FreightWaves Classics: Midwest tour ‘sold’ farmers to use trucks

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Horse-drawn wagons remained in use well into the 1920s, especially in small towns and rural areas. But the large-scale use of horse-drawn wagons eventually came to an end. Once the roads were sufficiently improved, horse-drawn wagons simply could not compete with motorized trucks. While they might cost more upfront, trucks were significantly less expensive to operate and maintain over time.

A horse-drawn wagon in Deary, Idaho in 1906. (Photo: lib.uidaho.edu)
A horse-drawn wagon in Deary, Idaho in 1906. (Photo: lib.uidaho.edu)

However, trucks were a hard sell for many in the late 1910s and into the 1920s. Many rural roads were unimproved at this time. So if the farmers weren’t going to the truck manufacturers, the truck manufacturers decided to go to the farmers. The National Motor Truck Development Tour traveled to rural areas and farms to demonstrate truck use to potential customers.

Some of the trucks that went on the tour lined up in Chicago.  (Photo: https://transporthistory.org)
Some of the trucks that went on the tour lined up in Chicago. (Photo: https://transporthistory.org)

National Motor Truck Development Tour

On August 4, 1919, a convoy of flag-decorated trucks, accompanied by a number of automobiles, left Grant Park in Chicago for a 3,000-mile journey through the rural regions of six Midwestern states. “The purpose of the venture, which is the first of its kind, is to demonstrate to farmers in Illinois, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin the various uses of driving force in agriculture”, reported the Chicago Grandstand. “In almost all of these stops, displays of motorized agricultural equipment will be held and discussed at farmers’ meetings, which will have been arranged in advance.”

The National Motor Truck Development Tour was organized by the National Association of Truck Sales Managers. William F. Sturm, a Indianapolis News journalist, served as general manager of the tour. Sturm was recognized as an expert in motor vehicles and long-distance travel.

The 13 truck builders who took part in the tour sought to capitalize on the growing use and appeal of trucks in the years immediately following World War I. Manufacturers were represented by one truck each. In addition to these trucks and the handful of automobiles, there was a service truck for repairs and a gasoline tanker.

Three of the tour trucks carried members of the US Navy Band. These military-musicians, under the command of Navy Lieutenant FM Willson, provided music along the route of the tour and sought to enlist recruits at various stages. There was also a crew filming the tour for a promotional film that was donated and shown by the United States Department of Agriculture.

A brochure for Selden, one of the circuit's truck builders.  (Photo: historicnewengland.org)
A brochure for Selden, one of the circuit’s truck builders.
(Photo: historicnewengland.org)

The multi-state tour lasted nearly nine weeks and concluded in Milwaukee on October 4. “The success of this motor truck tour was beyond expectation,” proclaimed the Chilton Tractor Journal. “Technically, the trucks ran to complete satisfaction,” the publication reported. “There has not been a single real delay of the convoy due to mechanical problems.”

Some of the truck manufacturers who participated in the National Motor Truck Development Tour were:

Two different Atlas trucks are seen in this commercial.  (Image: yorkblog.com)
Two different Atlas trucks are seen in this commercial. (Image: yorkblog.com)

The Atlas truck was built by Martin Truck & Body Corp. of York, Pennsylvania. Martin produced vehicle bodies; however, the company’s primary focus was Atlas 3/4 ton commercial trucks. These trucks had a common chassis with 33 body variants.

An advertisement for Bethlehem Trucks.
An advertisement for Bethlehem Trucks.

Bethlehem Motors Corporation was a manufacturer of tractors, automobiles, and trucks in Allentown, Pennsylvania between 1917 and 1926.

A Clydesdale Truck advert that appeared in Orchard and Farm magazine in 1920.
A Clydesdale Truck advert that appeared in Orchard and Farm magazine in 1920.

The Clydesdale Motor Truck Company was headquartered in Clyde, Ohio. The company was in operation from 1917 to 1939. Initially, the company manufactured “Liberty Trucks” for use in the First World War. Military contracts continued to be a significant part of the company’s business after the war, but it also sold trucks for general transport. , agricultural and specialized vehicles such as fire trucks.

An advertisement for the 1919 Master Truck. (Image: ebay.com)
An advertisement for the 1919 Master Truck. (Image: ebay.com)

Master Trucks, Inc. was located in Chicago, Illinois.

A restored 1921 Maxwell truck.  (Photo: Bill Crittenden/Crittenden Automotive Library)
A restored 1921 Maxwell truck.
(Photo: Bill Crittenden/Crittenden Automotive Library)

Maxwell Motor Company, Inc. started in 1904 as the Maxwell-Briscoe Company. For a time, Maxwell was considered one of America’s top three automakers, along with General Motors and Ford. Walter P. Chrysler took a controlling interest in the company in 1921 and when the Chrysler Corporation was founded in 1925 the Maxwell line was phased out.

A 1919 advertisement for Republic Trucks.
A 1919 advertisement for Republic Trucks.

The Republic Motor Truck Company was a commercial truck manufacturer (1913-1929), in Alma, Michigan. By 1918, it was recognized as the largest exclusive truck manufacturer in the world and the manufacturer of one out of every nine trucks on the roads of the United States. It was also a major supplier of “Liberty trucks” used by American troops during World War I.

The cover of a Selden Trucks brochure.  (Image: historicnewengland.org)
The cover of a Selden Trucks brochure. (Image: historicnewengland.org)

The Selden Motor Vehicle Company was founded in 1905 and was based in Rochester, New York. The company produced cars from 1909 to 1912. In 1913 the company was reorganized to produce trucks, where it was much more successful, producing trucks until the company was sold to the Hahn Motor Truck Company of Hamburg, Pennsylvania, in 1930.

Service Motor Truck Co. was based in Wabash, Indiana from 1911 to 1932. The company was reorganized in 1923 as Service Motors Inc. and purchased by Relay Motor Corp. in 1927.

A 1919 Winter truck. (Photo: library.wisc.edu)
A 1919 Winter truck. (Photo: library.wisc.edu)

The Winter Motor and Truck Company was incorporated in December 1916 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The company began producing trucks in 1917. Its rear-wheel-drive Winther was followed closely by the four-wheel-drive Winther-Martin. In 1918, the company received a contract from the United States Army to assemble four-wheel-drive vehicles from parts supplied by other manufacturers. The company’s lighter trucks were used by farmers, while heavier models were created for logging, firefighting and snowplows.

The 1919 Motor Transport Corps convoy.  (Photo: lincolnhighwayassoc.org)
The 1919 Motor Transport Corps convoy. (Photo: lincolnhighwayassoc.org)

Motor Transport Corps convoy of 1919

The results achieved by the National Motor Truck Development Tour contrast with the United States Army’s first transcontinental motor convoy, which took place around the same time. The 1919 convoy was a U.S. Army Motor Transport Corps “truck train” that traveled more than 3,000 miles – from Washington, DC to Oakland, California. The convoy left Washington on July 7 and arrived in Oakland on September 6 (then transported to San Francisco).

The convoy started with 81 vehicles and trailers, including “34 heavy trucks, four light delivery trucks”, two mobile machine shops, a blacksmith shop and a demolition truck. The convoy experienced 230 road incidents (stops for adjustments, extrications, breakdowns and accidents). As a result of these incidents, nine vehicles did not complete the trip.

The convoy near Meyers, Colorado.  (Photo: artsandcultureeldorado.org)
The convoy near Meyers, Colorado. (Photo: artsandcultureeldorado.org)

The convoy consisted of “24 expeditionary officers, 15 War Department observation officers, and 258 enlisted men.” Of this group, 21 were injured en route and did not complete the journey.

About Frances R. Smith

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