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Windows at birthplace of the Model T inspire teams of volunteers

0 July 30, 2017 in Farah News by noura

Windows at birthplace of the Model T inspire teams of volunteers

DETROIT – The white paper sign on the wire cage door leading to a workshop at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant sums it all up quite nicely. "Home of the celebrated Window Team. We ONLY do windows."

For the past 14 years, a team of volunteers – many retirees from Ford Motor, a few from General Motors, many who never even worked in the auto industry – have been painstakingly restoring 355 double-sash windows at an old Detroit factory that's called the "birthplace of the Model T."

Henry Ford had an office in the three-story factory, built in 1904 and reminiscent of an old textile mill. Its historic relevance is intensified by a secret room walled off in a corner of the third floor. There, Henry Ford and others nurtured the idea for a car that would be affordable enough for the masses. The Model T was born and, in 1908, it was introduced as a 1909 model.

The first 12,000 Ts were built at the Piquette plant, which sits on an industrial corner of Detroit's Milwaukee Junction neighborhood. The quiet laborers have diligently showed up for years, creating their own workshop, donating tools and working hard to bring light back to a piece of Detroit history.

On the national and state registers of historic places, it's now a trendy spot used for weddings and other events.

"We're down to only 16 windows," said Art Pope, 83, who was among the volunteers who started the project in 2003. The job could be done by late fall.

Guardian Industries, based outside the city, has donated many of the new glass panes. Edsel B. Ford II, the great-grandson of Henry Ford, and his wife, Cynthia Ford, donated money to adopt windows on the front of the building.

By one estimate, the volunteers have done about $1 million worth of work.

Pope supplies the 10 a.m. coffee and donuts to the crew of 18 to 20 volunteers who show up on Mondays from April to late November. There's an annual breakfast in early December to honor the most valuable players of the season with baseball caps.

Even though the window work might be nearly done, volunteers expect to keep working, maintaining the restored windows and working on other projects at the plant, which is one of the oldest factories in the country open to the public. The window team has built doors and interior fixtures, too.

The plant is operated by a nonprofit organization incorporated as the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex, which bought the building in 2000.

"It's not a pristine museum; it's a real place. It actually manufactured 45,000 cars. People toiled here," said Nancy Darga, executive director for the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. In all, eight Ford models were built there.

The large, expansive windows provided maximum daylight to workers when cars were in production. But decades later, many of the windows were broken, and the building was full of pigeons and raccoons, according to Darga, who wasn't even sure early on that restoring the building would be possible.

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