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Horse-drawn wagons remained in use well into the 1920s – particularly in smaller towns and rural areas. But the widescale use of horse-drawn wagons ultimately ended. Once roads were sufficiently improved, horse-drawn wagons simply could not compete with motorized trucks. While they might cost more up front, trucks were significantly less expensive to operate and maintain over time.
However, trucks were a “hard sell” for many in the late 1910s and 1920s. Many rural roads weren’t improved at that time. So if the farmers would not come 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.
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 object of the enterprise, which is the first of its kind, is to demonstrate to the farmers of Illinois, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin the varied uses of motor equipment in agriculture,” reported the Chicago Tribune. “In virtually all of these stops, exhibitions of motorized farming equipment will be held and addressed 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, an Indianapolis News reporter, served as the tour’s director-general. Sturm was recognized as an expert on motor vehicles and long-distance travel.
The 13 truck manufacturers that participated in the tour sought to build on the growing use and appeal of trucks in the years immediately following World War I. The manufacturers were represented by one truck each. In addition to those trucks and the handful of automobiles, there was a service truck for repairs and a gasoline tank truck.
Three of the trucks on the tour carried members of the U.S. Navy Band. These servicemen-musicians, under the command of Navy Lieutenant F.M. Willson, provided music along the route of the tour, and sought to enlist recruits at the various stops. There was also a crew filming the tour for a promotional motion picture that was given to and shown by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The multi-state tour lasted nearly nine weeks and ended in Milwaukee on October 4. “The success of this motor truck tour has been beyond expectations,” proclaimed the Chilton Tractor Journal. “Technically, the trucks have performed with entire satisfaction,” the publication reported. “There was not a single real delay to the convoy through mechanical troubles.”
Some of the truck manufacturers that participated in the National Motor Truck Development Tour were:
The Atlas truck was built by Martin Truck & Body Corp. of York, Pennsylvania. Martin produced vehicle bodies; however, the company’s primary focus was the Atlas 3/4-ton commercial trucks. These trucks had a common chassis with 33 body variations.
Bethlehem Motors Corporation was a manufacturer of tractors, automobiles and trucks in Allentown, Pennsylvania, between 1917 and 1926.
The Clydesdale Motor Truck Company was headquartered in Clyde, Ohio. The company was in business from 1917 to 1939. Initially, the company manufactured “Liberty Trucks” for use in World War I. Military contracts continued to be a major part of the company’s business post-war, but it also sold trucks for general haulage, farming and specialized vehicles such as fire trucks.
Master Trucks, Inc. was located in Chicago, Illinois.
Maxwell Motor Company, Inc. began in 1904 as the Maxwell-Briscoe Company. For a time, Maxwell was considered one of the three top automobile firms in America, 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.
The Republic Motor Truck Company was a manufacturer of commercial trucks (1913-1929), in Alma, Michigan. By 1918, it was recognized as the largest exclusive truck manufacturer in the world, and the maker of one of every nine trucks on the roads in the United States. It was also one of the major suppliers of “Liberty trucks” used by American troops during World War I.
The Selden Motor Vehicle Company was founded in 1905 and was based in Rochester, New York. The company produced cars from 1909 through 1912. In 1913 the company was reorganized to produce trucks, where it had significantly more success, producing trucks until the company’s sale 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.
The Winther Motor and Truck Company was incorporated in December 1916 in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The company began produced trucks in 1917. Its rear-drive Winther was closely followed by the four-wheel drive Winther-Martin. In 1918 the company received a contract from the U.S. Army to assemble four-wheel drive vehicles from parts provided by other manufacturers. The company’s lighter trucks were used by farmers, while heavier models were created for logging, firefighting, and use as snowplows.
The results achieved by the National Motor Truck Development Tour contrast with the first U.S. Army transcontinental motor convoy, which took place at about the same time. The 1919 convoy was a “truck train” of the U.S. Army Motor Transport Corps that drove over 3,000 miles – from Washington, D.C. to Oakland, California. The convoy left Washington on July 7 and arrived in Oakland on September 6 (and then ferried to San Francisco).
The convoy began with 81 vehicles and trailers, including “34 heavy cargo trucks, four light delivery trucks,” two mobile machine shops, one blacksmith shop, and one wrecking truck. The convoy experienced 230 road incidents (stops for adjustments, extrications, breakdowns, and accidents). As a result of these incidents, nine vehicles did not finish the trip.
The convoy was manned by “24 expeditionary officers, 15 War Department staff observation officers and 258 enlisted men.” Of that group, 21 were injured en route and did not complete the trip.
Source: freightwaves - FreightWaves Classics: Midwestern tour “sold” farmers on using trucks
Editor: Scott Mall