On May 17, students from Windham High’s social studies classes had the opportunity to learn how early 20th century advances in technology and transportation transformed many aspects of life. To support this, Toby Stinson, of Owls Head Transportation Museum (OHTM), was onsite with three working Model T Fords.
|Student, Brady Jackson, stands beside a Model T Ford.|
Jeff Neal, Windham High School U.S. and World History and World Politics teacher organized the event. Neal stated, “There is nothing like students physically seeing, touching and smelling a relic. This is something you cannot get with modern technology. I’m hoping this will inspire the students to experience and preserve the past.”
The Model T’s on display included an open, 1910, 3-seater, a covered, 1915 5-seater, as well as a “cut away” enabling students to view the engine and drivetrain internals of these early automobiles.
Stinson kicked things off, “In the early 20th century we saw the beginnings of mass production and at the center of this was Ford’s Model T.” Stinson reminded the group, “At the time these cars were built, America was a rural agrarian society and everyone had horses. In fact, there were more blacksmiths than doctors, as blacksmiths were required to work on wagons and shoe horses.”
The benefits of these first automobiles were many. Stinson commented, “A horse takes time to get ready and doesn’t like bad weather. A machine doesn’t get tired or complain. Once these cars were mass produced you could buy a brand new one for $240, which was cheaper than outfitting and maintaining a horse.”
Stinson shared, “My dad used his car as a tractor to haul potatoes and pull boats out of the water. It was also considered a portable supply of power. My dad could cut 10 cords of wood in a day, with a saw powered by his car.”
Stinson then covered the topic on how owners started, operated and drove these early automobiles.
The first step was confirming there was enough fuel. This was done by dipping a stick of wood in the 10-gallon tank, which was found under the seat. Next, you would check the oil. This was done by opening a valve. If oil dripped out you were good-to-go and, if not, you needed to add some.
“Realize, in 1915 these cars were considered non-polluting, compared to a horse,” Stinson reflected, “For example, on the streets of New York City, horses excreted over a thousand gallons of urine and thousands of pounds of manure daily. The biggest health challenges at the time were diseases of filth, such as diphtheria and cholera. The transportation industry helped to eliminate that.”
Next, Stinson shared that Model T’s had a hand throttle with 2 forward speeds (slow and fast); fast being a relative term. While these cars would only do upwards of 25 miles per hour, that was fast compared to a horse and buggy.
Starting the Model T required the most attention. Stinson emphasized the importance of properly holding the crank, because not doing so may result in a backfire which could wrench your shoulder or break your wrist.
“From the beginning, Henry Ford’s goal was to make cars affordable for virtually anyone,” Stinson noted. “As an example, during early production Ford learned that black paint dried a little quicker than other colors. Considering the economics of buying large quantities of paint he determined that sticking with black made the most sense.”
Stinson continued, “Ford used the most advanced technology and best materials available to build the most durable automobiles possible.”
Stinson reminded the audience, “These cars were built when there were no roads. As such, Ford designed these cars for a rugged environment, to last long while remaining cheap. For example, Ford was the first to fully enclose the engine and drivetrain to prevent dust, dirt and mud from entering and damaging the internals.” Stinson also explained that what is referred to as a ‘dashboard’ today, was actually a feature to dash away dust and bugs.
The automobile industry continued to evolve, driven by consumer needs and wants. Once people had cars, they wanted more: a roof, side curtains and to be fully enclosed. Later, accessories such as heat and windshield wipers were introduced. All things we now take for granted.
“The industrial revolution and more specifically, mass production, resulted in societal change,” Stinson stated to the students. “Humans had been using horses for 10,000 years. In the early 1900’s this completely flipped with the introduction of the automobile. People no longer had the same limitations on the distances they could travel and things they could accomplish. This all began with innovation and resulted in explosive technology which literally changed the world. Due to the impact on society, many consider Henry Ford the single most powerful person at that time.”
One of the students asked if they could drive a Model T, to which Stinson responded, “Come to our museum and we may be able to arrange that. At the museum the cars run, and the planes fly.”
The Owls Head Transportation Museum (OHTM) is a nonprofit educational organization. Its mission is to collect, preserve, exhibit and operate pre-1940 aircraft, ground vehicles, engines and related technologies significant to the evolution of transportation for the purpose of education. Learn more about OHTM at: http://owlshead.org.