In a flash, I would shuck off my carrier’s bag and sprint to her aid, snatching her from the jaws of death at the last possible instant. As I comforted her, having assured myself that she was unhurt--hem, hem--I would be interrupted by her stricken father, old Henry Ford himself, who had seen the whole thing and who wanted me to have her hand in marriage, an all-expense-paid college education, and a 1941 Mercury convertible, as my richly deserved reward.
On some predawn paper-route mornings she taught me all the stuff I’d been hoping to learn from the woman who supervised our church youth group. On others, she helped me equip the Mercury with a special intake manifold with two Stromberg 97s, a set of aluminum heads, headers, and Hollywood mufflers that were real quiet at low rpm and had a nasty blat to them when you stood on it.
I had no idea that the original Henry Ford was crazy as a loon by that time of his life, nor did I know the awful story of his never-ending campaign to crush every hope and dream his son Edsel ever had. I now know that he would have been a lousy father-in-law, and that I was probably better off without him. By the time I went to work at the Ford Highland Park plant in June of 1949, old Henry and his desperately unhappy son had both gone on to their rewards, about which, in the old man’s case, I’ll bet you wouldn’t want to know.
I had grown up listening to my father’s friends and men from our neighborhood talk about life in the Ford plants. I knew a bunch of guys my age who went to the Henry Ford Trade School, guys who’d actually machined their own Johansson gauges--“joe-blocks,” they were called--as part of the Trade School curriculum. I knew all about bloody fights between UAW organizers and company goons. (At our house, the union was always the bad guys.) I personally knew men who’d been slugged by Ford foremen for smoking in the can, or not moving fast enough. Our contributor David Grath (“Eighty-Six Cars,” June ’86) remembers that if your father saw you slouched in a chair, reading a book, he’d say, “Boy, be glad you don’t work out to Ford’s. Everybody stand on his feet all day out there--even the draftsmen and the engineers.”
Somehow, I don’t think either of these Ford books has captured the automobile industry, the Ford Motor Company, or the Ford family, from my point of view. None of them will write about the guy who ran past our house in his underwear one Sunday morning, throwing his watch at me when I stepped off the porch to see what he was up to. It turned out he was a foreman at Ford whose house--not far from ours--had been firebombed and whose wits had simply deserted him at the thought of such a thing.
We can now safely assume that John Z. De Lorean wouldn’t recognize the truth if it walked up and offered to sell him a can of talcum powder, and we’ll probably never know the inside skinny about Lee Iacocca and Henry Ford II. Never mind, I’m just glad that I didn’t have to save that hypothetical Ford heiress from the Indescribable Awful and wind up a member of the Ford family as a result. I couldn’t have taken the pressure.