This process continued until 1910, when the company moved out of the overcrowded Piquette Avenue Plant to Highland Park, where the more sophisticated moving assembly line work began. By 1913, Ford's innovative approach to manufacturing had cut the time needed to construct a Model T down to an incredible 12 minutes.
The Studebaker Corporation bought the Piquette Avenue building in 1911, becoming the first of many owners over the decades. Yet I was amazed at how little seemed to have changed since the landmark 1904-1910 Ford production days.
Visitors slip back in time just by walking through the Piquette Plant's doors--envisioning with ease the sweating workers riveting parts, the men contorting into awkward positions to screw bolts while others inhale fumes as they paint the vehicles.
In those early days, Model Ts came in a variety of colors. By the mid-Teens, however, you could order one in any color... as long as it was black, as Mr. Ford liked to say. Black was the only paint that dried fast enough to accommodate his production speed.
The Piquette Avenue building's 355 towering windows, most with the original glass, make for a naturally sunlit space. Exposed pipes and thick wooden columns and beams graced with the patina of peeling paint underscore the authenticity of the old work area.
Arranged throughout are displays of vintage vehicles, some restored and others well used, from various automakers.
One of my favorites was "Miss Elizabeth," a 1909 Ford Victorian red beauty. Also eye-catching, for a different reason, was a 1922 Model T's snowmobile adaption. Skis replaced the front wheels, and the rear tires sport chains. The cleverest aspect: The car could be converted back to regular use come Spring.
Another humorous vehicle in the Piquette Avenue collection is the whimsical 1911 "Mother-in-Law's T," which is outfitted with a rear seat to observe the dating couple. I imagined myself perched there sternly as chaperone.
I would never have thought to put the Ford Piquette Plant on my bucket list--but I suggest you add it to yours. Detroit's only pioneer automobile factory offers that rare travel opportunity: an authentic experience without a crowd.
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