Tracing a T to Tampa
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  Green T

Here are the opening paragraphs of the "Ford Model T Instruction Book". This book measures about 3 1/4 by 6 inches with identical front and back covers that bear nothing but the book's title and the slogan "THE UNIVERSAL CAR". The insides of the cover are blank. There are 48 pages of which 3 are entirely blank, two might as well be (nothing on them but names and slogans), one carries a list of company branches, and another a picture of a 5 passenger touring car. The remaining 41 pages tell an owner not only How to Run the Model T Ford but how to maintain it, repair it, and practically rebuild it.

As indicated by the copied paragraphs, the owner of a new Model T probably did not get any "new vehicle orientation" from an eager salesman. Nor was there likely to be any "dealer prep" (which, today, runs about the same as the price of a brand new T). Not a problem. In addition to its complete description of how to ready the cooling system, the book explains the vehicle's need for gasoline ("Always strain through chamois skin") and oil.

Driving instructions are next and then some "theory of operation" style information and descriptions of every applicable maintenance and repair procedure. The book tells how to deal with "Irregular Ignition", "Carbon Deposit", and valves that "fail to seat themselves promptly". Wheel alignment is covered along with bigger stuff like adjusting and assembling the transmission and removing axles. A page is devoted to explaining the engine's four cycles. There is a pretty good chance that the engine in his new Model T is the first such contraption a buyer has had to deal with and this page lets him in on the magic of internal combustion and simultaneously shows how valves, piston, cam, and crankshaft fit together.

Bits of advice, are occasionally mixed with the factual details. There is a warning against the "flush of enthusiasm" that a new car can bring. If the color coded ignition wires become too dirty to distinguish, "it would be advisable to attach a tag to the end of each and mark it". Perhaps most importantly, it tells the driver that "You have more speed at your command than you can safely use on the average roads".

It seems possible that this manual contributed as much to the success of the Model T as any of its iron, steel, and rubber parts. It exploits the same practical simplicity that the car itself does. The car I'm driving on this trip came with a 360 page owner's manual. Each page is roughly twice the size of the Model T's but it doesn't tell me how to replace the transmission bands or "Adjust Crank Shaft Main Bearings". It doesn't give me the slightest hint on how to defend against the dangers of wires that all look alike and I'm definitely left on my own when it comes to learning the theory of four cycle engine operation. With about 1000 square inches of paper, the Ford Motor Company told its customers how to unwrap their purchase, how to operate it, and how to fix it. Plus, they left room for quite a few notes.

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