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Images from the River Rouge Part IV: 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 image taken in July of 1935 contains four workers on the fuel tank assembly line. The two men wearing hoods used to lessen their exposure to the toxic lead-alloy fumes were doing the actual work and it appears each of them had an assistant to hold the torch when needed. It must have been a horrible job due to the combination of the summer heat and having to breathe in the fumes from both the molten lead solder and the soldering flux.

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.

  • Near the end of the 1936 chassis assembly line before the body drop station.

  • 1940 Mercury engine drop station.

  • 1940 Mercury body drop station on the assembly line.

  • Installing brake drums on the chassis assembly line September 21, 1937.

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

  1. The worker using a rotating barrel screwdriver in the first expandable image brings back memories of my Dad early in his working career (1940’s) as he had a set of these in his tool box. When I became of age later on I asked to use one once. He declined at the time. That’s when I learned how important ones tools are and not to be loaned out. Dad’s gone but I still own them to this day.

    • Hi Bob,
      I have the exact same screwdriver passed down to me from my dad and grandfather! Red wooden handle and all!

      Still works great and I will pass it down to my son some day!

      • Those screw drivers were still popular in the early ’70s. I have two, one old like the one pictured and a newer one. We used them in the home building trades a lot. When the first cordless screw drivers came out they were not as fast as a Yankee when it came to driving hinge screws and other small fasteners.
        I have mine displayed on my workbench labeled as ” antique cordless screwdrivers”.

    • Have my Dad’s Yankee screwdrivers too–when working with one–had to be careful as they could slip out of the screw slot and really gouge the wood. thank goodness Mr. Robertson came along with the square drive screws from Milton, Ontario

    • Further info on screws used in car production. P L Robertson of Canada invented the square head screw that was used by Cadillac etc and some Ford wooden bodies made in Canada. Ford wanted the rights to these screws as it would save 2 hours of production time but Robertson wouldn’t sell and Henry Phillips came along after buying the rights to John Thompson.s star shaped screws which became the Phillips screw. The rest is history-all info from Googling Phillips and Robertson names. Robertson screws are considered one of Canada’s best kept secrets and are used in all construction jobs and house builds in Canada

  2. I’ve always mated the body to the frame before the front fenders and grille were assembled. I’ve been doing this the wrong way. I wish I could watch the assembly process as Ford did it from start to finish. I am enjoying this series. Thanks.

    • It was done both ways.

      YouTube videos to view:

      “Ford Car Manufacture 1930s…”

      “Master Hands Chevrolet Manufacture…”

      “Fascinating 1936 Footage of Car Assembly…”

      You may be amazed by extent of automation and size of stampings and you may compare with an earlier Ford manufacturing process.

      “Assembly Line Ford (1928)” [by Pathé UK.]

  3. Bob that “rotating screw driver” was and still is known as a “YANKEE SCREWDRIVER” and there was many attachments for then depending what type of item needed twisted. They worked both right and left plus stationary depending how it the selection switch was set. They worked great for repetitive twisting because just pushing on them caused the mechanism to rotate. You never see them anymore because of the battery powered screwdrivers on the market.

    • Still have one. It also has attachments for cutting/carving holes of different sizes. Did anyone notice the neckties? One other thing, did the Mercs have fans with more blades or was this common to all flathead V8’s. I have read they were prone to overheating due to the exhaust valve placement, so I would imagine this was one way to deal with that problem.

      • All 38-40 Ford and 39-40 Mercury used the 6 blade fan. Note that the fan is mounted on the crankshaft. This is because the radiator is mounted very low in the front clip. To be able to still be able to hand crank the engine required the radiator core to be split in the center so there was a space for the crank to go through.
        The reason for the flathead Ford design V8s having the notorious overheating/cracked block issue was because the exhaust ports were run through the water jacket around the cylinders to the opposite side of the cylinder before finally exiting the engine block. This made exhaust ports about 6 inches long or more running through and dissipating heat into the coolant instead of short ports that dumped exhaust heat out of the engine. Flathead V8 Fords have much larger radiators than comparable cubic inch engines and carry about a gallon and half more coolant.

        • The overheating and cracked block issue especially in trucks eventually led Ford to hire Zora Arkus Duntov to find a solution. This resulted in the Ardun “hemi “ cylinder head for the flathead Ford. While Ford trucks never used this head it was and is highly regarded in hot rod circles.
          I have read that back in the day a brand new Ford factory truck engine could crack the block in one run over a western state mountain pass.

        • Thanks Speed, for the info. I know about the Ardun heads, but also know they had a few problems themselves related to valves, pushrods, etc. I think the holes for the pushrods really needed to oval instead of circular in order to provide some sort of support for the longer lengths at greater angles. Cast iron pushrods were too heavy and the bigger valve springs didn’t allow higher revs. Valve seats came off due to differences in metals. Wilder cams were not readily usable due to those valve train problems. There is a ‘new’ Ardun head out there that supposedly solved many of the original problems in the early 50’s designed by a couple of SoCal racers for use on the nearby dry lakes, etc. But Duntov, that immigrant from many places, got the ball rolling.

    • Hi Don, I didn’t catch that until Bob said something. My old man was a carpenter by trade and he always had his trusty “Yankee Screwdriver”. I swear, he built his home AND our lake cottage using that thing. As a kid, the gear path always amazed me how that worked and a little oil always made it work better. The name always intrigued me, and with the help of this wonderful machine, now it can be told. The tool was made by a company called North Brothers Manufacturing, Philadelphia in 1895 under the official name of the #130 spiral ratchet screwdriver. North Brothers named all their tools “Yankee” because of their name. I wonder if that name would fly for a new product today.

    • I googled rotating barrel screwdriver and you can still buy a brand new Yankee screwdriver. The only change is that now they are manufactured in Germany.

  4. I cant make out what that round thing is on the gloves of the guy in the first photo.
    Anybody know?
    Also I read somewhere that the Phillips head screw was invented for Ford because it was way faster and easier to load and screw in than a slotted.Sounds a little far fetched.

  5. Today we’re luckily that Ford employed such good photographers. The two guys in the first photo look like The Elephant Man.

  6. In photo number one look at the fourth man in the line and notice he has a dew rag on under his dress hat. Probably very uncomfortable and yet he’s wearing a suit and tie.

  7. I looked more closely at photo number one and worker #4 does not have on a suit,but is wearing the same apron as the rest. My bad.

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