wonderful piece of work. The bare block is started on its journey and then hundreds of men down a line take parts from the overhead carrier which is always passing by and never stops, and fit them into the engine and then send it on to the next man. It was a splendid example of doing one thing well. There are over 132 miles of these carriers or conveyors in the Ford factory.

As we walked along we could watch a cylinder block gathering parts and getting completed for the V8 engine which it becomes in such a short time. Then we should have taken a walk through the pressed steel building, but time would not permit and so we passed on to the assembly line. This is the most famous part of the Ford Factory, for it is here that the parts which are made in the various departments are brought together into one complete whole

First we saw the chassis put together right at the beginning of the line. The heavy parts for this had been finished except for being assembled. No boy ever put together a piece of meccano as quickly as these men assemble a chassis. We just walked slowly and the chassis was keeping up with us and gathering pieces as it went. The whole thing is mounted on a carrier which is moving slowly but surely to the door away in the distance. The men working on it are also on the carrier for a few yards, but they return to the next chassis as soon as their job on the other one is done. The bolts are inserted and tightened and a man with a paint gun shoots a spray of paint over the new bolt. Then the chassis picks up some wheels, which of course were passing the workmen on carriers just as they required them.

The manner in which all this is timed and accurately calculated is uncanny. It only takes about three seconds for a wheel to be fitted and as there are four men and four wheels it passes the wheel stage very quickly. Next comes the engine. This is also on the carrier and it gets there at the right moment. The engine is now complete and it is lowered from the carrier on a pulley which just sets it nicely in its place. While one man is doing this another is running the electric points together and perhaps putting the last screw into the mudguards which are being fixed to the chassis.

We did not stop. The car in the making is still proceeding both in distance and gathering more parts to complete it. Now the radiator is fixed and it appears that the right moment has come for the body, but where is it? The carriers just behind the workmen were alright for the small parts and even the wheels and fittings, but how were they going to get the body?

While that thought was passing through my mind I glanced at the chassis which had been ahead of mine and now I saw that the body was on it. The next moment I saw the men looking up and then – down came the body from right above, completely finished both inside and outside. In two or three seconds that body was in position on the chassis and the men were screwing up the bolts. This body was a brown one, but most of the others were grey and green. How did that brown body get there in its right order and just at the right moment to go on to the chassis where the brown motorcars and other brown fittings were fixed? I was too interested to let that point go by without any further investigation. I left the line for a couple of minutes and saw a separate carrier in the storey above bringing down a long line of bodies of many colours. They were in their right order so that they would be put on to the right chassis! That took some organisation. It was most interesting, but I had to hurry back.

The doors were being tested and the connections of lights, etc. from the switchboard. I laughed, yes, I laughed audibly and so did Mr. Stewart. There was actually a man putting some petrol into the tank of this car which but a few minutes ago was distributed in pieces over several departments of the factory. A man was touching up any little scratches in the paint work, another was checking the engine, a third was checking other pieces, for it had now reached the checking point. Yes, it was O.K.

“Start her”, said the chief inspector. The starter was pressed and – it started! Without any fuss or bother the engine ran and the car was driven off the carrier – another V8!

Of course, we could not see it all and we had to be content with what time and circumstance had permitted us to see. It was a most informative morning and it gave me an insight into the real car factory. We went to the Dearborn Inn to have lunch once more and then returned to our own factory, where I was glad to think it was not necessary to adopt the same production methods.

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