History Lesson on a Studebaker Truck Dashboard

Studebaker truck enthusiast lands a US6 and makes a quirky discovery.

| April 2015

Because of a shortage of trucks in agricultural America caused by World War II, thousands of surplus military trucks went to work on the nation’s farms in the late 1940s. They served faithfully, often for decades. When worn-out or replaced by modern civilian trucks, many were just parked, along with other retired equipment.

Occasionally, they can still be found, if you know what to look for. If the trucks were not repainted and still have the Army olive drab color, spotting one from any distance away is difficult, because that original paint does what the military wanted: It makes the trucks hard to see.

Even though war era restrictions prevented truck manufacturers from putting their names on military trucks after 1942, every make had distinctive features, making it easy to determine which company built any given truck. For the uninitiated, any confusion can be dispelled by examining information plates fastened to the dashboards. All military trucks have several of those plates providing data on make, model, serial number, (most often) date of delivery, publications for maintenance and repair, and such things as minimum gasoline octane and viscosity of engine oil required.

Now, more than half a century later, many of the plates are missing, but the first thing a person does when encountering a wartime truck is to look on the dash for the plates that belong there.

Lend-Lease Studebaker trucks

Many younger people today are unaware that a company named Studebaker was once a major producer of cars and trucks. In fact, in the earliest days of the 20th century, Studebaker was the third largest producer of automobiles. Difficult times during the Great Depression damaged the company, but it went on to produce vehicles through the mid-1960s. In World War II, the government contracted with Studebaker to build large, tandem-axle trucks. Most were 6x6s rated at 2-1/2 tons. 6x4 models with no powered front axle were rated at 5 tons, because they were to be used on established roads, whereas the all-wheel drive trucks could be used cross-country.

In four years, Studebaker built 200,000 of those big trucks. In spite of that large number, surviving Studebaker military trucks are not commonly found today. The reason? America’s World War II era Lend-Lease loan program. More than 100,000 of the trucks went to our ally, Russia, as it fought back Hitler’s invading army. Other allies were also given Studebaker trucks. Most Studebaker US6s (the official military designation) discovered now are those that remained in the U.S. after World War II and Lend-Lease ended.