The Mystery of the Maxwell Crawler Tractor
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In May 1915, eight months after the European war started, the War Department authorized a test of a Holt 75 at the Rock Island Arsenal – provided the Holt company paid all expenses. More tests that fall at Fort Sill finally convinced the hidebound Army brass to convert the 9th Field Artillery Regiment, stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, to a fully motorized outfit.
Ramping up production
In 1916, the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps placed an order for a number of “Holt 45 tractors or its equal.” In response to this order, Holt developed the armored “Artillery Tractor 5-ton Model 1917,” although it wasn’t ready for another year.
The 4-cylinder gas engine was identical to the “Liberty” engine used in Army trucks built by several manufacturers. The 424-cubic-inch engine turned 56 hp at 1,200 rpm and had a vacuum fuel pump to supply fuel on steep grades. The 5-ton crank-start tractor had a 3-speed transmission, along with steering clutches operated by a tiller-type steering lever and individual brakes. Although the engine compartment and radiator were protected by 1/4-inch armor plate, neither the operator nor the two rear-mounted 17-gallon fuel tanks had any protection.
The Holt company was already committed to supplying tractors to England and France. War Department orders for another 3,000 or 4,000 crawlers stretched the firm’s capacity beyond its limit. Holt’s employees worked six-day, 48-hour weeks with lots of overtime and still couldn’t keep up. To ease the strain on Holt factories, manufacture of the Holt 5-ton armored artillery tractor was farmed out to two other companies, Reo Motor Car Co., Lansing, Mich., and Maxwell Motor Co., Detroit.
Reo, of course, was named for the initials of its founder, Ransom E. Olds, who in 1899 had started the original Olds Motor Co. of “merry Oldsmobile” fame. Olds moved on in 1904 and formed Reo, building cars until 1936 and trucks until 1957, when Reo became part of White Motor Co.
Jonathan Dixon Maxwell and Benjamin Briscoe launched Maxwell-Briscoe Motor Co. in 1903 and built cars in several locations until Briscoe left in 1912 and Maxwell established Maxwell Motor Co. in Detroit. The firm built medium-priced cars until the early 1920s when it fell on hard times. Walter Chrysler took over the ailing company in 1924 and it soon became Chrysler Corp., still in existence today.