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Farm Trucks

By Sam Moore

The following is taken from the "LET'S TALK RUSTY IRON" column I write for the Farm and Dairy

On a recent trip to western Ohio, Nancy and I stopped at a 76 Truck Stop to take a break. I picked up a copy of the May issue of Truckers/USA magazine containing a great piece titled "Days Gone By" with pictures of many antique trucks. I drove a dump truck for Tommy Ferguson for a couple of years before entering the Army in 1953, and trucks have always had a special appeal to me.

We always had a truck on the farm when I was a kid, although they were strictly for field use and were never inspected or licensed for the road. The first one I remember was an ancient Dodge Brothers flat bed that Dad reroofed with oil cloth and painted bright red with a brush. About 1942 it was sold and a 1936 Chevrolet 1 1/2-ton flatbed took its place. The trucks were used for hauling hay and unthreshed grain from the field to the barn and coal from a mine at the back of the farm. Sometime during the war we got a hayloader and I was deemed old enough to drive the truck, pulling the loader, while Dad and my uncle built the load. Once, I remember Dad jumping over the cab, onto the hood and then onto the ground, because a blacksnake had come up on the hayloader.

I built a box-like backrest from boards to brace me up in the seat far enough to reach the pedals and see out the windshield. I thought I was really something, and only wished I could get that old truck out on the road so I could put it into fourth gear; most of my driving was in creeper gear.

Many farmers in the neighborhood had trucks, often in place of a family car. I remember an early'30s Reo Speed Wagon pickup (Chuck Townsend), a '29 Ford AA flatbed (Herb Cowan), a '38 Ford cab over engine flatbed (Harold Smith) and a '36 IHC pickup (Mr. Shuster).

Farmers recognized the usefulness of trucks early in the 20th Century and, during the teens and '20s, many tractor manufacturers also got involved with motor trucks. Two of the more famous, Ford and IHC, continue to build trucks to this day.

A 1908 ad aimed at prospective dealers, for the International Harvester Company's International Auto Wagon, claimed "Every businessman or farmer in your vicinity is a prospective customer." In pictures, the vehicle resembles a light wagon with a seat and steering wheel at the front, the engine being mounted under the machine. IHC continued to build trucks of every size and shape; in 1979 it was the leading North American producer of medium and heavy trucks. By the mid-'80s IHC was in serious trouble, selling their farm equipment division to Tenneco in 1984, and then forming the Navistar Company to build trucks.

After two years of testing, Henry Ford began producing trucks in 1917 with the one ton Model TT. This machine was especially popular with farmers for the same reasons as the Model T car, low cost, dependability, and ease of repair. Until the late 40s, Ford built only light and medium duty trucks, although in 1926, several experimental Fordson 3-ton trucks were built. These were of cab over engine design and a picture shows a radiator, identical to the Fordson tractor, sticking out beneath the windshield about a foot. In 1948, Ford began building their F-7 and F-8, 2 1/2- and 3-ton models, and continue to make light, medium and heavy duty trucks today.

The Advance-Rumely Thresher Company built a sturdy 1 1/2- to 2-ton truck from 1919 to 1928. In 1925 the machine sold for $2200, not including a closed cab, pneumatic tires, or electric starting and lighting equipment.

The Twin City truck was built by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Company beginning in 1918. The company made 2- and 3 1/2-ton versions until 1929.

The Avery Company began building a 3-ton "Country and Farm" truck in 1914, with chain drive and special cast steel rim wheels designed for rural hauling. Avery's last trucks were 6-cylinder jobs, equipped with an "all weather cab" and a 50 by 90 inch grain body, capable of hauling 1 1/4 tons. Production of Avery trucks ended in 1923.

The Samson truck was built along side the Samson tractor in Janesville, Wisconsin starting in 1918. The Janesville Machine Works was a subsidary of General Motors and only built Samson trucks for a few years. A 1919 model was priced at $995 plus "war tax".

The Moline Plow Company sold a few trucks from 1920 to 1923, while Velie trucks and cars were sold through Deere and Company distributors in the teens. Oliver built the Oliver Delivery Wagon from 1910 to about 1913.

In the days of horses, farmers living 15 to 20 miles from a good market had a real problem unless a railroad ran nearby. A team and wagon required most of a day to make the round trip to town and back, and in hot weather, were often unable to make the return trip till the next day. A truck could cover 20 miles in a couple of hours and was always ready to go.

In 1915, an estimated 25,000 trucks were on American farms and, by 1930, the number had grown to 800,000. One result of the farmer's extensive use of motor trucks was the growth of central market places in large urban areas. Small towns that, in the days of horses and railroads, had been the trade and social centers of their areas, withered and faded into obscurity.