Ford Ambulance

IMG_0707A Ford ambulance after being hit with the shrapnel

that killed medic Carey Evans.

  IMG_0705Ralph had three ambulances destroyed by artillery or accidents.

While primitive, the Bantam Boys’ Ford M1917 ambulances were simple and functional.  These canvas on wood frame and composite Model-T based vehicles had a hand-cranked, four-cylinder, water-cooled gasoline engine. Crank it wrong and a driver could get a nasty bump, even a broken arm.

No gas gauge kept the driver checking fuel in the ten gallon tank with a stick. 

The transmission brake was usually efficient, except in deep mud.  And mud was everywhere in wartime France.  Few roads were paved near the battlefront or in rural areas. The three-speed planetary transmission got the job done. Having two forward and one reverse speeds, modern drivers would not know how to operate the vehicle with its combination brake pawl and shifter, and three pedals on the floor. The pedals were forward, reverse and a transmission brake. It was more akin to driving a heavy-duty farm tractor than any type of modern automobile. 

IMG_0798Ralph and two buddies on a cold morning in France.

Steering the ambulances was achieved through brute strength.  Power steering wouldn’t be in wide use until World War Two. Drivers got a pretty good workout every time they hit the road.

The truck beds were designed to carry two to four 140lb men prone.  Or a maximum of six sitting across from each other. A driver with assistant was the preferred mode but in lean times the driver was often alone. Three people could crush together on the front seat in an emergency.

The cruising speed was around twenty miles per hour with a blazing top speed of forty-five: If the driver had a death wish.

  Overheating and misfires were frequent problems. The twenty horsepower engine was adequate for its day when mules and horses propelled the majority of transport work and hauled nearly all of the field artillery.

Thanks go to historian and engineer David O’Neal in Kansas who is the top authority on the mechanics of the Ford Ambulance on the planet. His knowledge is endless and I pestered him with a vast number of technical questions. And he reviewed the book to insure technical accuracy. 

David reconstructed one of the few fully functional M1917 Ford Ambulances in the United States. See his website at It was an amazing project. 

He invited me to learn how to drive the ambulance. I’m sure that will make a YouTube video you won’t want to miss. Back to Driver’s Education. Coming soon!

IMG_0861A captured German ambulance.