By Ed Staskus
The summer vacation Oliver, his big sister Emma, and their mom and dad went on in late August was a compromise. Oliver and Emma wanted to go somewhere where they could run around outside. Their mom wanted to go somewhere where she wouldn’t have to do anything. Their dad wanted to go to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. He was a good father and an electrical engineer by trade, but he was a car nut, too.
Henry Ford was the man who made cars go, who made them for everybody, and who made himself one of the richest men in the world. That’s all he ever wanted to do and it’s what he did.
He was born on a farm in Dearborn but wasn’t interested in farming. He became a machinist. When his family needed somebody to deal with their pigheaded Westinghouse steam engine, he was their man. “Don’t find fault, find a remedy,” he said. He was so good at it, Westinghouse hired him as a serviceman. He founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 when he was 40 years old and introduced the first Model T in 1908. They were easy to drive and simple to repair. Ten years later more than half of all the cars in the United States were Model T’s. All of them were black.
“Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it is black,” he said when his car guys suggested colors.
By that time, he was becoming a mean old man with a chip on his shoulder.
He once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” The older he got the more he put learning behind him and let his mind go stale. He hated trade unions, black folks, and Jews. He didn’t trust banks or his fellow man.
The first place their mom and dad took Oliver and Emma was Kelleys Island. They left their car behind and took the Jet Express. They went to a beach, played putt-putt, and toured the Kelleys Island Wine Company. Their mom tasted some white wines.
“When I was a teenager, we used to come here to drink,” they overheard her say to their dad.
“Why did mom have to come here to drink?” Oliver asked Emma. “Grandma always has plenty of water and juice at home.”
Emma rolled her eyes. She was two-and-a-half-years older than Oliver, but he got all the glory for fighting monsters, and she had to settle for teaching him the facts of life. She had to admit, though, it was Oliver who took care of business because he never let facts get in the way.
The next day their mom went to the Kalahari Spa while they went to Cedar Point with their dad. It was hot, in the 90s, and steamy, like a Tarzan movie. They went on dozens of rides, walked hundreds of miles, and were exhausted by the time they got back to their motel. They were sweaty, dirty, and sick of sugar mixed into everything they had drunk and snacked on. Their mom was at the pool looking radiant. She was relaxed and rejuvenated.
“I got a pedicure and a manicure. I got a full body honey scrub and a full body salt stone massage. I got a facial treatment, too” she added, looking her family over. “The three of you look like got lost in the desert. I order the Foreign legion to take a shower and let’s go out to eat.”
The next day they walked down a Lake Erie shoreline, and when it got dark built a fire and roasted sugar-free Max Mallows. A million stars twinkled in the night sky. It was quiet as could be. They didn’t hear the tires or engine of a single car until they got back to their car.
When they got to Dearborn, they started early the next morning and roamed Ford’s Greenfield Village. They saw the real bike shop where the Wright brothers worked. They saw the real Menlo Park where Thomas Edison worked. There was the real house Henry Ford grew up in. They went on the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. They took in the Ford Giant Screen Experience.
“I’m getting Ford on the brain,” Emma said. “Can’t we do something else?”
“Not yet, bunny,” her dad said. “There’s the Ford Museum of American Innovation coming up next.”
“How big is this place?”
“Oy vey!” Emma said.
Oliver and Emma didn’t like museums. They would rather be doing something rather than looking at things somebody else had done a long time ago. But they loved their dad and knew he wanted to go to the museum, so they didn’t complain.
The museum was more than cars, although there were lots of cars, new, old, and older. There was the 1865 Roper, the first American-made car. There were mid-century muscle cars. There was a 2002 Japanese Prius. There was the limousine JFK died in. There was the bus Rosa Parks rode in the back of. There were machines from the railroad, aviation, and agricultural industries. There was the Ford airplane Richard Byrd piloted to become the first man to fly over the South Pole.
There were Model T rides. It was a rough ride. There were touch screen interactive displays. They were slick and smooth. What Oliver and Emma wanted to see the most, however, was Carl Mayer’s Wienermobile. They hurried. It was near the end of the day. When they asked where it was, the museum guard they asked said it was off-limits.
“Why is it off-limits?” Oliver asked.
“It’s the two Henry Ford ghosts,” the guard said. “The old ghost hates Jews. The young ghost doesn’t hate anybody, except maybe the old ghost. They have been going at it tooth and nail lately. They get loud and scare our guests. One day we found the Wienermobile a mess, the bumpers and doors torn off, the windows busted, and graffiti spray-painted all over it.”
“Why don’t you tell them to leave?”
“We’ve had exorcists, ghostbusters, and witch doctors try, but they say the hold Dearborn has on Henry Ford, both Henry Fords, is just too strong.”
“I could get rid of them in no time. It would be child’s play.”
The guard looked skeptical looking down at Oliver. He had to admit he was a child, though.
“My brother is the monster hunter where we live,” Emma said.
“Perry, Ohio. He saved our power plant from Goo Goo Godzilla.”
“My little boy told me all about that,” the guard said. “He looks up to you.”
“I helped,” Emma said. The guard patted her on the head.
Before they knew it, they were whisked into the director’s office. Oliver outlined his plan and said he just needed three or four guards for five minutes to help, to make sure the Henry Fords both knew he meant business.
They marched into the Wienermobile room. Oliver started insulting Adolf Hitler in a loud voice, calling him a tinhorn crumb bum of a dictator. It didn’t take long for the old Henry Ford to show up, followed by the young Henry Ford. The guards, Oliver, and Emma made a circle around the two Henry Fords, holding hands. The old Henry Ford scowled. Adolf Hitler saw Henry Ford as an inspiration and kept a photo of him behind his desk. He hated Jews even more than the mean old Ford. The young Henry Ford scowled. Oliver looked up at them.
“Do you remember when the two of you said, ‘If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.’ Until the two of you put your heads together and agree on one point of view, you’re both going to have to leave. Now move along.”
“Why should we?” both Henry Ford’s said.
Oliver squeezed the hands holding his. He concentrated. His eyes glowed. He said something nobody could understand. He stopped his breathing. His forehead shined with sweat. “Go, go, go!” he cried out.
“All of a sudden, you could feel the electrical energy moving,” the guard said later. “It was so intense all the hair on the back of my neck stood up. When the little guy said, go, go, go, we all got a zapped feeling in our guts. Both Henrys shot straight up and through the ceiling. We ran to the window and saw them flying away. They haven’t been back since.”
“It was like smoke chasing its own tail,” Emma said.
“Dad, can you drive us to DQ for a cone?” Oliver asked in the parking lot.
“You bet bud,” and they all roared away in their black Jeep Cherokee.
Ed Staskus posts feature stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com.. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”