Maxwell Tractor Hero of the Transcontinental Motor Convoy

1919 Transcontinental Motor Convoy made easier with help from the Maxwell artillery tractor

| June 2011

In the March 2011 issue of Farm Collector, I wrote about the Reo and Maxwell 5-ton artillery tractors designed by Holt and built during World War I (The Mystery of the Maxwell Crawler Tractor). After the war, in 1919, the Motor Transport Corps of the U.S. Army organized the First Transcontinental Motor Convoy “to service-test vehicles developed for use in the World War, and determine by actual experience the possibility and the problems involved in moving an army across the continent.” 

The convoy left Washington, D.C., on July 7 and traveled north to Gettysburg, Pa., where it picked up the Lincoln Highway. In 16 days the trucks covered 906 miles across generally good roads in states east of the Mississippi. West of the river they struck dirt roads that were ankle-deep in dust in dry weather and knee-deep in mud when wet.

Accompanying the convoy was the Militor, a 3-ton wheeled artillery tractor with 4-wheel drive and a heavy-duty winch used as a wrecker, along with a 5-ton Maxwell crawler-type artillery tractor, both of which were almost constantly busy rescuing stranded vehicles from mud holes and ditches. Eighty-eight wooden bridges and culverts were destroyed or damaged and had to be repaired by the detachment of 5th Engineers that accompanied the convoy.

After reading that column, Mike Tyler, Ridgecrest, Calif., sent me several photos of the Maxwell tractor on the convoy. The photos were taken by Pvt. Andrew Jackson Coleman, a great-uncle of Sheila Panzone, Riverside, Calif., who graciously gave permission to use the photos.  

Born in LaGrange, Ga., in 1893, Andrew Jackson Coleman soon moved with his family to Florida. Coleman, who never married, served in France in the U.S. Army during World War I as a private. After the war, Coleman was selected to accompany the first Transcontinental Convoy, photographing much of the journey and documenting the event. A surveyor by trade, he later moved to Fort Myers, Fla., where he surveyed much of the city of Fort Myers and surrounding areas. Coleman died in 1975; his photos of the 1919 convoy were included in his personal effects and remain in the Coleman-Garrett family archives.

On Oct. 31, 1919, a 30-page after-action report was filed by 1st Lt. E.R. Jackson, the Ordnance Department observer who accompanied the convoy. Jackson wrote: