Industrialist Henry Ford was a lousy tipper, at least when he got his shoes shined in Harrison. And at least according to historian and author T.M. Sellers, who wrote the book on John “Spikehorn” Meyers and penned a number of articles on Clare County’s history. Sellers said that one time, while in town, Ford had his shoes shined at the barber shop that stood on the corner of Second and Main, paid Charles E. Amble the nickel cost of the shine but didn’t tip the boy.
Whether Ford’s tipping habits were unusual, his trips up to Harrison were not. After all, Ford owned more than 1,600 acres in Greenwood Township to the west. He first purchased 640 acres of stump-laden land in 1910 and then added to his landholdings in time. His initial use was to use the land once he removed the estimated 5,000 stumps (at $1.25 per stump) was to test the tractors he had started developing in 1906. One way they were tested was to plow land to raise crops such as potatoes, hay and wheat that could be then sold in the Detroit area. By the 1940s, Ford had added several hundred sheep and cattle and used some of the crops being raised to fatten the animals for shipment to market.
In the early day, Ford would sometimes make the drive to Harrison (or be driven), staying overnight in Saginaw since there were few roads. Ford would sometimes have a car shipped to Clare County by rail—a much faster way—and then he would drive the car once arriving in the county.
There are stories of Ford playing tennis with the Cornwells who also owned a large cattle
ranch in the county and fishing with Bernie and Ike Hampton. Bernie owned the Ford dealership next to the barber shop in Harrison (now the Harrison Marketplace).
How often Ford came here or everyone he visited with is not recorded, and sadly no photos of Ford in Harrison has surfaced. What we do know is information obtained from Sellers and in an interview that was done with Howard Davis who worked on the farm from 1940 to 1944 and was interviewed in 1997. Davis said nine men worked at the Ford Farm in the summer and three in the winter and that workers were paid 40 cents per hour for a 10 hour day, although sometimes they worked 14 hours. There was no overtime, but the men could take time off for work in excess of 10 hours. Davis noted that the rate of pay he received during the 1940s was the same as workers had received back in 1918. He said he was satisfied since local farmers were paying their help only a dollar per day.
When asked if the Ford farm was he locals liked having the Ford farm in that he employed local people to work. There was a proposal at one time for Ford to buy stock in the Harrison Elevator to allow the building of a flour mill but for some reason that proposal never came to fruition.
Davis added that the locals had first laughed at Ford’s tractors saying they were too small, but over time, Ford’s tractors gained respect for the work they could do. There’s no word on whether Ford garnered the respect of that shoeshine boy after failing to tip him.
Note: The Ford Farm is now part of the Kitty Kurtis Inc.
Another article on the Ford Farm: Henry’s Michigan Stump Farm by Ford R. Bryan