Pair of 1919 Twin City trucks fit in well with Twin City tractor collection
When Sue Dougan discovered she could get a very rare 1919 Twin City truck, she got excited. “In fact, I was real excited,” the Ostrander, Minn., farmer says. “It was a 2-ton model, and though it looked like just two piles of iron, I didn’t care. One of my workers said, ‘You’re going to put that truck together?’ He didn’t think it was possible. He wasn’t too excited about it, but I sure was.”
So you can imagine her delight when she got a chance at another Twin City, this time an even more rare 1919 3-1/2-ton Twin City truck. “I was real excited again,” she says. “Lloyd Van Horn of Mason City, Iowa, decided to sell part of his collection. I was very fortunate that he gave me the chance to have it, and keep the two trucks together.”
Fortunate for collectors, too, as the trucks are extremely rare. No Twin City truck production numbers or serial number guides are known. “There is another 2-ton Twin City in Kansas,” Sue says, “but I’ve never heard of another 3-1/2-ton Twin City truck anywhere.”
Sue grew up with Minneapolis-Moline tractors on her folks’ farm near Mason City. “My dad used Minneapolis-Moline tractors and combines on the wheat harvest during the Depression,” she says. Having no brothers, she grew up working in the fields. “I’ve spent all my life on a farm,” she says.
After she went out on her own, while farming for a neighbor, Sue noticed a Twin City 12-20 tractor in a grove. Predating 1920, it had been the neighbor’s family’s first tractor. “It was quite a treasure to the son, part of the family’s legacy,” she explains. “It took quite a few years for him to let me take it and get it running. I had it quite a while until I could get the parts I needed, and that’s where this whole thing started. I met all these great Twin City people and learned where to find parts for Twin City machinery. I worked on that 12-20 during the winter when I wasn’t busy, and started buying other things.”
Those “other things” included machinery from the trio of companies assimilated into Minneapolis-Moline Power Implement Co. in 1929: Moline Plow Co., Minneapolis Threshing Machine Co. and Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co., which manufactured Twin City trucks and tractors. “After I got a lot of Twin City tractors, it was my dream to have a Twin City truck,” Sue says. “But they were only made from 1919 to 1929, and not very many were made, so I figured that would never happen.”
Be careful what you wish for, the old saying warns. When Lloyd Van Horn helped Sue find a 1919 2-ton Twin City truck, it was a project that might have given others pause. The piece was in very poor condition, but Sue was undaunted. “Lloyd is a big truck restorer,” she says, “and he knows more about old trucks than anybody.”
The truck was missing many parts, and the frame had been cut in two so the PTO on the transmission could be used as a stationary unit. “But the main components were there,” Sue says. The front and rear axles, rear end and Buda flat-head engine were usable.
Lloyd brought two piles of iron back to Minnesota. “The hood and one fender were there, but they were not in good condition,” Sue says. “One fender was missing and the wheels were shot.”
To make sure the restoration was done correctly, Sue dug into Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Co. archives at the Minnesota History Center, St. Paul, researching and recording everything she could find about Twin City trucks.
“We got as much information as possible on how to get that frame back together,” she says, “and views of the truck from the bottom and the top so we could do all our work accurately.” Using the old hood, side curtains and remaining fender, Sue had patterns made. “Jon Ludemann, who worked for me, was very, very good at that type of work and ended up doing everything. We couldn’t find anyone to make the fenders, so we ended up doing everything ourselves.”
The fenders were a particular challenge. “They have rolled sides and corners and I couldn’t find anybody who would do that kind of work,” Sue says, “so I bought a steel stretcher and shrinker and made a frame, stretching the flat sheet metal around it. We have a shop with a mill, lathe and sheet metal equipment in it. Basically we’re doing the same thing today that they did back then. It just took a lot of patience and time to do the work.”
Without hinges, connecting the side curtains is tricky. Steel at the end of the curtain had to be curled and connected to the hood with a rod thrust through it. Making the hood was no less challenging. Cutting louvers on the side panels was the most difficult part of the project. “We made our own die and cut the louvers ourselves,” Sue says. “That was an interesting project.”
Even the wheels were rebuilt. Sue found usable rims and rubber and replaced broken spokes with spokes from other old wheels. She opted for oak inside the rims even though it doesn’t expand as well as the wood used decades ago. In the process of the three-year restoration, Sue discovered that major parts of the 2-ton Twin City were the same as those in Stewart trucks built at about the same time. “A lot of trucks in those days used the same rear ends and transmissions as other trucks,” she says.
Lloyd helped with sourcing on lights and other hard-to-find replacement parts. Large carbide lights on the front of the truck used acetylene from a Prest-o-lite tank on the side of the truck. The lights are non-functional, but because Sue had the tank, she included it as part of the restoration. The small front lights originally ran on self-contained kerosene.
When Sue’s restored 2-ton Twin City truck was displayed at the Root River Antique Historical Power Assn. show in Spring Valley, Minn., someone took a picture of the truck. That photo was subsequently published in a farming magazine. A Washington man called Sue after he saw the photo. “He said his dad had had a Twin City truck that looked just like this one,” she says. “He said it had been used to haul logs. Mine did originally have big wheels on the rear with a lot of red clay inside them.”
Later, the man traveled to Minnesota to see Sue’s Twin City. “We don’t know if it was the same truck or not, but my truck did come from Oregon,” she says. “If it’s the same one, the guy had two pictures of it showing that the only thing used to support logs were beams laying across the frame.”
The 1919 3-1/2-ton Twin City was a totally different ballgame. Already restored when Sue bought it, the truck is a handsome relic from another era. Emblazoned with the name Jos. Kroe, Newark, N.J. (the name that was on the truck before it was restored), the Twin City is clad in a coat of battleship gray, the same shade used on Twin City tractors. “It’s as close as we could come to the original,” she says.
The fact that the 3-1/2-ton Twin City truck has the same engine as the 12-20 tractor — a 4-cylinder, 16-valve engine of the company’s own design — adds weight to the argument that the truck’s color should be identical to that of the 12-20.
The 3-1/2-ton is harder to handle than the 2-ton. “Both of them are pretty hard to steer, but the bigger one is harder,” Sue admits. “It takes quite a bit of power in the arms to drive it. Both of them have a solid, heavy-duty frame under them, much more heavy-duty than a Model T. So both are rough riding.”
Restoring trucks and tractors is more than a hobby for Sue, who appreciates the opportunity to preserve farm history. “It gives me something to do in the winter,” she says. “And most people don’t even know that these trucks ever existed. They’re pretty interested in them when they see them at a show.”
Sue’s hard-pressed to pick a favorite piece in her collection, though she leans toward the 2-ton truck that she put so many hours into. “But they’re both pretty special to me,” she says. “They’re nice additions to all the Twin City tractors I have.” FC
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56369; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.