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Chapter XXIII

Books and Documents > Medical Department of the U.S. Army in the World War, Volume III, Finance & Supply

CHAPTER XXIII

FORD AMBULANCES

1917 MODEL

During the visit of the French mission to the United States in April, 1917, there was presented to the War Department a request from the French Government for 100 ambulance sections, consisting of 20 machines and approximately 25 men each, for service with the French troops.1 This request seems to have been suggested by the presence of units of the American Ambulance Service (private organizations) with the French armies, maintained by volunteer subscription and enlistments in France and the United States. The Surgeon General received authority from the Secretary of War to raise the force and provide the equipment.2 The question of body design was at once taken up by the Medical Department ambulance board. Ford ambulances having been specifically designated in the request of the French Government, every source of information covering materials and design was investigated as fully as time would permit. Every individual who had seen service with the American Ambulance Service in France, and who could be located, was consulted and his views solicited. A special effort was made to elicit the reasons for the design developed by that organization during its many months of service in France. It was assumed that the design then in use was the most suitable. An attempt was made to duplicate it, as closely as could be done from the photographs and information available, and from the suggestions of those who had had experience in its use. Several sample bodies were ordered, mounted on standard Ford chassis, and compared, point by point, with the pictures and meager description of the French body. The design was finally completed and adopted in the latter part of May, 1917. The request by the French for 100 sections, was increased by them to 120 sections, requiring 2,400 ambulances, before the work on the body design had been completed.

The sources from which bodies could be obtained were investigated and their maximum output determined. A survey was made of the total output of all the ordinary sources of supply. This survey showed those sources to be totally inadequate to produce so great a number of bodies within the available time. It was thought, in view of its facilities, organization, and reputation for quantity production, that there was no company so well equipped to produce the completed ambulances as the Ford Motor Co. itself, if it could be induced to undertake the task. This the company readily agreed to do.

California redwood was considered the best material to inclose the sides; yellow pine as best for the floor; and oak or ash as best for the subsills. Investigation by the Ford Motor Co. showed that delivery of the redwood lumber could not be had under 60 days, which placed it out of consideration. The


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FIG. 22.- Standard Ford ambulance of 1917, side view.

possibility of using a composition board for the sides, in place of redwood suggested by a member of the ambulance board, received prompt consideration, was fully investigated by the engineer of the company, and found to be satisfactory. It could be obtained immediately in sufficient quantity. A body was constructed of this material, in accordance with the design adopted, inspected, its riding qualities for both sitting and recumbent patients tried out over unfavorable roads, and found satisfactory.3 It was accepted and a contract given the Ford Motor Co. for the full 2,400 ambulances, boxed for export shipment. The price paid for the complete ambulance was $475, for a set of spare parts for each machine $22.72 per set, and for sets of additional spare parts for 20 machines, $561.81 per set.4 Production began in July and proceeded with such rapidity that considerable difficulty was experienced in moving the output from the factory to the seaport, due to lack of storage at the port of embarkation. In order to relieve the congestion, 100 complete ambulances were ordered to the newly established motor ambulance supply depot, Louisville, Ky., where the majority of them were assembled and shipped to various organizations in the United States. A few, boxed for export, were shipped to organizations about to proceed overseas. The contract was completed in the early part of September, and 2,350 ambulances had been shipped to France by October 15, 1917. The remaining 50 were shipped to the United States Army Ambulance Service at Allentown, Pa., for training purposes. That service was being organized for service with the French Army.


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FIG. 23. - Standard Ford ambulance of 1917, rear view

The body design was shortened as much as possible, even to the extent of requiring the front end of the litter poles to project under the driver’s seat and the rear ends of the poles to project through the tail gate of the ambulance, the apertures being covered with canvas, thus causing a great overhang of the rear end of the body beyond the rear axle line. This overhang was the cause of much criticism by all who saw it, but no means of avoiding it could be found which still secured that short turning radius, regarded as so essential by all who had seen service with Ford ambulances in France. Many devices for lengthening the  wheel base, to avoid this overhang, were submitted and the ambulance board was importuned by sales agents of those devices to adopt them. But it adhered to its decision to make the type supplied conform to that used in France, if material and construction available could effect it.

The composition board body received considerable criticism from the units overseas to which they were assigned; due largely to the use of ¼-inch material in the side walls instead of 3/8-inch material, as used in the standard closed-type ambulance body of 1918; and to the belief that it would be readily broken and could not be patched. Nevertheless this type of body stood up well. Machines so equipped were found to be in good condition in 1919.
 
The advantages of having the work done by a firm with facilities as extensive and an organization as efficient as the Ford Motor Co. were many; but the operations of an organization as efficient as that company are not always coordinated and harmonized, as was evident from the difficulties encountered in assembling the bodies of the lot shipped to the motor ambulance supply depot


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at Louisville. It was found that the jigs used for boring the holes of the woodwork were neither uniform nor correct, requiring many new holes to be bored.5 To remedy some of the difficulties experienced in assembling these ambulance bodies, the Ford Motor Co. prepared and forwarded to the Surgeon General in September,1917, 2,500 copies of instruction for setting up Ford ambulances.6 These instructions were promptly forwarded overseas. The Ford Motor Co. gave assurance that defects in the first lot had been noted and corrected in later production and that trouble with only a few need be expected.7

In May, 1918, a contract for 100 Ford ambulances was made with the Ford Motor Co. The Medical Department needed a light ambulance at many of the smaller posts, where ambulance service was not extensive and where such ambulances could be used to advantage. The prices paid on this contract were, for ambulances complete, $500 each, and for sets of spare parts for individual ambulances $50 per set.8 These ambulances were shipped to the Ford branch in Louisville where they were assembled and delivered to the motor ambulance supply depot. The local branch also experienced difficulty in assembling the bodies owing to the improper location of bolt holes in the materials received.9

To overcome the extensive overhang and the side sway, and to improve the riding qualities, it was decided to equip this lot of chassis with a Hay Dee 15-inch extension. Changes in the chassis by the application of this extension were made by the personnel of the motor ambulance supply depot before the bodies were mounted. This extension was criticized by the depot personnel as being a rather crude piece of work.9 Improvements in design of the cross members were devised at the depot.

1918 BODY MODEL

The type of body designed in 1917, and supplied with Ford ambulances shipped overseas in the summer of 1917, was criticized by the chief of the United States Army Ambulance Service with the French Army.10 The principal complaints about the body were that it was too small in all directions; that the internal arrangements were defective, especially the runner for the upper litter; that the tail gate was too wide; that the protection of the drivers was poor; that the tool boxes was fragile, and that the material of which the body was made was too fragile. The body constructed in France was heavier, made of wood, and the top was sufficiently rigid to carry the spare tires. One of these bodies was shipped to the United States as a sample of the accepted design. It was carefully examined by personnel of the finance and supply division of the Surgeon General’s Office. The standard specifications were modified to correspond in dimensions to this body.

A new AA type body for the General Motors Co. ambulance had been designed, built, and perfected. Contracts for the estimated needs of the Army had been let and work on them begun when information was received in June, 1918, that it was the intention to equip one of the ambulance companies of each division with Ford ambulances. The qualities and conveniences of the new AA body were sufficient to justify the extension of the principle to the Ford ambulance. Instructions were issued on July 1, 1918, to the Medical Department representative on duty with the Anderson Electric Car Co. to


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construct an experimental Ford ambulance body combining the most desirable features of the special French Kellner body and the old-type Ford body.11The criticisms of the old Ford body by the chief of the United States Army Ambulance Service with the French Army were furnished as a further guide.12 Work on the new design was pushed rapidly. The Kellner body was brought to the Anderson factory and studied. The sample body was finished by the end of July.13 This new body was patterned after the new AA body in most of its details. The length of the experimental body was 6 feet 10 ¾ inches over posts, and conformed to the Kellner body. Its weight was 636 pounds. The weight of the Kellner body was 811 pounds. The experimental body was designed for either the standard Ford wheel base or with Hay Dee 15-inch extension.14

FIG 24. - This and Figures 25 to 27 show the Ford ambulance of 1918

Certain changes were made in the experimental body. A sample body was mounted on a special Ford chassis with a 15-inch Ford extension and the job driven to Washington and returned to Detroit.15 The design of the body was accepted with a few minor changes.16 The new design Ford ambulance, with extended wheel base and special body, was officially approved by the War Department October 18, 1918.17

One of the important improvements in this body was the device for loading and suspending the third patient. In the old-type ambulance the shoes of the litter ran in channels on both sides of the rear opening. The narrowness of this opening caused considerable difficulty in loading the upper patient and gave rise to complaints. In the new body the entire rear end was inclosed with a curtain as in the AA body. The trolley system of loading and suspension of the


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FIG. 25

upper patients in the AA body was adapted to the Ford body. The trolley tracks were placed along the upper part of the inner side of the side walls. The rollers of the trolley were attached through proper extension to a wooden bar or yoke. This yoke had a slot cut in its upper margin at a proper place for the reception of the right handle of the litter. This slot was of a size to receive comfortably the litter handle. Another slot, of the same depth but considerably wider was cut in the yoke to receive the left handle. The width of the slot permitted the use of litters of different widths. When not in use this yoke was fastened to the roof near the rear end. When the upper patient was loaded, this yoke traveled forward with the litter until the handles were against the rear of the front end of the body. The rear handles of the litter were supported by straps attached to the rear side post near the top. The lower end of these straps passed through rings of sufficient size to slip easily over the litter handle. Side sway and rear thrust of the loaded litter, when in position, were prevented by two check straps with snaps fastened one to each rear side post near the bottom. The snaps of these check straps were snapped into the ring of the upper strap after it had been placed in position. These check straps anchored the rear end of the litter and held it securely against side sway.

1918 CHASSIS MODEL

The rear overhang of the old-type Ford ambulance had always been considered undesirable and objectionable. This overhang had been materially reduced by the application of a 15-inch Hay Dee extension on the 100 Ford


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ambulances purchased in May, 1918. The lengthening of the wheel base proved very satisfactory and improved both the appearance and the riding qualities of the vehicle. The experience gained with this lot of ambulances indicated the desirability of extending the wheel base on the ambulances to be purchased for France in conformity with the requests and estimates above noted. The Ford Motor Car Co. agreed to lengthen the wheel base of their standard model T chassis 15 inches in preference to having the Hay Dee extension applied, and to equip the chassis with demountable rims, Gabriel snubber, and Timken front-wheel roller bearings.18 The changes in body design and wheel base made the new ambulance an easy-riding vehicle and greatly improved its appearance.

FIG. 26

The shipment of Ford ambulances to France after the first 2,350 were forwarded in 1917 was discontinued in response to cabled request from the commander in chief, September 27, 1917.19 This cablegram indicated that there was an abundance of these ambulances on hand. The urgent need for motor transportation of some sort and the shortage of cargo trucks led to the conversion of a number of Ford ambulances into trucks and their distribution to organizations needing such trucks. All excess of these ambulances above the French requirements were converted into trucks.20 The need for ambulance service in the United States had been met by the issue of General Motors Co. ambulances and the 200 Ford ambulances purchased


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FIG. 27

in July, 1917, and May, 1918. The Medical Department did not again have need for recourse to the facilities of the Ford Motor Co. until June, 1918, when cabled requests were received from France for the immediate shipment of 50 Ford ambulances 21 and for monthly shipments of 100 Ford ambulances for six months.22 These requests were augmented at short intervals as follows: June 14, automatic monthly replacement supply of 100 Ford ambulance chassis; 23 July 3, 136 Ford ambulances complete, and a monthly supply of 100 for five months;24 August 6, present shortage 306 Fords;25 August 17, actual shortage that date, 1,600 Ford ambulances.26 Information furnished from France on August 19 indicated the need of 1,678 Ford ambulances in addition to General Motors Co. ambulances for the proper equipment of the overseas forces and a small allowance for the Services of Supply.27 These cabled requests and information had a bearing upon the estimates prepared in the Surgeon General’s Office. They are reflected in the following estimate of August 1, 1918:28


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Estimated requirements for Ford ambulances (chassis and bodies) Medical Department, United States Army


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Estimated requirements for Ford ambulances (chassis and bodies) Medical Department, United States Army - continued

Estimated requirements for Ford ambulance spare parts D (overseas supply), Ford ambulance spare parts C (United States supply), Medical Department, United States Armya

Contract and delivery estimates for Ford ambulances (chassis and bodies), Medical Department, United States Army


CONRACT AND DELIVERY ESIMATES FOR SPARE PARTS D (FOR OVERSEAS MAINTENANCE), MEDICAL DEPARTMENT, UNITED STATES ARMY

Responsibility for spare parts D equipment for overseas maintenance of Ford ambulances has always rested with the Quartermaster Corps, and will be continued automatically in the motor Transport Service. Complete lists covering Ford spare parts D are in the hands of the Quartermaster Corps, together with information on contracts and deliveries. Contracts and deliveries of Ford spare parts D must be maintained by the Motor Transport Service.

Responsibility for Ford spare parts C equipment for United States maintenance of Ford ambulances purchased prior to the establishment of the Motor Transport Service rested on the Medical Department. Sufficient equipment has been purchased and furnished by the motor ambulance supply depot, Louisville, Ky., to cover needs to June 30, 1918.

Contracts and deliveries of Ford spare parts C must be maintained by the Motor Transport Service.


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REFERENCES

(1) Memorandum from the chief of U. S. Army Ambulance Service to the commanding general, A. E. F., August 17, 1917. On file, A. G. O., World War Division, Chief Surgeon’s Files, 322.3211.
(2) G. O., No. 75, W. D., June 23, 1917.
(3) Letter from Maj. H. W. Jones, M. C., to the Surgeon General, June 13, 1917. Subject:  Final acceptance and inspection of Ford model ambulance.  On file, Finance and Supply Division, S.G.O., 153, 155.59.
(4) Contract of July 13, 1917, between Maj. Percy L. Jones, M. C., and the Ford Motor Co., for 2,400 Ford motor ambulances complete, 2,400 sets spare parts equipment for individual ambulances and 120 sets of spare parts for section of 20 ambulances. On file, Finance amid Supply Division, S. G. O., Motor Transport Contracts, 841.
(5) Letter from Capt. John P. Fletcher, M. C., Motor Ambulance Supply Depot, Louisville, Ky., to Mr. P. W. Avery, Ford Motor Car Co., Detroit, Mich., July 25, 1917. Subject: Assembling Ford ambulance bodies. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 246/1.
(6) Letter from the Surgeon General to the Ford Motor Co., Detroit, Mich., September 21, 1917. Subject: Instructions for building Ford ambulances. On file, Finance and  Supply Division, S. G. O.,  247/4 A.
(7) Letter from Capt. John P. Fletcher, M. C., Motor Ambulance Supply Depot, Louisville, Ky., to Maj. Edwin P. Wolfe, M. C., S. G. O., July 24, 1917. Subject: Ford ambulances. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 14,842.3.
(8) Contract of June 3, 1918, between First Lieut. W. Lang, Sanitary Corps, and the Ford Motor Co., for 100 ambulances and 100 sets spare parts. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., Motor Transport Contract, 6,204.
(9) Letter from Maj. John P. Fletcher, M. C., Motor Ambulance Supply Depot, Louisville, Ky., to Col. Edwin P. Wolfe, M. C., S. G. O., June 20, 1918. Subject: Ford ambulances. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O.,  713-440/351.
(10) Letter from the chief, U. S. Army Ambulance Service with the French Army, to the officer in charge of motor transportation, Medical Department; Office of the Surgeon General, February 22, 1918. Subject: Specifications for Ford Ambulances. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O.,  250 F 2/280.
(11) Letter from the Surgeon General to Capt. H. E. Smith, Sanitary Corps, N. A., Detroit, Mich., July 1, 1918. Subject: Experimental Ford body. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 247 FORD/10.
(12) Letter from the Surgeon General to Capt. H. E. Smith, Anderson Electric Car Co., Detroit, Mich., July 12, 1918. Subject: Report on old-type Ford ambulance. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 247 FORD/10.
(13) Letter from Capt. H. E. Smith, Sanitary Corps, N. A., to the Surgeon General, July 15, 1918. Subject: New design Ford ambulance body. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O.,  247 FORD/10.
(14) Telegram from Capt. H. E. Smith, Sanitary Corps, N. A., Detroit, Mich., to Maj. W. T. Fishleigh, Sanitary Corps, S. G. O., August 10, 1918, relative to weight and dimensions of  sample Ford body. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O.,  247 FORD/10.


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(15) Report of trip of Ford ambulances from Washington, D. C., to Detroit, Mich., and return, September 10-26, 1918. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 247 FORD/10.
(16) Telegram from Maj. W. T. Fishleigh, Sanitary Corps, N. A., to Mr. C. W. Avery, Ford Motor Car Co., Detroit, Mich., September 30, 1918, relative to new design Ford ambulance. On file, FInance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 247 FORD/10.
(17) First indorsement, War Department, The Adjutant General’s Office, to the Motor Vehicle Board, Seventh and B Streets, seventh wing, first floor, Washington, D. C., October 18, 1918, approving recommendations relative to standardizing new-type Ford ambulance. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 750-519 MTC/6.
(18) Telegram from Maj. W. T. Fishleigh, Sanitary Corps, N. A., to Capt. W. G. Stoner, Office of the Surgeon General, Washington, D. C., September 6, 1918. Subject: Ford ambulances. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., 247 FORD/10.
(19) Paragraph 4, Cable 183-S, Headquarters, A. E. F., to The Adjutant General, Washington, D. C., September 27, 1917.  On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., Cables-- France.
(20) Paragraph 1-B, Cable 466-S, Headquarters, A. E. F., to The Adjutant General, Washington, D. C., January 8, 1918. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., Cables-- France.
(21) Paragraph 5, Cable 1258-S, Headquarters, A. E. F., to The Adjutant General, Washington, D. C., June 6, 1918. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., Cables-- France.
(22) Paragraph 3, Cable 1237-S, June 3, 1918, repeated in paragraph 2-A, Cable 1376, June 27, 1918, Headquarters, A. E. F., to The Adjutant General. On file, Finance and Supply Division,  S. G. O., Cables--France.
(23) Paragraph 1-C, Cable 1306-S, Headquarters, A. E. F., to The Adjutant General, Washington, D. C., June 14, 1918. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., Cables-- France.
(24) Paragraph 7-A, Cable 1407-S, Headquarters, A. E. F., to The Adjutant General, Washington, D. C., July 3, 1918. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., Cables--France.
(25) Paragraph 4, Cable 1566-S, Headquarters, A. E. F., to the Adjutant General, Washington, D. C., August 6, 1918. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., Cables--France.
(26) Paragraph 1-A, Cable 1606-S, headquarters, A. E. F., to The Adjutant General, Washington D. C., August 17, 1918. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., Cables --France.
(27) Paragraph 2, Cable 1611-S, Headquarters, A. E. F., to The Adjutant General, Washington, D. C., August 19, 1918. On file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., Cables --France.
(28) Estimates covering U. S. standard ambulances amid other motor equipment required by the Medical Department, United States Army, by Walter T. Fishleigb, major, Sanitary Corps, N. A.,  August 1, 1918. Oil file, Finance and Supply Division, S. G. O., Estimates, Motor Transport.