The Way It Was: First hand account of 'Tin Lizzie'

by JOHN STRAKA | CORRESPONDENT Published:

I recall one of the first frozen TV dinners was marketed by the Birdseye company. The name Birdseye is pretty well known as being associated with frozen foods.

I wonder how many people know that the Birdseye company name comes from the name of the man who was one of the pioneers in the frozen food industry, Clarence Birdseye?

We all know about the process of pasteurization. Our milk is pasteurized to make it safe to drink by killing off harmful bacteria with heat. How many people know the process is named after Louis Pasteur who was instrumental in perfecting the process?

Many people today drive a Chevy, a Chevrolet automobile. The Chevrolet company is one of the major auto manufacturers. Do most people know that its founder was Louis Chevrolet? Or the Dodge motor company is named after the Dodge brothers.

There must be many more common names for products and firms that are taken from names of their founders. I wonder if Goodyear is one of them? Or Otis, the elevator firm?

I suppose I could look that up on the Internet, but that's not what this column is about.

This column is about the Ford Model T automobile. It's about how Henry Ford changed America. I did a little bit of research on the Internet, but most of this column is what I remember about the early Ford cars.

When I was born, the Model T, or the "Tin Lizzie," was in full production and as I grew up, I got to see a few of them, and then became familiar with the Model A.

I OFTEN wondered why the Model A came after the Model T, since that is not in the correct alphabetical order.

Ford did start with models A, B, C, etc. The Model T was the one that worked. After that, he started the alphabet all over because he said the difference between a T and the latest version was so great, it should be considered as an altogether new car. It was known as the Model A.

The "T" did not have all of what we have on cars today. Ford wanted his car to be as basic as possible, so he could sell it at a price the average working man could afford.

The T did not have a gasoline gage. A dipstick was used to measure how much gas was in the tank. It did not have a fuel pump. Fuel reached the engine by gravity from a tank mounted above and behind the engine. It did not have a storage battery nor did it have an electric "self-starter."

The engine was started with a hand crank. Most of the time, it took only a half-turn of the crank to get the engine going. Without a battery, there were none of the things modern cars have that are powered by a battery.

Current for spark plugs was provided by a magneto. I'm not sure if the magneto also provided some kind of headlights or not.

The spark and choke are automatic today, but on the T they were manually controlled. The choke made the gasoline-air mixture richer and that made the engine easier to start. Most people know nothing about the spark control. When a piston reaches top dead center, that's when the spark should fire. To delay the spark makes the engine easier to start, and to advance it, provides more power. The control lever was mounted on the steering column.

THE T DIDn'T have a gas pedal. Engine speed was controlled by a second lever on the steering column.

The T didn't have automatic transmission; its transmission was totally different from that used today.

There are three foot pedals on a T. One corresponds with what a stick shift has as a clutch. Another one serves as a brake, but it does not apply to the wheels, only to the transmission. The middle pedal put the drive wheels in reverse. The car had a lever to the left of the driver that was also part of the transmission.

The choke was controlled by pulling on a loop at the end of a wire that protruded out the front of the car under the radiator.

Henry Ford didn't invent the auto, but he managed to get the price of a brand new car down to $700.

He raised his worker's wages to $5 for an 8-hour day so they could afford to buy one of the cars they were making.

As time went on, he kept cutting costs and prices until at one time a new car could be purchased for only $260.

To cut cost, he'd order parts from suppliers to be delivered in wooden boxes made to his specifications. The boxes were taken apart and the pieces were ready made floorboards.

The T and the A had almost identical filler caps on their radiators and gas tanks. They looked alike, and both fit either tank, but if they were interchanged, the engine would not run.

You can imagine how many pranksters took advantage of that.

The Ford Motor Co. sold 15 million T's, all painted black to reduce cost. Henry put America on wheels.

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