Riding Through Time With Jeff Guinn and Henry Ford

As the LEAP ambassadors’ research drew to a close, still more adventures await them on the road. Although the various activities we got to engage in on the way to Detroit were elucidating and interesting, the true focus of our trip was as stated previously, to help Jeff Guinn in researching the Vagabonds.


For that effort, from Monday to Thursday, we followed the same routine; getting to the Henry Ford Museum’s research library around 9 a.m., researching for a few hours, getting lunch with Mr. Guinn and Mr. Fuquay, researching some more, and finally spending an hour touring the museum or the adjacent Greenfield Village.

This was a phenomenal opportunity to see a best-selling author in the research environment. Additionally, we got to hear many stories and see many amazing artifacts.



One highlight was being taken back into the conservation section of the Henry Ford, where we were shown a Lincoln refrigerated truck that was being restored.

1922 Car Used by Vagabonds
1922 Car Used by Vagabonds

Incredibly, this was the very refrigerated truck that Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and Thomas Edison had taken along with them on a few of their camping trips! We got to stand next to real history, and see how the team of the Henry Ford is working to preserve and restore such artifacts for future generations to enjoy.

Henry Ford Museum, Conservation

Another special treat was being able to help Jeff Guinn pick out pictures for his book from the Henry Ford’s digital collection.

The Vagabonds, Beson Ford Research Center, Jeff Guinn
Reviewing Vagabonds Photographs for Mr. Guinn’s Book

We sat down and looked through 231 pictures, narrowing these down to about 40. Mr. Guinn will look through other sources before settling on which ones he wants to see appear in the book. At that point, the marketing team for Simon & Schuster, Mr. Guinn’s publisher, will dissect his choices, and they will make the final decisions.

During our breaks, where we could wander freely in the museums. Following our first day, which we spent focusing primarily on the Beatles Exhibit and automobiles in the Henry Ford Museum, we spent the last couple of days looking over planes, civil rights exhibits, Americana, and even furniture.

Henry Ford Museum

But this was no ordinary furniture; many of the pieces were owned by highly accomplished gentlemen. We saw a desk used by Edgar Allen Poe for most of his adult life, for example. It is possible that some of the stories and poems that are so loved today, like “The Raven,” “The Telltale Heart,” or “The Pit and the Pendulum,” were scribed at this very desk.

Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Ford Museum, Writing Desk
Edgar Allan Poe’s Writing Desk

We also got to see John Hancock’s card table and Mark Twain’s writing table!

Mark Twain, Writing Desk, Henry Ford Museum
Mark Twin Portrait & Writing Table

In the planes section, the Museum had a replica of the Wright Brothers’ plane…

Wright Brothers, Henry Ford Museum, Kitty Hawk
Replica of Wright Brothers’ Plane

…and a little known Ford plane, which never really proved successful commercially.

Ford Plane, Henry Ford Museum
Ford Company’s Unsuccessful Plane

In the Americana section, they had a copy of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”….

Thomas Paine, Common Sense, Henry Ford Museum
Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense”

… and the chair in which Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was assassinated.

Abraham Lincoln, Assassination, Ford Theater, Henry Ford Museum
The Abraham Lincoln from Ford Theater

As the above suggests, some of the artifacts were unusual, even unsettling.

On a more inspirational level, the Museum had the bus on which Rosa Parks refused to take a back seat, both literally and metaphorically.

Rosa Parks, Bus, Segregation, Henry Ford Museum
The Bus on Which Rosa Parks Refused to Take a Back Seat

Amazingly, people were even allowed to sit in the seat she refused to relinquish.  The Museum also had guidelines of the “Montgomery Improvement Association” (led by Martin Luther King, Jr.) distributed to African Americans which helped them stand for their rights without putting themselves or others in undue danger.


Wrapping Up

Finally though, Thursday afternoon rolled around, and our time at the Henry Ford drew to a close. We said our goodbyes to Jeff Guinn and Jim Fuquay while thanking them for giving us the opportunity to work with them for a week.

L-R: Jim Fuquay, Brian Aldaco, Jeff Guinn, Paul Oliver
L-R: Jim Fuquay, Brian Aldaco, Jeff Guinn, Paul Oliver

Besides being a great researcher and a great teacher, he is a very personable and amiable man, who really does love his work. The joy he takes in his research is reflected in both his books and in his interactions with others. After spending a week with Jeff Guinn, you can’t help but be interested in whatever subject he’s writing about!

Jeff Guinn and Paul Oliver
Jeff Guinn and Paul Oliver


The Vagabonds: Ford, Edison, Firestone, Burroughs, Harding, Coolidge

Adventure is to LEAP trips what innovation is to Henry Ford, a process waiting to happen with unexpected ways of achieving it. During today’s visit of the Henry Ford research center and museum, we continued on our Vagabond quest, a three-part odyssey that includes: (1) to assist Mr. Jeff Guinn with research on the Vagabonds, (2) to learn as much as possible about the research process, and, (3) when possible, supplement our academic learning with additional learning from the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.

“The Vagabonds” Project

Our project is to assist Mr. Jeff Guinn, who has written almost twenty books over his career.  Although Guinn uses a professional research (Jim Fuquay), he invited us to give us the opportunity to learn by doing and observing.

Jim Fuquay and Jeff Guinn
                                                                                                            Jim Fuquay and Jeff Guinn

His current book project is on “The Vagabonds,” a group that consisted of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, John Burroughs, and, later, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.  These men gathered once a year to travel parts of the country while camping.

Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, Harvey Firestone
             L-R: Ford, Edison, Burroughs, Firestone

Our research primarily took place at the Benson Ford Research Center, which has some 26 million artifacts, all but one million of which are paper documents.  Mr. Guinn assigned us several tasks:

  • itemizing the Vagabonds’ itineraries across the period 1915-1924;
  • itemizing Mr. Ford’s major achievements;
  • reviewing Mr. Ford’s newspapers, The Dearborn Independent

The Vagabonds
                          Paul Oliver, Ryan Brim, and Brian Aldaco Researching

To complete these tasks, we had the run of the archives, which included a library, endless storage space, and the Museum itself, which had its own artifacts on display.  We made use of all three.

Henry Ford Museum

But we also had a chance to break and enjoy free time, which doubled as a foundational education to both Ford and American history.  In the Ford Museum, for example, there are wings for the history of the automobile (including buses), the locomotive transportation, air transportation, civil rights, furniture, clocks, and electronic devices in the home.  It was a massive museum.

In the automotive section, for example, we were able to see Ford’s first vehicle, the “Quadricycle” of 1996.

Henry Ford, Quadricycle
                                                                                    Ford’s Quadricycle

We also saw the famous Model T, the speed-setting “Goldenrod”….

The Goldenrod, Henry Ford Museum, Land Speed Record
                                     “The Goldenrod,” Holder of the Land Speed Record from 1966-1991

…and plethoric presidential limousines, including those that used by Teddy Roosevelt…

Teddy Roosevelt, Brougham, Henry Ford Museum
                                           Teddy Roosevelt’s Presidential “Limousine,” the Brougham


FDR's Presidential Limousine, Henry Ford Museum

…John F. Kennedy, which was used for 11 years after his death…

John F. Kennedy Presidential Limousine, Henry Ford Museum
                                            The Limousine in Which Kennedy was Assassinated

…and Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan, Presidential Limousine, Henry Ford Museum

Interestingly, while on the trip, John Hinckley was released from his court-mandated asylum-cum-prison.  When he shot at Reagan, one of the bullets hit the limo, ricocheted off, and hit President Reagan under the arm.  It was a timely trip in many ways.

We also had a chance to see a special exhibit on The Beatles.

The Beatles, Henry Ford Museum
                                                                                           The Beatles

It included authentic memorabilia, original instruments and cases, music samples…


…and even a section where you can become a Beatle.

The Beatles' Exhibit, Henry Ford Museum
         The Beatles, 2016: Yawn, Aldaco, Oliver, Brim (note: Ryan’s hairdo is more or less the same)

We advantageously stuck our heads through the opening of the exhibit and in between the Beatles’ mannequins and wigs, ready to take the very amusing photograph. Although small, this temporary exhibit was well put together and informative by capturing the rise of the Beatles, along with their overwhelming fame, innovative methods of recording music, and legendary status.


Next to The Beatles’ exhibit was the Dymaxion House, the house of the future from the late 1940s. The lightweight aluminum circular house with its own rainwater collection system, a downdraft air system, and the ability to withstand high speed winds was designed by architect Buckminster Fuller. It is the last remaining model of two total units, which Fuller hoped would become the all-American home.


The exhibits were educational, but so was the research.  On one afternoon, for example, we had the chance to sit in on an interview Mr. Guinn conducted with Bob Casey, the former curator of automobiles for the Henry Ford Museum. He was immensely generous and helpful, sharing insights from his many years with the Museum.

Such generosity was the norm.  Mr. Guinn generously invited us to accompany him on this research trip, the Research Center staff were professional, generous and knowledgeable, and the people with whom we met went above and beyond their duties.  It was a learning experience not only for the factual knowledge we gained, but also for the ability to witness the professional norms of the research and Museum business.


Greenfield VIllage

Late in the afternoon, we also had a chance to explore Greenfield Village. Our first stop there was the Model-T station, where we could hop onto an authentic Model-T!

Model T, Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum
                                             Brian and Ryan (B-Ryan) Enjoy a Model T Ride

Brian and Ryan got on first and drove off merrily, while Prof. Yawn and Paul waited for the next one. The latter pair got to ride in a 1914 Model-T.

Greenfield Village, Model T Ford, Henry Ford Museum
                                      Driver and Paul Oliver Discuss the Model T and Avoid Oncoming Traffic

The driver was extremely helpful and full of fascinating information. For instance, she explained that one way to distinguish a 1914 was to note the brass used in its design. After 1917, brass was no longer used on the exterior because it was needed for the American war effort in the First World War. She also told us that the Model-T was designed to be the “universal car,” designed to compete with the horse and buggy as opposed to other motor companies. This was a good sales strategy until the outdated Model-T started to slide the way of the horse and buggy as a transportation relic!  Although, it should be noted that despite the Model T falling out of fashion, the machines did not stop working.  Indeed, one of the cars on which we rode had more than one million miles on it!

Following our Model-T ride, we went our separate ways, each exploring a different part of the village. Paul returned to the frozen custard place for a second go at the delicious dessert before wandering aimlessly down to the “Porches & Parlors” district of Greenfield Village. In true tycoon style, Henry Ford would arrange for various houses or buildings that interested him to be purchased and placed in Greenfield Village. This undertaking, and the subsequent efforts of the Henry Ford Museum to continue this tradition, have left the village as an eclectic hodgepodge of American history. In the part that Paul wandered through, he saw the home of Noah Webster, creator of the first American dictionary, and a home owned by the great poet Robert Frost.

In the tradition of taking the road less traveled, Paul continued on to see some of the slave quarters from the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home, as well as the cabin of George Washington Carver. His longest stop was at the Daggett Farmhouse, which is an authentic edifice from 1760, originally located in Connecticut. The owner was a dilettante in the extreme, being a butcher, a carpenter, a farmer, and a home-builder all-in-one!

Meanwhile Ryan and Brian boarded an authentic steam engine train on Firestone Station. From there they toured through the perimeter of the Village, trailing through homes and warehouses of nearly every time period in American history. With the clickitty-clack of the track and the roaring whistle of the engine, the locomotive ride provided an authentic sensual experience for what a trip in such a machine would feel like during the 1800s. But after completing the full circuit, as the last ride of the day, with great sorrow we saw the Village and Museum close for the day.

Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum
                                                             Greenfield Village Train Ride

We then left the grounds en route to meet with Mr. Fuqua and Mr. Guinn for dinner.

Dinner: Lue Thai Cafe

After the short drive to Dearborn we met for dinner at a place called the Lue Thai Cafe. We had the crispy rolls, followed by huge entrees of Thai food. Paul had the peanut noodles, Ryan had the udon noodles, and Brian the jub chai, not knowing what to expect from this foreign cuisine. Over dinner, Mr. Guinn and Mr. Fuqua lamented the current cost of college tuition (a subject dear to Brian and Paul), while comparing to the “back in the day” cost. They also regaled us with tales from their time working at the Fort Worth Star Telegram. With plates half empty, for even though we very much enjoyed the spicy taste of thai there was no more that would could take from the bountiful serving, we departed with a “see you later” and went back to our hotel. Both of these men really are chock-full of great stories, and it is a pleasure to be able to work with them for a week!


Best-Selling Author Visits SHSU: Two days with Jeff Guinn

Best-selling author Jeff Guinn made his way to SHSU last week, spending time with local residents and many SHSU students.

Guinn has written 18 books, the best known of which are the NY Times bestsellers: “The Autobiography of Santa Claus,” “Go Down Together: The True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde,” “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson,” and “The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the OK Corral and How It Changed the American West.”

The lives and events in these books played a central in his discussions with Huntsville residents.  With Christmas around the corner, several asked about his work on Santa Claus, and Mr. Guinn provided some intriguing and entertaining responses.  Why does Santa Claus wear red and white trim, you may wonder?  Because the real St. Nicholas was a bishop, and red and white attire was customary for bishops.

Such conversations took began over dinner at the Homestead, with local residents and LEAP Ambassadors on hand.



For Megan Chapa, of greater interest was Guinn’s work on Bonnie and Clyde, which she read (twice) in class.  Guinn supplemented some of the information in the book with background stories about Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Estelle Parsons, who starred in the 1968 classic film, Bonnie And Clyde.  Interestingly, the duo had been known as “Clyde and Bonnie” until that time; it was the film that cemented “Bonnie and Clyde” into the nation’s consciousness.


Guinn also spoke to two of Professor Yawn’s classes.  One, an Introduction to Texas Government…


…heard much about Bonnie and Clyde, and the early days of law enforcement (and prison life) in Texas.  Interestingly, Clyde Barrow was imprisoned in both the Eastham Unit and the Walls Unit, giving him a direct connection to Huntsville.

In Yawn’s Politics and Media, the students heard more about the impact that Bonnie and Clyde, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones (his current book subject) had on the media.  Bonnie and Clyde, for example, were one of the first subjects to have photos of themselves wired across the nation.  In fact, without this technological development, they likely would have simply been locally known.  With the infamous photo of Bonnie Parker with cigar and gun…

…being wired across the US, however, the duo became nationally famous.  Similarly, Charles Manson and his high-profile attacks (of actress Sharon Tate) brought in Hollywood and seemed to typify the California lifestyle of the 1960s and 1970s.


Following classes, 25 students and faculty had a low-profile lunch with Mr. Guinn, who continued to discuss the impact of the subjects he has studied, much to the delight of those attending.


According to Bella Abril, who had also read “Go Down Together,” the meeting was “very interesting,” even if she finds hearing about Manson and Jim Jones a bit disturbing.

Interestingly, Guinn has a practice of including the names of people he meets into his novels (when not publishing books on biographical subjects, he publishes fiction such as Glorious and Buffalo Trail).  On this trip, LEAP Ambassador Austin Campbell was designated as a character in Guinn’s next novel.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that Austin will actually be in the novel, but his name will be given to a character, although (ominously) Guinn does not guarantee which character will get that name…

Also of interest is that Guinn offered several of the LEAP Ambassadors the opportunity to go with him to do research on his next book subject.  While the subject hasn’t been formally released, it will involved border towns in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  The Ambassadors are packing for a future road trip!

On his way out of Huntsville, Mr. Guinn stopped by the Texas Prison Museum to visit old friends Sandy Rogers and Jim Willett, who provided information and access to Guinn when he wrote about Bonnie and Clyde.


He signed more than a dozen copies of his books for sale at the TPM, and headed out of town–eager, we hope, to return next year to Huntsville, Texas.