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More on Trucks

Jim Willett [ April 2006 ]

After covering the introduction of trucks to the transportation scene in the early 1900’s, in a previous issue of Wheel Tracks, it becomes obvious that we are not talking about trucking as we know it today. They were not the recreational vehicles that are enjoyed today in our fancy pick-ups. No mag wheels, chromed exhaust stacks or hood scoops; strictly business was the standard of the day in the earliest years of the revolution of rolling commerce. The first years were serious business devoted to the work at hand.

It did not take long for many segments of work a day businesses to realize that there were many benefits in these mechanical marvels. In addition to industry and commerce, someone else was looking over their shoulders at the new mode of mobilization of materials and personnel, the United States military. Captain Alexander E Williams, a tall West Pointer from North Carolina became a dedicated proponent of the motor truck for military purposes. The year… 1911.

Captain Williams noted a small advertisement in a periodical of the day, promoting a new vehicle, which the builders in the military town of Clintonville Wisconsin, made, remarkable claims pertaining to its usefulness. Permission was granted to the good Captain to visit this company – “ The Four Wheel Drive Auto Company”, where company driver, 24-year-old Frank Dorn gave the visitor much to look at.

The Captain was amazed at the performance of his vehicles, really nothing more than a stripped down “Scout Car”. Returning to his superiors, the Captain extolled the virtues of the 4-wheel drive marvel. FWD offered to give the government vehicles to test drive, but the U.S. Military decided to buy the conveyance and have it shipped to Fort Myer, VA. where it was fitted with a wagon box.

In 1912, an extensive Army road test that encompassed a 1,500-mile trek from Washington, DC to Atlanta, GA and then to Fort Benjamin Harrison near Indianapolis proved the torture that these vehicles could endure. While every truck did not finish the trip – a White, an Autocar and a FWD did complete the entire route and set the stage for a giant revolution in military logistics.

The horse was on the way out, but they were still used through the Mexican Campaign and WW1. The First World War was the most mechanically mobile in history and when the Armistice was signed thousands of military vehicles became surplus commodities which were gobbled up by commerce and private individuals. The United States, in particular was on its way in the trucking industry.

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