Like reading Thackeray edited by Elmore Leonard

World War I (1914-18) Ambulances

The Model T FORD

The United States of America did not enter the First World War until 1917. That, however, did not deter various individuals and associations from participating at a much earlier date, and one of the leading areas of activity that drew Americans was the ambulance service. These young volunteers – men and women – came in their thousands, from all walks of life, to risk their lives alongside the French and British. Some of them, such as Walt Disney, Ernest Hemingway and E E Cummings went on to be famous, and of the ambulances that they drove, none became more famous than the Model T Ford. For a start, it was cheaper than other vehicles. Fully equipped, it cost $1,600 compared to a Packard that cost upwards of $2,500. Admittedly it was smaller and lighter, but that had the advantage that it was nippier and less likely to get bogged down in the mud. It was relatively easy to maintain, and parts were standard. It provided a softer ride, and the French soldiers – the poilu – preferred it to all others. One driver commented that by using the rough French wine, pinard, in the radiator, he had the best antifreeze available, and after a few hundred miles, it was almost drinkable!

Henry Ford himself offered no discounts or favours to those who bought his vehicles for ambulances. He charged the full retail price, for car and spares. Yet he went on to lose millions of dollars and much face over his ill-fated ‘Peace Ship’ fiasco, in an attempt to bring the warring countries together.

Various drivers felt the urge to wax lyrical over the Model T. Robert A Donaldson wrote in his poem, ‘Henry on the Grande Route’:

You may take the Dago Fiat,
The Renault, the Berliet.
Just lead me to a Henry Ford-
I’ll swap you any day.
These foreign speaking cars may sound
All right to foreign ears,
But they never can touch Henry
In a hundred thousand years.

Another driver chose to parody the 23rd Psalm:

The Ford is my car;
I shall not want another.
It maketh me to lie down in wet places;
It soileth my soul;
It leadeth me into deep waters;
It leadeth me into paths of ridicule for its namesake;
It prepareth a breakdown for me in the presence of mine enemies.
Yea, though I run through the valleys, I am towed up the hill;
I fear great evil when it is with me.
Its rods and its engines discomfort me;
It annointeth my face with oil;
Its tank runneth over.
Surely to goodness if this thing follow me all the days of my life,
I shall dwell in the house of the insane forever.