More on Trucks

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.

The Dawn of Motor Trucking

I have always thought of trucks being an offshoot of passenger vehicles. I guess that comes from seeing turn of the century spindly looking conveyances that have no space on them for anything, but a couple of suicidal minded persons. Actually, in pursuing information for this short article, I primarily used a 1966-copyrighted book “That Was Trucking” by Robert R Karolevitz, a 192 page hardcover book covering commercial vehicles from the first quarter of the 20th century. The first crude wheezing gasoline powered trucks to those of the early twenties.

What is surprising is the fact that the appearance and the models of these early trucks changed little during these first years of the 20th century. While the earliest trucks exposed the operator and any passengers to the elements, this was thought to be inconsequential because of the short distances that these first movers of commerce and industry were capable of traveling, many on nothing more than steel rimmed large wagon wheels. What did become very apparent after only a few years of using these machines in place of horses, was the undeniable fact that much bigger loads could be hauled for smaller investments in equipment, and for less time spent tending to the machines over the horses.

Huge trucks dominated the trucking industry from the start. In pursuing the article on types of trucks and sizes, it was truly amazing to see the height obtained by stacking the products being moved. It certainly is obvious that many of the ancient trucks were overloaded even by today’s standards. This has to be a testament to the durability of the wagon makers, turned truck body manufacturers. The mechanical components of these earliest trucks appeared to be forged into solid steel components making an extremely heavy machine. Those early large commercial conveyances were probably susceptible to sinking from sight in the highways turned to mud troughs during spring thaws.

I have tried to cover the truck in its infancy in this article, and I would like to do a couple of other articles on commercial vehicles, around the home, the farm, commercial and industrial plants during the early days of transportation by truck. After all, the railroads who had a monopoly on long distance freight would soon see in the coming years a big change. To be continued…

Best Restoration of 2002

What appears to be my last act as 2002 President of VAE is the selection of Best Restoration Award. First of all, I had no idea how difficult this decision could be!

There were six exceptional entries for this award, all deserving to be a winner. After studying photos, restoration information (even some albums of the rebuild process) my decision was made.

The award goes to Mark Bennet of Warren, who received a handsome plaque for his 1960 Thunderbird, retractable top convertible. A beautiful restoration of a very complex automobile. Mark is to be congratulated on his award, as are all of the entries in this past year’s event.

The time and expense spent on their projects are not to be taken lightly and shows a dedication and love of the hobby that is unique to the fascinating world of automotive preservation.

The Junk Yard

In the early 1940s a junkyard which included all sorts of very old vehicles and eventually comprised both sides of the street where I lived (about ¼ mile from my home located in the city of St. Albans) was established by the Shapiro Brothers.

This yard was formed as a source for their used parts store located on Federal Street. If there was anything in my life that started me down that one-way road to a deep affection for old vehicles, it must have been Shapiro’s Junk Yard. It was a virtual Disney World for a “junkie” like me.

Through my formative years, and despite the best attempts of the Shapiros and the pleas of my parents, a siren song and musty smell of those old vehicles and fascinating piles of junk drew me into that playground of obsolete and rusty “toys”.

I soon learned the skills of running at full speed among the car bodies and piles of iron as I eluded the Shapiros who were in full pursuit.

Ah, it was wonderful! Eventually I did grown up and became pretty good friends with the brothers, and of course, after purchasing my first car, a 1938 Pontiac, used the yard frequently to keep my car on the road.

The yard lasted into the early 70s, and even though the brothers (there were three) are gone, as I write this I can look out of my kitchen window in the same house where I lived as a child and see those fields straddling Aldis Street. Both are still void of any structures, but with just a little imagination I can see my “playground” in all its glory.