Remembering Mr. Ford

Michigan man remembers automotive giant Mr. Ford’s impact on local farm network

| December 2010

  • Henry Ford, 1919.
    Henry Ford, 1919. 
    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
  • dc-ford-01
    Don Bush with a Ford tractor dating to the era when Don’s father worked on experimental equipment for Henry Ford.
    Photo by Lad Strayer, The Daily Telegram

  • Henry Ford, 1919.
  • dc-ford-01

Don Bush still carries a certain amount of respect for the automotive giant who employed his family in the 1930s and 1940s. Even 63 years after Henry Ford’s death, Bush refers to him as “Mr. Ford.” 

Bush, the fourth of six children of Leland and Hazel Bush, grew up on a farm in Macon Township, Mich., as the nation reeled from the Great Depression. The Bush family lost their cash crop of sugar beets to the Depression and their swine to hog cholera. Leland Bush turned to a job repairing roads to help make ends meet.

That’s when Henry Ford entered their lives. From Brooklyn to Macon, the businessman from Dearborn was investing in communities to advance his business ventures beyond auto making. “Mr. Ford bought a number of farms in the area because he was interested in using soybeans for fuel experimentations,” Don says. “He was also interested in using hydraulic equipment on tractors.”

Don says Ford acquired approximately 10,000 acres in Lenawee County under the corporation name “Quirk Farms.” The properties, including the 80 acres the Bush family rented, provided the setting for Ford to test new designs in an agricultural environment.

Leland Bush was employed as a mechanic on the Macon Township farm, working with the tractors that Ford had delivered to the farm to be tested against competing models and tweaked before hitting the public market. The farmers would report concerns to managers, who in turn made improvement recommendations to Ford.

The experimental tractors were usually painted with a red stripe, Don says. Though Don was not employed by Ford because of his young age, he worked alongside his older brothers who were on the payroll and learned how to drive the tractors by age 8.