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机械迷--亨利·福特

2006-07-09 13:27

MACHINE MAD — HENRY FORD

  Growing up on a remote Michigan farm. Henry Ford knew little of all this — but he soon showed signs that he belonged to a new generation of Americans interested more in the industrial future than in the agricultural past.  Like most pioneer farmers, his father, William, hoped that his eldest son would join him on the farm,enable it to expand, and eventually take it over. But Henry proved a disappointment. He hated farm work and did everything he could to avoid it . It was not that he was lazy. Far from it. Give him a mechanical job to do, from mending the hinges of a gate to sharpening tools, and he would set to work eagerly. It was the daily life of the farm, with its repetitive tasks, that frustrated him. “What a waste it is,” he was to write years later, remembering his work in the fields, “for a human being to spend hours and days behind a slowly moving team of houses.

  Henry was excited by the possibilities for the future that were being opened up by developments in technology that could free farmers like his father from wasteful and boring toil. But these developments, in Henry's boyhood, had touched farming hardly at all and farmers went on doing things in the way they had always done. Low profits, the uncertainties of the weather, and farmers' instinctive resistance to change prevented all but the richest and most far-sighted farmers from taking advantage of the new age of machines.

  So Henry turned his attention elsewhere. When he was twelve he became almost obsessively interested in clocks and watches. Like most children before and since, he became fascinated by peering into the workings of a timepiece and watching the movement of ratchets and wheels, springs and pendulums. Soon he was repairing clocks and watches for friends, working at a bench he built in his bedroom.

  In 1876, Henry suffered a grievous blow. Mary died in childbirth. There was now no reason for him to stay on the farm, and he resolved to get away as soon as he could. Three years later, he took a job as a mechanic in Detroit. By this time steam engines had joined clocks and watches as objects of Henry's fascination.

  According to an account given by Henry himself, he first saw a steam-driven road locomotive one day in 1877 when he and his father, in their horse-drawn farm wagon, met one on the road. The locomotive driver stopped to let the wagon pass, and Henry jumped down and went to him with a barrage of technical questions about the engine's performance. From then on, for a while, Henry became infatuated with steam engines. Making and installing them was the business of the Detroit workshop that he joined at the age of sixteen.

  A chance meeting with an old co-worker led to a job for Henry as an engineer at the Edison Detroit Electricity Company, the leading force in another new industry. Power stations were being built and cables being laid in all of the United States' major cities; the age of electricity had dawned. But although Henry quickly learned the ropes of his new job— so quickly that within four years he was chief engineer at the Detroit power plant — his interest in fuel engines had come to dominate his life. At first in the kitchen of his and Clara's home, and later in a shed at the back of their house, he spent his spare time in the evenings trying to build an engine to his own design.

  Meanwhile, Henry's domestic responsibilities had increased. In November 1893, Clara gave birth to their first and only child, Edsel.

  Henry learned the hard way what a slow, painstaking business it was to build an engine by hand from scratch. Every piece of every component had to be fashioned individually, checked and rechecked, and tested. Every problem had to be worried over and solved by the builder. To ease the burden, Henry joined forces with another mechanic, Jim Bishop, Even so, it was two years before they had succeeded in building a working car. It was an ungainly-looking vehicle, mounted on bicycle wheels and driven by a rubber belt that connected the engine to the rear wheels. Henry called it the “Quadricycle”。


  亨利·福特虽然生长在偏远的密执安农场,但他对农事知之甚少——他很早便显露出新一代美国人的特点,比起农业的过去来,他们对工业的未来更感兴趣。他的父亲威廉姆,如同大多数早期的农场主一样,希望长子能随他务农,扩展农场并继承他的衣钵。而亨利令他感到失望。他厌恶农活并想方设法予以逃避。这并不是说他懒惰。绝对不是。倘若让他干点儿机械活,从修门的合叶到磨农具,他都干劲。使他感到沮丧的是农场的日常生活和单调重复和劳动。后来他在回忆他的这段农庄生活时写道:“一个人整天跟在一群慢腾腾的马后,这是多么大的浪费呀。”

  亨利对技术发展可能开创的未来兴奋不已,这能使像他父亲一样的农夫从费时和枯燥的辛劳中解脱出来。但在亨利的童年,这些发展几乎根本触及不到农业,而农民们一直延续着由来已久的务农方式。收益低、变化无常的天气和农民们对改变现状的本能抵制都妨碍农民们(早富有和最有远见者除外)充分利用新型机械。

  因此亨利将注意力专向其它方面。当他十二岁时就对钟表异常着迷。与在此前后的大多数孩子一样,他痴迷于探查计时器的工作方式及观察棘轮、车轮、弹簧和钟摆的运动。不久他就能在卧室里自己做的长凳上给朋友们修理钟表了。

  1876年,亨利遭受到一次痛苦的打击。玛丽在分娩时死去。他再也没有理由呆在农场了,随即人决定尽快远走他乡。三年后,他在底特律得到一份机械师的工作。此时蒸汽发动机已成为继钟表后亨利的又一痴迷物。

  据亨利自己所说,他第一次见到蒸汽驱动的机车是在1877年的一天,他和父亲坐在农用马车上。机车司机停下给他们让路,亨利跳下车过去问了一连串有关发动机性能的问题。从那天起,又过了一段时间,亨利便开始对蒸汽发动机如痴如醉。当他十六岁在底特律的工作间做事时,制造和安装发动机就成了他的工作。

  由于一次偶然的机会,亨利遇到了一位原来的同事,这得以使他在爱迪生底特律电力公司谋到一份工程师的工作,该公司属另一新兴行业的中坚。在美国的主要城市,都在兴建电厂,铺设缆线;电气时代业已到来。但尽管亨利很快就学会了新工作中的各种技能,使得他不出四年他便成为底特律电厂的总工程师,然而他对燃油发动机的兴趣在其生活中占据着主要地位。先是在他与克拉拉家中的厨房里,而后在他们房后的一间工作棚里,他用晚上的业余时间试图制造出一台自行设计的发动机。

  与此同时,亨利的家庭责任也日趋繁重起来。1893年11月,克拉拉生了他们唯一的孩子艾德赛。

  亨利懂得了靠手工白手起家地制造发动机是一项缓慢、辛苦、困难重重的工作。每种部件的每个部分都要分别制作、检查及调试。制造者要操心和解决每个问题。为了减轻负担,亨利与另一位机械师吉姆·毕晓普一起分工合作。即便如此,他们也是花了两年的时间才造出一辆工作车。这辆车样子笨拙,架在自行车轮子上并靠一根胶皮带将发动机与后车轮相连。亨利戏称它为“四轮驱动脚踏车。”

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