During World War I, the Allies used thousands of Model T cars and trucks because of their low cost and ease of repair. The ambulance version's light weight made it well-suited for use on the muddy and shell-torn roads in forward combat areas. If stuck in a hole, a group of soldiers could lift one without much difficulty. By Nov. 1, 1918, 4,362 Model T ambulances had been shipped overseas.
The light wooden body was mounted on a standard Model T auto chassis. The 4-cylinder engine produced about 20 hp. There was no self-starter; the engine had to be cranked by hand. This vehicle was equipped with an early form of automatic transmission and could carry three litters or four seated patients and two more could sit with the driver. Model T’s originally had no electronics at all. The headlamps were Carbide Gas, running lights and rear lights were oil lamps. There was no battery, and the engine high tension was created by a magneto, connecting to the four spark plugs. Canvas "pockets" covered the litter handles that stuck out beyond the tailgate. Many American field service and Red Cross volunteer drivers, including writers Ernest Hemingway and Bret Harte and cartoonist Walt Disney drove Model T ambulances.
"Hunka Tin," a poem written as a parody on Rudyard Kipling's "Gunga Din," appeared in the American Field Service Bulletin and was used in Ford dealers' advertising throughout the United States. The final stanza read:
Yes, Tin, Tin, Tin.
You exasperating puzzle, Hunka Tin.
I've abused you and I've flayed you,
But by Henry Ford who made you,
You are better than a Packard, Hunka Tin.
The pictures shown here are of a recent community/public appearance during the Great Americana Festival parade in downtown Paso Robles, CA. Driving and riding are two EWB members. Our ambulance was once again crowned "Best of Show". It sputtered a bit during the parade, and our EWB Wonder Boys mechanic team have nearly completed an engine overhaul. The vehicle is maintained in excellent condition by our museum volunteer staff and it has always produced quite a few "ooh's" and "ahhs" while on display in Freedom Hall.
1912 Model T is currently on loan from September 2 through September 30th at the Los Angeles County Fair, as part of an "American Innovation Through History" program.
The US Army utilized the Model T’s for service in 1916, along the Mexican border. There were over 15 Million Model T Fords made between the years 1908, and 1927. In 1917 alone, there were over 390,000 T trucks delivered to the US Army! As you are probably aware, Henry Ford himself, was dead against the war. He was one of the leading figures in the “Keep America Out of the War” movement. Even so, Ford did not go as far as to refuse to sell running chassis to the Military, but he just made sure that Ford Motor company itself, did not manufacture the military body parts. After all, Ford was a shrewd businessman. Ford supplied the chassis, engine and running gear, including bonnet and firewall (front bulkhead)....these were then taken to various body and carriage makers who made the appropriate body for which ever branch of service was to use the vehicle, and as to the usage - ambulance conversions, machine gun car conversions, and utility vehicle conversions, both T truck and standard chassis vehicles.The Model “ T” in military service was the most common type of utility truck in the US Army. Most of the trucks were based on the heavy duty Model T “1 ton truck chassis”.
More information on Ford Model T's can be found the Model T Ford Car Page.
Thanks to John Everett for restoration info!
Our 1912 Model “T” Ford ambulance was donated to the Museum by an EWM member, Dudley Dewey, in 1998. It is an original Model T automobile converted as an ambulance. It has a similar WWI ambulance section behind the cab, and has been driven in local parades for some years. The Model T has been, and continues to be very popular. However, the vehicle had a history of engine overheating (normally ran hot) possibly due to transmission mal-adjustment and a marginal radiator. The transmission of a Model T is a quite different and a revolutionary design for 1912. It has bands and clutches which are prone to be out of adjustment causing the transmission to be always “in gear” or under load.
Early 2007, we decided that it was time to do a repair and restoration on the venerable vehicle, so that it would be more dependable and not destroy its own engine and transmission. After careful study by our “restoration technicians”, we determined that the T needed the following:
- Remove original inefficient engine water pump.
- A more efficiently designed radiator while retaining original look and feel.
- Engine and transmission removal and minor rebuild of the transmission.
- Removal of the cylinder head to check pistons, grind & adjust valves.
- Refit the exhaust manifold as the studs were stripped.
- Installation of a later bell housing & electrical starter which would facilitate easier starting.
- Installation of a 12-volt radiator cooling fan inside the engine compartment.
- Four new tires, inspect the wooden wheels, pack wheel bearings.
- Repair the speedometer.
- Repair 3 of 4 ignition coils and re-adjustment of all coils.
We launched into this restoration project knowing what we wanted to do but not exactly how we would do it. The Model T is a very special vehicle, loaded with older technology that most of us did not fully understand. The transmission is a planetary type, being the first semi-automatic transmission used on an American car. The bands and clutches require considerable knowledge to adjust correctly. After removing the engine and transmission as a unit (the oil pan and transmission are the same casting), it was determined that we needed more expertise on the project. Two local Model T experts were called, and eventually we were able to adjust the transmission so that an adequate “neutral” was obtained. Once completed, the new radiator and cooling fan were installed. Upon start up, it was evident that the new cooling system had an immediate effect. An electric starter (which was an option after 1915) was installed allowing the vehicle to be started with minimum effort. Previous to this, we had to pull the Model T with another vehicle to start it, (which, of course, is not always good or safe). Originally, the vehicle would be hand-cranked to start, but with the no-neutral situation and only old men available, hand-cranking was out of the question.
A new speedometer (donated by Newton’s SLO Speedometer Shop in San Luis Obispo,) was installed. The new tires were purchased and installed, and the wheels examined and tightened as well as we could do it. One of our members, Ron Brooks, has done considerable work wiring and re-wiring the vehicle, and we now have a good lighting and electrical system.
Since the restoration was completed, the Model T has been entered in four local parades (Paso Robles All-America Parade, Pioneer Days Parade, Christmas Parade, and Atascadero Colony Days parade), and won honors in all of them. It is definitely a crowd pleaser. Ron and Jackie Brooks are the designated driver and nurse, and dress in their period uniforms for the parades. The T now resides in the Estrella Warbirds Museum Freedom Hall where it is on display. Later on in the year when “parade season” begins, it will be taken out, dusted off, and readied for more local parades.
Thanks to the Restoration Crew:
Ron Brooks, electrician, driver, trainer, mechanic
Jackie Brooks, official “nurse”
Ron Boyte, welder, mechanic
Arnold Hermansen, body, wheels, painter
John Everett, mechanic, parts runner
Gary Woodall, mechanic
Special Thanks to:
Jeff Beaumont, Model T expert
Jim Weir, Model T expert
Al Theberge of Newton’s SLO Speedometer for donation of the speedometer