Motor Trucks on the Farm

Early farm motor trucks drove farming into a new era.

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We always had a truck on the farm when I was a kid, although it was strictly for field use and was never licensed for the road. The first one I remember was an ancient Dodge Brothers flatbed that Dad re-roofed with oil cloth and painted bright red with a brush. Just before World War II, it was sold and a 1936 Chevrolet 1-1/2 ton flatbed took its place. The farm truck was used for, among other things, hauling hay and 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, when we were loading hay, my father suddenly jumped down on the hood, then to the fender and onto the ground. It seems that a black-snake had come up on the hayloader, causing Dad's sudden departure from the top of the load. 

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 our neighborhood had trucks, often in place of a family car. I remember an early '30s Reo Speed Wagon pickup, a '29 Ford AA flatbed, a '38 Ford cab over engine flatbed and a '36 IHC pickup. One neighbor brought us our lime in an old Chevy dump truck from the early '30s.

Farmers recognized the usefulness of trucks early in the twentieth 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 today.

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. In serious trouble by the mid-'80s, IHC sold its farm equipment division to Tenneco, and then formed the Navistar Company to build trucks.

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 three-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 its F-7 and F-8, 2 1/2- and 3-ton models, and continues to make light, medium and heavy duty trucks today.

The Advance-Rumely Thresher Company made a sturdy 1 1/2- to 2-ton truck from 1919 to 1928. In 1925, the machine sold for $2,200, 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"x90" grain body, capable of hauling 1-1/4 tons. Production of Avery trucks ended in 1923.

The Samson truck was built alongside the Samson tractor in Janesville, Wis., starting in 1918. The Janesville Machine Works was a subsidiary 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 who lived much more than 10 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 trip to town and back and, in hot weather, were often unable to make the return trip until the next day. A farm truck could cover 20 miles in a couple of hours and was always ready to go. In 1915, an estimated 25,000 trucks were used on American farms. 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. In the days of horses and railroads, small towns were trade and social centers. But with the advancement of the farm truck, many of those withered and faded into obscurity. FC 

Ever since his days as a boy on a farm in western Pennsylvania, Sam Moore has been interested in tractors, trucks and machinery. Now a resident of Salem, Ohio, he collects antique tractors, implements and related items.