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Images from the River Rouge Part III: The Largest Auto Factory in the World

Today we return to the “Images from the River Rouge” series with another set of interesting pictures by photographers who were employed by the Ford Motor Company. The lead photo of the armature assembly line dating to 1934 was taken by George Ebling, who was the chief photographer responsible for the photo-murals on display in the Ford Pavilion at the Century of Progress Exhibition.

Learn more about the River Rouge Complex at The Henry Ford, the source of the photos in this series. View earlier posts about the River Rouge here.

  • Ford workers repairing fragile 1937 grilles damaged during the manufacturing process.

  • Four banks of engine testing and running in machines February 1, 1936. The oil pressure is monitored by a gauge visible between the transmissions and the electric motors.   

  • Ford bought decommissioned ships and broke them up for scrap which was recycled in the steel furnaces at the Companies Steel Mill at the Rouge. This image from November of 1927 shows a steam engine being removed from a vessel.

17 responses to “Images from the River Rouge Part III: The Largest Auto Factory in the World

  1. The last photo lays to rest any misconception that Ford vehicle were built purely from virgin steel. Recycling resources has occurred much longer than folks assume or admit.

  2. Based on the tonnage, the ship appears to be the SS Lake Farge, which is the only ship I can find in the Inquiry Into the Operations of the United States Shipping Board with a gross tonnage of 2624 and net tonnage of 1628. It wasn’t being scrapped, but was having its engines removed.

    Ford had bought 199 ships for $1,697,470 in early 1925. All were to be scrapped, with any that were restored to service incurring an additional payment of $16,470 per ship.

    They ended up scrapping 189 (for a total of 216,532 tons of steel), converting 7 to unpowered barges, and restoring 3 for shipping parts. The Lake Farge was one of the seven barges and was used to move supplies to Fordlandia, with the restored Lake Ormoc serving as the plantation’s headquarters until the shore facilities were established.

  3. I’m sure some of the other readers will know this. I’m puzzled by the 2nd picture. What was the point of turning the engines over, likely at high revs, with what looks like a powerful electric motor? Was is a way of checking the bearings or for internal oil leaks ?

  4. I never really thought about it, but if I were manufacturing automoblles I would have the starters and generators ‘sent in’, or as they say, ‘outsourced’. Henry Ford did build almost everything on site.( He even tried growing his own rubber trees).
    I’m guessing doing the windings in the first photo was a tedious process.
    Nor did Mr. Ford think small. Making a rough guess, there must be at least 200 electric motors tied to the engine and transmission assemblies. Not a cheap investment.
    I wonder if the workers go down the line and shift the transmission gears routinely. There are no spark plugs in the heads so there is no compression testing, at least not at that stage.

    • There’s what appears to be a compression gauge lying on the intake manifold of the engine nearest the camera, along with another tool I cannot identify.
      Although, the top compression rings won’t really seat fully without cumbustion pressure.
      Probably a combination of partial running-in and checking for problems before installing the engines.

      • Hi Bill,
        I could be wrong, but to me, that other tool looks like a hand held rev counter, the type that were held in the center of the crankshaft while the engine was spinning..

  5. “…testing and running in machines…”?
    Does that mean a new Ford didn’t have to be “broken in” after you bought it?You know,take it easy for the first 500 miles,dont exceed 50mph,no hard accelerations,vary your speeds,etc.?

    • My dad told me years ago that when he was a kid his older neighbor would buy a new Ford every couple of years. He’d drive it home, immediately drain all the oil out, then run it till it froze. He would then remove the spark plugs, fill each cylinder with oil, and free the engine by hand. These were brand new cars, not used. When dad asked him why, he said “you got to season the block”!

      • In the early days of engine manufacturing, cylinder block castings were often left outside for weeks at a time before being sent on to the machining lines and hence to the assembly line. I was told the purpose of this was to ‘season” the block, i.e. relieve all of the internal stresses in the casting. Towards the end of my time in the engine plants i worked in, the opposite was true and it was not unusual to see blocks start down the machining line that were still warm from the foundry next door.

    • I wrote this for a V-8 Times magazine issue from what I learned in a 1936 Ford Filmstrip I transferred to DVD:
      No break-in was required on the Ford V-8. They were confident enough in their engine to allow up to 60 mph speeds right out of the show- room, and “as fast as you desire” after just the first 100 miles. Plymouth instructed you to go no faster than 35 mph for the first 500 miles and gradually increase the speed during the next 2,000 miles, with no sustaining speeds until 2,500 miles! How many owners stuck to those rules? And what kind of damage did they do to the engine when they didn’t comply? Chevy was a lit- tle more lenient with 35 mph for the first 100 miles, 45 mph for the next 200 miles, 50 mph for the next 200, and no continuous high speed until the 2000 mile mark. Back in those days, it proba- bly took the average driver over two to three months to attain 2000 miles.

  6. I’m particularly intrigued by the shot of the motors on the test benches. I had read that Packard “ran in” all of their motors with an electric motor, but I didn’t realize Ford did the same.

  7. In the ’37 grille photo, the grille closest in the photo is a ’37 pickup truck grille. All others look to be passenger car.

  8. My understanding of the running in process is that it goes back to the Model T days at Highland Park Plant. The engines were turned by the electric motors to burnish in the Babbitt main and rod bearings, also the rings would break in. When the amperage load on the motor came down to the right number the process was complete.

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