I just returned home from an eight-day, guided tour that started in Traverse City, moved to Mackinac Island for a couple of days, made it to the Dunes and then on to Stafford before terminating in Dearborn. I can’t tell you how many times I had to suffer through that same line of questioning when I told people my vacation destination: “But, why? It’s your vacation, isn’t it?”
First of all, I’d like to apologize to all the Michiganders reading this, because you already know that Michigan is incredible and something certainly worth seeing: the beautiful countryside, the rolling green hills or acres and acres of fertile farmland. But mostly, we went because the trip culminated in Dearborn and Dearborn is the ‘mothership’ of our industry!
Now, I’d been to Michigan many times before. I’ve presented shop management seminars in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Flint and I’ve been to Dearborn more than once! It’s a place I sincerely believe every automotive shop owner should visit. It’s a history lesson too valuable to discount or ignore. You see, we stand on the shoulders of giants. If not for them, we’d all be blacksmiths or bicycle mechanics. But as an industry, we don’t know much about the era that made affordable, mass-produced personal transportation possible: the innovation and development that flowed from Edison, Tesla and Marconi or the army of other creators, inventors and visionaries. Most of us have never heard the backstory and remain unaware of the myths and legends that have brought us to this place.
Few, if any of us, knew that the Dodge Brothers––John and Horace––started out as suppliers to Henry Ford’s fledgling company as early as 1903. That they were instrumental in Ford’s survival by providing operating capital in the form of product and a banknote in the amount of $10,000 in exchange for 10 percent of the Ford Motor Company’s stock or that John Dodge was a member of Ford’s board of directors.
Few, if any of us, knew that the Dodges sued Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company for arbitrarily reducing dividends or that the Dodge Brothers were eventually bought out of their $10,000/10 percent investment in Ford for $25 million!
Fewer of us have ever heard of the Rouge Factory or know anything about its rich history: a factory that encompassed almost 16 million square feet of land mass, that was a mile-and-a-half wide and more than three-quarters of a mile long, had its own railroad with 16 locomotives, its own electrical power plant, its own scheduled bus service and was capable of receiving all the raw materials necessary to manufacture an automobile or truck and doing just that without it ever having to leave the site!
(You will have to look up the additional statistics that bring the history and heritage of the Rouge Factory to life on your own. All I’ll say here is that at the height of production in the 1930s, one vehicle rolled off the production line every 49 seconds and that isn’t the most interesting or compelling statistic!)
There is another compelling reason to head to Michigan––three, really! The first is Greenfield Village, a complete town Henry Ford hoped would capture a sense of the Industrial Revolution as it first began.
The second is the Ford Museum and, frankly, I’m quite sure I could never describe the museum well enough to do it justice! There is just so much to see there, so much to experience, so much history. Visiting the museum should be something anyone who makes a living from this industry must have on their bucket list!
I’ve been to both the museum and Greenfield Village twice and that still wasn’t enough time to see everything there was to see!
The third thing worth a trip to Michigan––on its own, as far as I’m concerned––is the Automotive Industry Hall of Fame, which shares a parking lot with the museum and the Village. It is a small, but well thought-out walk through time, the history of our industry and a fascinating look at just about everyone who has made our present possible through their imagination, talent, perseverance, discipline and determination in the past!
There are no words for me to describe what it was like to immerse myself in the rich history of the industry that for over a half century has provided me and my family food to eat, clothes to wear, a place to sleep, as well as something to drive. There are no words to describe what it was like to find individuals I know, know of or have worked with over the years, included among the Dodge Brothers, Henry Ford, Charles Kettering, Alfred P. Sloan and others.
Because, it is the mothership for anyone with gear oil running through their veins. And, as such, it’s worthy of a pilgrimage to the point of origin for everything these pioneers created.