Posted by: bkivey | 3 October 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 7

Today was get-away day, and I’d booked a later flight so I’d have time to do something in Detroit. It turns out there are all kinds of things to do and see in the metro area, but I only had half a day. Before I took the trip several people insisted that I see the Henry Ford museum, and I’d chosen the hotel partly because it was between the museum and the airport.

The museum is located on Ford’s R & D campus in Dearborn, and appears to be Detroit’s version of Disneyland.


That’s the main entrance. The museum grounds have the museum, a reconstructed town, an assembly line, a railroad, and other things related to industry. Each area is an attraction unto itself, and exploring everything would probably take a really long day, or more likely several days. I most wanted to see the assembly line, but I only had time for one thing, so it was the museum. I noticed there were a lot of folks at work across the street for early Sunday morning.

Admission is $21 plus $6 for parking. I thought that was for everything, but that’s just the museum admission. Every attraction has its own admission charge. The museum offers a tour package at $75 per adult, and that’s a good deal if you add everything up. At $27 before I got in the door my expectations were high.

The museum’s theme is how the American Industrial Revolution from about 1820 on raised American living standards. The interior is one of the nicer I’ve seen in a museum, with chandeliers, high vaulted ceilings, and wide hallways.


The gallery entrance. There are about half-a-dozen galleries each specializing in some aspect of industry.

I started on the left and worked my way around. About the first thing you see is a disassembled Model T demonstrating the assembly line process:


The museum has a surprisingly large furniture collection, including a substantial section devoted to the Eames.


Also here is a stove collection. I liked the display that shows a family kitchen from four different time periods starting in the 1790’s and ending in the 1930’s. It drives home how the availability of mass produced consumer goods raised living standards.

I’d never seen a Stradivarius. The museum has two owned by Henry Ford. He reportedly referred to them as ‘fiddles’, which probably still has ol’ Antonio spinning in his grave.


The aviation gallery includes the Ford Trimotor flown by Admiral Byrd over the South Pole:


And lest one be inclined to complain about seating on airplanes, there’s a display showing the comparative sizes of airliner cabins from the 1920’s to today:


The overhead is the cabin template of a 747. A cross-country flight in the Trimotor era took about three times longer than it does today, in chairs that are much less comfortable. On the other hand, in-flight amenities were superior.

There’s a good selection of steam engines:


This is one of the smaller examples. Nothing says ‘Industrial Revolution’ like a stationary steam engine, and the museum has some truly massive ones on display, including one of nine that ran an automotive assembly line. None of them are operational, and I thought it would be pretty cool if the museum restored one to power the building.

There are other steam engines:


An ‘Allegheny’ locomotive from the 1940’s. A sign informs that this is the most photographed object in the museum. A train from the 1830’s is in the foreground, and the entire train is shorter than the later locomotive. Henry Ford wanted a Stephenson ‘Rocket’, one of the very first commercial locomotives, but none had survived. He found that the original builder was still in business, so he had them produce an exact replica. This brings up the question: because the machine was manufactured by the original builder from original plans, is it a reproduction or a new locomotive?


The first diesel-electric locomotive from 1926:


There are some cars:


A 1937 Cord. I’d never seen one prior to this year, and now I’ve seen two. I’m going to the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum this Saturday in Hood River for their Second Saturday run. This month’s theme is the 1930’s, so I expect I’ll get to see their Cord in action.


A 1931 Bugatti, reportedly one of six known to exist.

There’s a fair selection of ‘foreign’ cars including Chevy’s, Dodges, and VW’s. The museum has an Edsel and a 1981 Escort, but no Pinto. I suspect there will never be a Pinto under this roof. The Edsel may have been a marketing failure, but its design didn’t kill people. I’ve owned three Pinto’s, all station wagons, including a 1977 Cruisin’ Wagon.

One section has a display of Presidential limos, including the one Reagan was riding in when he was shot:


I was surprised to find that Presidential limos are used for years: I’d thought they were replaced annually. Teddy Roosevelt’s limo:


Roosevelt apparently wasn’t a fan of cars, and rode behind a horse until 1928.

There are displays of clocks, a section devoted to the Civil Rights movement, displays of consumer goods grouped by decade, and a Buckmister Fuller designed prefabricated house. The house is an aluminum dome with an interior that looks like an RV. None them were actually sold, and aside from ease of erection, it doesn’t look to be a very livable building.

Henry Ford’s very first engine. He ran this on his kitchen sink. His wife must have been a saint:


And an icon that everyone over a certain age will remember:


I cannot count the number of times we stayed at a Holiday Inn on family trips.

I stayed as late as I could and spent about five hours in the museum. That still felt a little rushed. I cannot imagine trying to see everything on the grounds in one day.

So time to bid adieu to Michigan, the Great Lakes, and my vacation. As we climbed out of Detroit Metropolitan, I realized that I still hadn’t seen downtown Detroit.





  1. Blair– more good stuff! I did not realize it was so expensive to get into HF Museum these days.
    Oh– you don’t want to see downtown Detroit. Wayne State University has some nice facilities in downtown, but there really isn’t a “downtown,” in the way you probably mean it.
    Total tangent– had a friend who was a legal-aid lawyer in Detroit 20 years ago– huge problem they had?– “Phantom Landlords,” 1/2 the houses in metro Detroit are abandoned. Devious people will “rent” these houses to poor people, collect rent for a few months and then disappear. Only later do the folks realize they have been ripped off.

    ah.. Holiday Inn… if we weren’t camping, we were in a Holiday Inn.
    Does anyone remember the “Stuckey’s” chain? Don’t know if they were regional or national, but they used to have stores about every 50-60 miles on the interstate. (at least in the Midwest) They sold burgers, hot-dogs, etc., and tourist type stuff.
    How about Howard Johnson’s?

    Will absolutely have to re-read all your posts!

    • Hi Wayne,

      The Ford museum has some good stuff, and a fair collection of unique items, but the price is a little steeper than I think the collection perhaps warrants. The parking charge feels ticky-tacky, especially as the museum sits on Ford property. You’d think a car company would encourage people to drive.

      My grandparents owned a Stucky’s for years in Maggie Valley, NC.

  2. Blair– great stuff!
    “My grandparents owned a Stucky’s for years in Maggie Valley, NC.”
    –Way Cool!


  3. Glad you had a nice time in Michigan, thought you would like the industrial revolution artifacts, Wayne is correct, there rely isn’t a downtown Detroit in the traditional sense, Milwaukee’s third ward is much nicer! Western and northern Michigan almost all along the coastline are very nice, especially Traverse city all the way on up through the Big Mac, eastern shoreline of Michigan all along Lake Huron is much more rustic and a little less touristy in feeling, you are much more likely to find a less modern hotel or motel, much less a Holiday Inn.

    • Between you and Wayne, sounds like I’ll have to re-visit Michigan.

      • You hit the weather jackpot!

      • I do believe you’re right, Joe. Because I take my vacation later in the year, weather can be iffy. Last year there was very little sun, and I moved the trip ahead a week to get what there was. This year was very nice. Clear and low 80’s in western New York. There was a cold front moving through the Midwest when I arrived in Detroit, and the weather there was unexpectedly muggy. After the front moved through the next day, every day was clear with temps in the 70’s. Very pleasant, and showed the state off to good advantage.

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