We all know a little about Henry Ford, a Michigan farm boy who despised farm work. The oldest of six children, Ford was born in 1863. When he was 16 years old, he left the farm and became a machinist apprentice in Detroit. Later he was hired by the Edison Illuminating Co. in Detroit and started experimenting with horseless carriages. Thanks to some financial backers, including Edison, Ford started the Detroit Automobile Co. in 1899, but it was unsuccessful and folded in 1901. Later that year, Ford built and raced a 26-horsepower automobile and formed his second automobile company called the Henry Ford Co. His big financial backer was lumber baron William Murphy, but when Murphy brought in Henry Leland as a consultant, Ford left the company. With Ford gone, Murphy renamed the company the Cadillac Automobile Co.
Ford invented neither the automobile nor the assembly line, but he did develop the assembly line’s efficient use for mass production and produced automobiles and trucks that were affordable for middle-class Americans. The first big success was the Model T Ford. It was introduced in 1908 for $825 (about $21,000 today), but as the years passed the price kept dropping, and by 1916 the price for the basic touring car was $360 (about $8,475 today). Ford built more than 15 million Model T’s, the last one in 1927.
In San Jose 100 years ago, Moses Rosendin and his brother, Christopher, started what is now called Rosendin Electric (or just Rosendin) in his garage. Initially, they did wiring for homes and shops. Today, the company has 9,000 employees nationwide and is the largest employee-owned electrical contractor and the fourth largest electrical contractor in the United States.
Rick Guzman, the company’s senior business development manager, told me there had been a meeting at Rosendin to discuss plans for the company’s 100th anniversary. The question of what would best symbolize 100 years in business was asked, and the consensus was a truck — a Model T Ford truck.
Jon Fontaine, the fleet manager, was assigned to find one.
“It took a couple of months to find it,” Fontaine said. The truck was actually restored in Nebraska, and it was sold to an individual living near Sacramento who sold it to Rosendin for $16,000. “The (standard) brakes were pretty bad, so I upgraded the braking system to a Rocky Mountain kit, which is a popular upgrade. To stop a Model T when you are going forward,” he explained, “you would quickly engage reverse.” Model T vehicles were unique and had three-floor pedals — left was the two-speed forward gear shifter; the middle pedal was reverse; and right was the rear drum brakes, which didn’t work as well as pushing the reverse pedal. When acquired in January 2018, the truck was pretty sound mechanically and in appearance.
“We converted from a runabout with a ‘turtle box’ to this pickup truck,” Fontaine said (a turtle-box is the back compartment used to store luggage for long trips — like a trunk).
Fontaine spent considerable time getting the pickup box kit up to his standards. It took about six different stains to match the bed stain of the truck with the stain of the wooden spoke wheels. The paint was good and just needed a good polish, and then the signing was done. The box itself was a kit purchased from a company specializing in Model T and Model A parts and accessories.
“The box pretty much comes as a puzzle,” he said. “I put it together on the truck and I had to do some sanding and cutting because some of it didn’t line up correctly.”
It took him a couple of months to get the truck to the show condition it’s in now. The truck is almost all original, including the motor and transmission. It has a fold-down top, which is held up with two leather straps attached to the windshield. The gas tank is under the driver’s seat and the fuel gauge is a stick or ruler dipped into the tank to see how much gas there is.
It does have an electric starter, which Henry Ford was a little slow in including. Cadillac had one in 1912, but Ford waited till 1919 to make it available. Electric headlights were standard, but it has a kerosene tail light. This truck also has kerosene “parking” lights, and the engine temperature gauge is included in the radiator cap. The 177-cubic-inch, four-cylinder engine produced 20 horsepower with a top speed of 45 mph. This truck will probably never have a new owner as it will be displayed at shows and meetings.
Rick Guzman summarized the importance of the 1919 Model T truck: “This truck is the tangible symbol that represents Rosendin’s 100 years in business.”