Patterns and Progress
3 of the Michigan Brides series
Detroit, Michigan, April 1912
Ford Motor Company - Highland Park Plant
"Are you certain you're up to the responsibility, Mr. Berringer?" Henry Ford's solemn voice commanded attention. "I don't offer this opportunity to you lightly."
Jacob Berringer stood erect, his eyes locked onto those of his boss. He tried hard to calm his trembling legs and shaking hands. He'd only been a supervisor for a few months. Had Mr. Ford really just asked him to take the newest Model -T out for a test run?
"Yes, sir," Jacob replied, hoping his voice didn't sound as squeaky to his superior as it did to his own ears.
"You have shown exemplary performance here in the plant. The care you have taken with each automobile and the manner in which you lead your team of workers has not gone unnoticed. I assure you."
"Thank you, sir."
Mr. Ford reached into his vest pocket and withdrew a shiny, gold pocket watch on a chain. He snapped open the cover and looked at the face. "I shall be timing you to measure just how long it takes to make the journey from origination to destination."
Jacob gave a sharp nod. "I will provide you with the exact roads I take and any other necessary details for the report."
"Very well." Mr. Ford tipped his head toward the large door where the automobiles normally exited the plant onto the street. "Mother Mitchell is already waiting by the car. See that she reaches her home safely, and return here once the task is complete."
Anticipation raced through Jacob's veins, yet he maintained his calm exterior. No sense tipping his boss to the excitement, although knowing Mr. Ford, the man already knew how Jacob felt.
"You can trust me, sir. I will treat the Model -T as if she were my own."
Mr. Ford clapped a firm hand on Jacob's shoulder. "See that you do, my boy. I look forward to hearing from you upon your return."
With a final nod, Jacob almost ran outside toward the waiting automobile and the important passenger he'd be transporting. The dowager woman tapped her shoe on the sidewalk and gave him a disapproving glare.
Great. He wasn't even on the road yet, and he'd already managed to disappoint Mr. Sorenson's mother-in-law. Charles Sorenson was second in command to the production chief, Peter Martin, with the Ford Company. Jacob loved his work now and didn't want to do anything that might jeopardize his employment.
After helping Mrs. Mitchell onto the front seat and closing the door, Jacob bounded around the back to the driver's side. He grabbed hold of the body frame and vaulted from the running board to the cushioned seat. For a few moments, he sat and stared at the wheel, running his hands over the patchwork-style seat and marveling at the design. Then, he shook his head and jumped down again to the ground.
He'd get nowhere if he didn't shift into action.
But he couldn't resist letting his fingers travel along the body's sleek contours, admiring the shiny, black vanadium steel that made up most of its parts. As he stepped toward the front of the car, with deft precision and familiarity, he folded back the hood cover with deft precision and familiarity. The four-cylinder solid block engine gleamed in the bright late-afternoon sunlight of early afternoon. Just seeing how much cleaner this engine looked from the ones with individual cylinder castings made Jacob wonder why the other factories didn't adopt this style. The flywheel magneto connected to the trembler coil, where the current would pass from the timer to the firing cylinder.
Every part on this motor car was brand new, straight off the assembly line. And Jacob had been selected to test it.
"Would it be possible to for us to please move a bit faster, young man?" Mrs. Mitchell's voice shrilled from the front seat. "I am on a tight schedule."
Jacob popped his head around so he could make eye contact with her. "Yes, ma'am. We'll be in motion in a jiffy."
He sighed as he once again covered the engine. There would be more time to admire it later. Right now, he had a job to do. And he'd best not upset the boss.
Cupping the crank handle in his right palm, Jacob reached for the choke wire on the bottom of the radiator. He'd had a lot of practice on other automobiles inside the Highland Park plant, but he'd never driven one to great lengths on the city streets. With a silent prayer for the car to start on the first try, he rotated the crank.
The engine sputtered a few times, then rumbled to life. Jacob patted the side of the car and smiled. Vibrations pulsed beneath his fingertips, charging his own excitement to get behind the wheel and go for a drive. He stood for a brief moment to make sure the car wouldn't stop running before he stepped onto the floorboard and settled again into the seat. This time, he wrapped his hands around the wheel and looked down the road ahead.
No time like the present to get moving.
Placing his foot on the far left pedal, Jacob reached for the lever mounted next to the seat. He pressed the pedal and held it forward, putting the car in low gear. A jolt immediately followed as it jerked forward. This model had a top speed of an amazing forty-five miles per hour, but Jacob didn't dare risk anything that reckless. He'd start slow and run the car through its paces first. For all he knew, having to transport Mrs. Mitchell might be more than a mere favor. If word got back to Mr. Ford that he was being less than responsible, it might be a long time before he was asked to test a new automobile again.
They maneuvered through the streets in silence. Mrs. Mitchell sat ramrod straight, her hands clutching the purse she held in her lap. Not talking suited Jacob just fine. He could enjoy the rumblings of the car pulsating under his feet and focus on his driving.
After a few minutes, though, Mrs. Mitchell's voice broke the silence.
"As surprising as this may sound, I don't much care for these machines. But Charles has assured me they are perfectly safe, and I have no reason to doubt him."
"Mr. Ford and Mr. Sorenson make sure the cars that come out of their factory are of the highest quality, Mrs. Mitchell."
"Yes." The woman pursed her lips. "They are mighty proud of their work. That much is clear. I admire Henry's ethics and his devotion. He has achieved a great deal and worked hard to get to where he is today. I know he will continue to go far." She paused and smiled. "And of course, having my son-in-law serving him in such an esteemed position doesn't hurt, either."
Jacob agreed with everything Mrs. Mitchell said. Mr. Ford set a rather intimidating yet inspiring example. The same for his two top associates. He didn't know what to say in reply, so he remained quiet. It turned out he didn't have to worry about keeping up the conversation, though. Mrs. Mitchell managed quite well on her own. She rambled on about her daughter's marriage to Mr. Sorenson, annual vacations at Niagara Falls and Mackinac Island each August, and even added her thoughts on the merits or disadvantages of progress.
In no time at all, he had reached Mrs. Mitchell's house. After stopping the car, Jacob hopped down and hastened to the other side to offer his assistance as she descended from the car. Tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow, he escorted her up the sidewalk to the front door of her home.
Mrs. Mitchell held out the key to the door. "Thank you very much, young man. The ride was a pleasant one."
Jacob took the key and opened the door, giving it a light shove. He turned back to the woman, tipped his hat, and inclined his head. "My pleasure, ma'am. Have a good day."
"And you as well."
After wWaiting to see that she had entered her home safely, Jacob then returned to the Model -T and put it in gear once more. That went quite well, and he prayed it would mean a favorable report back to Mr. Ford.
As Jacob headed back toward the Highland Park pPlant, another specific destination formed in his mind. It would be the best place to truly test the car and not endanger anyone else. Returning to the busy city streets with its eight-miles-per-hour speed limit wouldn't afford the same guarantee. So, when Jacob reached the next intersection, he pointed the car toward the outlying fields to the northwest.
Once free of the confines of the city, he enjoyed the way the land seemed to spread out before him. A flock of birds took to flight ahead of him, and two horses beyond the fence to his left galloped away from the road. He inhaled the fresh scent of farmland and relished the cool breeze of the evening air. Invigorated, Jacob decided to be bold and raise his foot off the left pedal, setting the car into high gear. Another jolt occurred as the car increased speed.
Jacob's knuckles turned white, and his heart pounded as he prayed for safety. The fields on his left and right zipped by in a blur. A little voice in his head told him to depress the pedal once more or put his other foot on the right pedal and bring the car to a stop. He ignored the voice and instead savored the feeling of freedom.
If only he made enough money to afford one of these cars for his very own. His brother William had just purchased one two months ago for his family, and Father owned one as well. Jacob might only be twenty-six, but seeing his older brother and father driving around the city only fueled his desire to join the league of motor car owners. Perhaps in a few more months, his pay as a supervisor would amount to enough. For now, at least he could pretend.
The crack of a rifle sounded to his left, and Jacob jerked his head toward the echo. It effectively jarred his thoughts from his little pleasure ride and brought his boss' face to mind.
"Mr. Ford! I have to return the car!"
Jacob had no idea how long it had been since dropping off Mrs. Mitchell, but he had no doubt he was expected back long ago. Frantic, he returned his attention to the road. Good. An intersection. He could turn around there and head back to the city. With his attention on the upcoming maneuver, he didn't see the horses and wagon until too late. The team was on a direct collision course with his car.
Jacob tensed and shifted into survival mode. Visions of a crumbled heap of steel and wheels flashed before his eyes. He immediately rammed his foot down on the right pedal and yanked the steering wheel in the same direction.
The driver of the wagon screamed and pulled back on the reins, causing the horses to rear up and paw at the air. If it didn't get into a wreck, the model might end up with hoof prints on the engine instead.
Skidding only a few feet on the dirt-packed road, Jacob released a whoosh of breath when the car came to a complete stop mere inches from the nearest fence. He jumped down from the running board and raced to the front of the car to check the suspension and wheels as well as the engine. Barely giving the wagon driver a passing glance, he groaned.
"Could you not see that I had the right of way?" He folded back the hood. "Why don't you watch where you're guiding that antiquated wagon of yours?"
"I beg your pardon?" came a distinctly incensed feminine voice in reply.
Jacob tilted his head and looked over his shoulder at a woman not too much younger than he standing next to the horses, her fists planted on her hips and reins held loosely in one hand. A bank of gray clouds partially concealed the sun and cast eerie shadows on her face. He couldn't tell if it was the temporary minimal light or his faulty perception that made her look so livid. Then again, considering the circumstances, she might very well be furious.
Before he had a chance to say anything further, she spun away and stepped close to the horses, speaking in low, soothing tones. The horses sidestepped and pranced a bit, snorting and continuing to paw the ground. Under her calming voice, the animals soon ceased their nervous behavior and settled once again.
Jacob observed the young woman in silence. Honeycomb hair fell in a single braid down her back. Her straw hat was tied beneath her chin but now sat askew and partially cupped her right shoulder. A smirk formed on his lips as he allowed his gaze to travel from her head to her feet, taking note of the way the simple material of her dress hugged her trim figure. She certainly didn't appear to be injured in any way. In fact, from her sharp retort and the fire in her eyes, he'd say the exact opposite was the case.
As if divining his thoughts, she whirled to face him again, the fury in her narrowed eyes marring what he considered a rather attractive face.
"Just what do you think you were doing, driving so recklessly? Do you not realize you could have caused any number of accidents or even killed someone with that..."— she gestured wildly toward the Model T— "that...contraption? I think you should be the one who should have been watching where you were going instead of daydreaming or attempting to break some sort of record in speed."
"Me?" Jacob slapped his hand to his chest. "I didn't exactly creep up to the crossroad in silence. In case you haven't noticed, this 'contraption' as you call it makes a rather substantial bit of noise when it's running. If I was the one daydreaming, what exactly were you doing that prevented you from hearing the approaching motor car?"
A flash of guilt appeared on her face before she erased it and tapped into her anger once more. "If you must know, I was minding my own business and making my way toward home when all of a sudden you came out of nowhere and ran me off the road."
Jacob leaned back against the car and folded his arms across his chest, giving her a leisurely perusal as he quirked one eyebrow. "Well, from what I see, you don't appear to be any worse for the wear. Of course, I'm no doctor, so I can't tell if there might be internal injuries. That would require closer inspection."
The young woman dipped her head toward her chest. If more light were available, Jacob was certain there'd be a blush on her cheeks. Maybe she was coming around. A beat later, she raised her head and glared. Then again, maybe not.
"You, sir, are quite bold in your assumptions and your suggestions. I will thank you not to make such audacious statements. We don't even know each other."
Jacob pushed away from the car and stepped toward her. "That can easily be remedied." He stuck out his hand and inclined his head. "Jacob Berringer, at your service."
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