The Chase Motor Truck: New York Return

After nearly a century in the Pacific Northwest, 1913 Chase Model M returns to its home state of New York in a beautiful, restored state.

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by Rick Patchen
Dapper from head to toe, Otis Gagnon at the wheel of his fully restored 1913 Chase Model M motor truck.

Chase Model M Delivery Car by the Numbers

Chase Mfg. Co. dates to 1804 when the company produced agricultural implements. The Chase Model M Delivery Car (Express) was produced from 1907-’19, during a period when Chase claimed to be the largest manufacturer of commercial-grade trucks. The first Chase model designed for light-duty use, the Model M, was designed for farm applications.

Specifications:

  • Capacity: 500 lbs.; vehicle weight: 1,500 lbs.
  • Power: 12hp, 2-cylinder, 2-stroke, air-cooled, magneto ignition, gasoline vertical engine with 4.125- by 4-in bore-and-stroke
  • Transmission: two speeds forward, hand lever-controlled for high speed; left foot pedal for low speed. One-speed reverse controlled by a center foot pedal, brake, and right foot pedal. Dual-chain-drive to rear axle. Crank start with cylinder fuel primer cups
  • Wagon wheels: front 34in by 2in; rear 36in by 2in (on solid rubber) Wood (cherry) body: 96in by 42in; box: 58in by 40in by 9in (under seat)
  • Lighting: three oil lamps
  • Price: $500 (with panel top, $600)

Otis Gagnon is a tinkerer. He has worked as a career mechanic and machinist, but now, as a retiree, he enjoys working in his shop, restoring the tools and equipment that made this country so productive over the centuries.

A walk through his workplace reveals his varied interests. An ancient Clinton-engine-powered garden tiller awaits his attention. A 30-inch tricycle riding mower that appears to date to the 1940s is parked near home-built shop equipment. More than 80 years of experience has taught Otis the techniques to “get the job done,” whatever may be required. He finds great satisfaction in the accomplishment of even the smallest of steps in the repair process.

In 2006, Otis sought a new challenge for his talents. He came upon a reader ad in Hemmings Motor News for a 1913 Chase Model M motor truck in “restorable” condition. The truck was located in Spokane, Washington, some 3,000 miles west of Otis’s home in Fair Haven, New York. Undeterred, he caught a flight west to take a look and a deal was made with the owners. Challenges indeed.

Took a licking and kept on ticking

Otis knew that the history of this truck would be of great interest to friends and family who would be questioning his sanity. From the seller, David Beck, he learned a timeline of events in the truck’s long life. Although David did not know how the Chase ended up in Washington, having been manufactured in Syracuse, New York (located near Fair Haven), he did know that it had appeared in Spokane parades in the 1920s and ’30s.

In the 1930s, the Model M was owned by Quality Garage in Spokane, where it was used to level the parking lot by pulling a railroad tie attached by chain to the truck’s rear axle. Sometime before 1934, while parked at Quality Garage (then located at Sprague and Napa streets), the Chase was damaged in a freak accident when a fire truck left the roadway and plowed into the Chase, knocking the front axle off the fire truck.

The Chase was blocked up, and a sign (“For Sale $5”) was attached. Local resident Milton Beck told his three younger brothers to go to the garage and offer $2.50 for the truck. Garage management apparently thought that was a good deal, and the boys towed the Chase home.

For more than 15 years, the truck was housed at various sites, including a Spokane Valley sawmill, where the Chase was stored when a fire consumed the sawmill. Surviving the blaze, the truck was removed to yet another location where a partial restoration was started. Sometime later, it was returned to the Beck residence, where it remained in storage until 1990. Before leaving the area, Milton sold the Model M to his nephews, Barry and David Beck. After many years and considerable debate, the brothers decided to sell the truck rather than stand the expense of restoration.

Uniquely skilled team tackles a challenge

Enter Otis Gagnon. A long-standing member of the Bayside Cruisers Car Club in Fair Haven at the Little Sodus Bay of Lake Ontario, Otis took advantage of the membership’s wide-ranging catalog of automotive expertise. Although he was an accomplished machinist with a well-equipped shop, he sought the assistance of three brothers (all club members) who brought their own particular talents to what would be a five-month restoration project. Russ Patchen was a mechanical and collision shop owner/operator, Korki Patchen had expertise in woodworking and cabinet making, and Rick Patchen was an auto body repair instructor at a vocational school.

The chassis, engine and driveline became the domain of Otis and Russ. Korki took charge of the wooden body and seat, and Rick handled sheet metal and hood fabrication and painting. Major damage to the hood necessitated fabrication that involved hand-riveting with a hammer and modified dolly block as a buck.

The four men shared the job of chassis prep and painting, with Otis enjoying the effects of gravity while painting overhead on the chassis (where it was learned that POR15 paint adheres extremely well to exposed forearms). The wooden wagon wheels were remanufactured by an Amish craftsman in Ohio. The front left wheel had been crushed in the fire truck incident and replaced with a homemade wheel created from a wire cable spool. The diameter and hub size were amazingly close to those of the original.

Celebrating the past

Chase Motor Truck Co. operated from 1907 to 1919. Known for its air-cooled engines and simplicity of design, Chase produced perhaps 5,000 light delivery trucks. Today, fewer than 40 are known to exist. A 3-cylinder model is on display at a museum in Norwich, New York.

These days, Otis and his wife, Jeanne, are often seen tooling around town in the motor truck, high up on a black leather bench seat, enjoying waves and smiles from their neighbors in their resort village. Fair Haven is renowned for its Fourth of July celebration and parade. Otis never misses the opportunity to join the line, and children love to ride along with him in the hour-long procession.

Otis has been known to load the Chase in a trailer and haul it to central New York car and tractor shows. He also owns a restored 1930 Franklin sedan, another car manufactured in Syracuse, some 40 minutes to the south. It is also air-cooled and was restored by the same work crew. FC


Plows, Trucks and Tractors

Connecting the dots between Chase Motor Truck, Syracuse Plow Co. and Deere & Co. – and the Chase tractor

Thomas Wiard, his wife, and his family settled in East Avon, New York (Livingston County) in 1805, where they eventually raised 12 children. Four of the couple’s sons became involved in the manufacture of land plows. Thomas’ third son, Mathew (born in 1813) developed a unique plow design and sold a set of patterns to John S. Robinson, Canandaigua, New York. In 1876, Robinson moved to Syracuse, New York, where he established Robinson Plow Co.

At that point, accounts differ, but it appears that Thomas Wiard’s grandson, Harry Wiard, developed a method of “chilling” cast iron to improve its durability.

Having purchased Rochester Plow Co., Syracuse Chilled Plow then offered a full line of tillage implements, including walking gang plows, sulky plows, two-way riding plows, shovel-type plows, spring tooth harrows, cultivators, walk-behind road scrapers, barn hay forks and carriers.

Chase, Syracuse and Deere

In 1910, George Mixter of Deere & Company (and John Deere’s great-grandson) took the train from Moline, Illinois, to Syracuse to negotiate purchase of Syracuse Chilled Plow. He met at a hotel with Syracuse Vice President A.M. Chase and W.W. Wiard (great-grandson of Thomas Wiard). At that time, Syracuse Chilled Plow’s annual sales totaled $200,000.

A deal was quickly struck. Shareholders would receive $400,000 in preferred stock, $10,000 in common stock and $900,000 cash. Chase and Wiard realized $28,000 each in Deere common stock for their efforts. They retained local management of manufacturing in the Syracuse plant, and the plows would be retailed through Deere branch houses.

Aurin M. Chase, Syracuse Chilled Plow’s vice president, had been named president of automaker Chase Co. in 1907. Previously, he worked at nearby Franklin Motor Car Co., where he was an engineer, thus the connection between Chase Motor Truck, Syracuse Chilled Plow, and Deere & Co. Upon inspection today, it’s still possible to see the cast inscription Syracuse Chilled Plow on the back side of modern John Deere plows.

Entering the tractor business

In 1911, at the twilight of the horse-drawn era and the dawn of the gas engine-powered era, Chase Motor Truck began to manufacture farm tractors.

“The wonderful motor (in 1915, a 4-cylinder Waukesha) that is in the Chase truck, and has made the Chase truck famous throughout the U.S. and foreign countries, will be placed in a farm tractor that will sell somewhere between $900 and $1,200,” notes an announcement in a 1913 edition of Farm Implements. “This tractor will be on exhibition at the Chase Exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair in September.

“This will be a small and very powerful tractor that can turn around in a small space and can be operated on a very economical basis,” the 1913 advertisement boasted, “and is something that every man who owns 160 acres of land can and will buy.” Two years later, Chase said of its tractor: “One man and the Chase farm tractor do the work of five men and ten horses.”

Keeping the past alive

Otis searched for and found a one-horse walking plow locally. The cast inscription reads Syracuse Chilled Plow, Patented 1876. He has restored the relic, replacing the wooden handles and repainting wooden components. The moldboard, however, remains original (including an earlier repair, which remains visible).

He now displays the plow as an integral piece of the Chase Model M display at shows and is happy to share his knowledge of the interwoven histories. Who knows: Maybe some early twentieth-century farmer tried to pull that plow with a Chase Model M motor truck!

For more information: Email Otis Gagnon at ojgagnon@gmail.com.

Rick Patchen is retired from a 33-year career in auto body repair education and “somewhat” retired from farming and a Christmas tree plantation. Email him at rickpatchen38@gmail.com. 

  • Updated on Jan 25, 2024
  • Originally Published on Jan 24, 2024
Tagged with: Farm Truck, farm trucks, gas engine restoration, restoration, truck, trucks
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