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Rebuilding vintage vehicles gives students insight into auto history, skills for future jobs.

Some assembly required

Working with vintage vehicles gives CMU students competitive edge for museum careers

Contact: Ari Harris


​"Museums don't have to be static. They can be places of action, with exhibits that run."

Jay Martin, director of the Museum of Cultural and Natural History at Central Michigan University, believes that if artifacts can run, they should run.

That's why he and cultural resource management graduate student Mitchell Bryan are working with vintage vehicles that will take museum visitors on a ride back in history and open up unconventional opportunities for students. It also may give them a competitive edge when they go looking for jobs.

Automotive Innovation

Students traveled to The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan, for a little hands-on assembly of an original Ford Model T.

"The Model T was fairly simple to put together. It comes together in big parts. What we're doing is a little different. No one person would have ever built a complete car on the factory assembly line. They would only know how to add the one piece at their station," Martin said.

CMU Trustee Patricia Mooradian, president and CEO of The Henry Ford, arranged for students to have the special experience of building an entire Model T together as a team.

"The Henry Ford was first founded in 1929 as a privately owned school. Ford believed children needed more opportunities for engaged, hands-on learning," Mooradian said. "We're proud to continue that mission today with exhibits and experiences that immerse and engage visitors."

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CMU Trustee Patricia Mooradian and student Mitchell Bryan celebrate as they finish building the Model T.

"It gave us a lot of insight into the engineering process and the innovation of the day," Bryan said.

While many processes seemed simple, such as tightening bolts, proper technique required a little finesse.

History rolls onto campus

The Transport Truck Co. was located in Mount Pleasant from 1918-25, and its trucks can be frequently spotted in vintage photos of the campus. In 2017, the donation of one of the last three existing Transport Trucks to the museum's collection began a journey of learning.

"This is a living piece of history we can use for education," Bryan said.

It started with Martin, Bryan and students from the cultural resource management and museum studies programs cleaning and doing minor repairs on the truck, including replacing the fuel tank with a safer, more efficient version and tracking down an artisan who can rebuild a wooden-spoke wheel.

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The 1920 Transport Truck was a gift from local businessman Sam Staples.

Driving along a career path

Many museum collections include vintage vehicles, Martin said. The hands-on experience working with the vehicles’ care, maintenance and operation gives CMU students something unique to include on their résumés.

Mooradian agreed. “What all employers want to see are skills like cooperation, leadership and problem-solving. Experiences like this give the students the chance to build those skills.”

In addition to the Model T build, Mooradian arranged for the students to meet with members of the museum’s leadership team to discuss the variety of positions available in areas such as finance, marketing and public relations, human resources, and museum guides and presenters.

Around the next bend

Thanks to a CMU donor, students and alumni will have the opportunity to travel this fall to the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, near Kalamazoo, to attend Model T driver training.

"We learned that Greenfield Village had a need for people who could drive the Model T," Martin said. The historical village has a fleet of the cars offering rides to guests. "Many of the individuals who are currently driving are retirees, and we had an opportunity to train a new generation of drivers."

Driving a Model T is a challenge, Bryan said. There's no gas pedal, for example. Drivers operate three pedals, a hand lever and two hand controls on the steering wheel.

The experience will help students become more comfortable driving other vintage vehicles, like the Transport Truck.

"Ultimately, we're going to be able to take the truck out into area schools and around the community," Martin said.

And Bryan's looking forward to his chance in the driver's seat.


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