We here at the First Division Museum have always sought to maintain a fleet of working vehicles specifically for that reason: to work them! Despite its rarity, we treat the Liberty no different and with the warmer weather we can finally get our truck out to stretch its legs for the public. Over this past weekend the First Division Museum staff and volunteers brought our truck ‘Nancy’ out to an off-site event for the first time: World War 1 Days at Midway Historic Village in Rockford, IL. One of the largest Great War Reenactments in the region, Rockford was the perfect place destination for our Liberty. If you came by the event on Friday or Saturday you more than likely saw Nancy66 putting around the park throughout the day. We had a wonderful time showing her off and she was absolutely one of the event’s star attractions.
The take-down/set-up of the truck for shipment is always a laborious undertaking so a special thanks to all of the First Division Museum’s volunteers who helped out the beleaguered staff member prepping Nancy for movement. Thanks to them and Midway park we were able to spread the word of WW1 trucks, logistics and this long-forgotten 10,000lb behemoth to the public! Be on the lookout for Nancy again at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, IL around Memorial Day Weekend 2019!
Well, after last year’s long journey just to acquire a proper carbide generator for our truck, we managed to get it out for thorough inspection and restoration. Alas, she will not be lighting the truck with carbide gas due to some holes in areas essential to its safe function. I am a bit saddened by this as I was hoping to be the first person to use carbide light on a Liberty in God knows how long- however, we still managed to get the generator cleaned and painted to match the truck. Tom over at Firebrand LLC managed to help us clean up a few features on our older Solar model generator to include removing the mounting brackets cast into the body rim, and one of the two feed nozzles to better match the 1012-B model intended for the truck and allow it to mount into the firewall bracket. The older 712 model we have was designed to be mounted to a car’s firewall or side using brackets cast directly into its bronze body- a feature which keep it from mounting to the liberty as intended. It was meant to also power two headlamps, while the Liberty only has one search light needing one gas nozzle. These two features had to be modified in order to mount to the Liberty accurately (I apologize to all the brass-era restorers out there who are sobbing while reading this). If you missed our first post when we initially acquired the generator take a look here!
Since taking this photo I have touched up the paint we scratched up in the process of mounting the generator (whoops) but she sure does look good! Though non-functioning, the presence of the generator on the truck will help us at the museum to better interpret the history of the truck and automotive design to the public as an illustration of what types of lighting used to exist before electricity became the standard. We also received our custom fabricated horn mount we’ve been dying to get which was the last piece of the puzzle. Once I find our Klaxon horn in the chaos of our most recent garage move, our truck will finally be complete.
Be sure to check out our post about the second-series Liberty Truck gas and oil lighting system for more info on the lighting system in its entirety.
Hey folks! Welcome back to the blog. After a brief hiatus (and renewing our site domain) I’m back in the saddle to regale you with stories of the Liberty!
Today, we’re going to go a little bit more Liberty truck-adjacent. We’ve talked many times about the history of motorization on this blog. The Liberty truck itself is a direct result of the early motorization of the Army and this is what makes it unique. But in all this, we have talked little about the organization of the trucks and just how they fit into the greater AEF in WW1 and beyond, so today we are going to talk about the Army’s brief affair with a specific branch for motorized vehicles- the Motor Transport Corps. And like the formation of many groups and organizations throughout history the MTC was born out of a need for organization amongst chaos.
The logistical and bureaucratic chaos of WW1 highlighted many deficiencies within the US Army’s Quartermaster Corps. In an Army which was by and large horse-drawn, the need for trucks grew tremendously overnight in April 1917 following the US declaration of war. Though the idea of standardized motor transport was in the works demand outstripped delay in standardization, thus the US Government began the desperate grab for any and all trucks it could get to try and support the needs of what would become America’s largest Army to date. As hundred of models and makes of trucks and cars began to enter the Army property books, the Quartermaster Corps struggled to keep even basic parts on-hand at the mechanic level. A long and convoluted supply system and corresponding funding meant that at the end of the day a supply officer or NCO’s request would take afar longer than necessary. Supply got bad enough at the truck operator level and time tables so tight that it wasn’t uncommon for trucks within a convoy to be cannibalized and left by the road side in favor of recovering the vehicle. In addition to the inability to obtain parts, the sheer number of parts to support the seemingly impossible array of vehicles both foreign, domestic and in between complicated an already strained Quarter Master Corps system which was overburdened even without the advent of motor vehicles.
By the late summer of 1918, it was evident that something had to give. The chaos of maintaining and supplying motor vehicles was becoming an animal of its own within the Quartermaster’s Motor transport section and demanded its own independent command. In order to better facilitate the acquisition, supply, and maintenance of the Army’s massive motor vehicle fleet the Motor Transport Corps was established independent of the QMC August 15th, 1918. This move was made almost exclusively in the context of the war in Europe and as such would only exist so long as the American Expeditionary Forces did. Upon formation the MTC adopted the branch color of purple (seen in the chords worn on the campaign hats of soldiers and MTC sleeve patches of the period). The MTC also adopted a branch insignia depicting a winged, US-style steel helmet (meant to evoke the speedy messenger God Hermes of Greek mythology) inside a motor truck tire/wheel. The war ended only a few months after the establishment of the MTC but its mission was far from over. Trucks and other motor vehicles continued to pour into French ports and maintenance parks well after the armistice and troops were needed to assemble, maintain and drive them. These tasks as well as the general oversight and coordination of the trucks as a fleet were the mission of the MTC.
While the Bulk of the MTC mission focus applied to Europe and mopping up the logistical nightmare of the post-war AEF, trucks continued to replace the horse in military units across the continental United States in motor transport companies. These companies were organized of 20-30 vehicles and tasked with transportation duties related to their parent units as assigned. With more and more motor vehicles crisscrossing America however, one thing remained unprepared for the coming deluge of vehicles: good roads. The job of figuring out just how bad they were was motor truck-related, ergo it fell to the newly minted MTC and a young Major Dwight D. Eisenhower. Organized in the summer of 1919, the Motor transport Corps Trans-Continental Motor Convoy would become the first substantial military convoy attempt to cross the US from coast to coast (see upcoming articles this year for more info on this event in particular). Commanded by Eisenhower, the convoy of 64 vehicles (22 of which were Standard-B Liberty Trucks) covered 3600 miles in 62 days; traversing every type of environment from brick road, to concrete, to mud, and simple wagon/mule trails in the American west. The convoy became instrumental in determining the state of America’s automobile infrastructure and the requirements for sound military truck design, both results which left an indelible mark on the future president’s decisions to implement the interstate road system.
The MTC would leave quite a mark on the US Army, and would become a source of many of the military’s earliest doctrine surrounding motor vehicles and their handling. As time went on, the motor truck only continued to become more prominent in US military planning. However, horse-drawn transportation would outlive the MTC by several years. The Motor Transport Corps provided many valuable lessons on the implementation of motor transport, but would ultimately be a victim of the cut-backs outlined in the National Defense Act of 1920 as the size of the US Army was rapidly reduced The assets, personnel and mission of the MTC would again be absorbed by the Quartermaster Corps as many of the maintenance parks under the MTC’s control were broken down throughout France. Though brief, the MTC’s existence was indicative of new thinking on how to manage the growing influence of transport in a modern motorized army. It built the foundation upon which the Quartermaster (and later Transportation) Corps would define truck and equipment maintenance. It played a significant role in the life of the Standardized Class-B military ‘Liberty’ truck, its implementation and story in the larger history of Army motorization. The MTC’s history, much like the Liberty, is a short one of little-known importance that we hope to make you just a bit more aware of in discussing it here!
Hello and happy holidays! I’ve been pretty busy lately in and out of the office but I’m excited to finally delve briefly into a topic that has always fascinated me; not that the truck didn’t fascinate me to begin with, but I have always loved seeing how far a given nation’s equipment can find itself. The Liberty truck was much the same as other US military items after WW1 which found its way in limited numbers into the arsenals of foreign armies. In this post, we will touch on the Truck’s service with one country in particular: Poland.
A big part of the story of the liberty truck in foreign service is rooted in the fact that so many trucks made it overseas after the Armistice of WW1 was signed. The first trucks didn’t make it to French shores until October 4th of 1918. That only left a little over a month for them to see any combat use. The long awaiting tool-up to produce and ship the completed trucks had finally caught up to demand…just in time for it to ramp up for the draw-down. We can assume then that while the war was over, hundreds of trucks were still enroute to Europe in late 1918/early 1919. So many began to pile up in storage yards across France that a September 1919 New York Times article outlined a case of several officers instructing soldiers to purposely dismantle, burn and cut-up trucks stored at a facility in Verneuil, France with the intention of selling the scrap for profit.
We know that according to some demobilization figures, some 3,000 trucks left as surplus from the AEF were sold to “the Poles and some of the new Slavic nations” sometime prior to August 1919. These figures come from Benedict Crowell’s Demobilization; Our Industrial and Military Demobilization After the Armistice, 1918-1920. It is likely then, that this was the source of the trucks encountered in Polish service. Another Polish source elaborates just where they went. According to information obtained from Polish Army Vehicles: 1918-1939 by Jan Tarczynski, the Liberty truck saw extensive use in both the regular Army and Air forces of the interwar Polish state. Beginning in early 1920 at the height of Poland’s existential war for independence against the Bolshevik Red Army, “several dozens” of Liberty trucks were reportedly obtained by the Polish forces from western allies. While this could mean anywhere from 20 to 90 trucks in theory, it is unclear on a specific number aside from ‘several dozens’. Polish Army trucks by this time could very well have included other models of American, French or German vehicles included in the AEF’s surplus sold-off in 1919. What we do know for sure is that at least 15 Liberties were assigned to the Polish Airforce for the purposes of general equipment and aircraft movement. Following the end of the Polish-Bolshevik war in late 1921, all trucks were consolidated to the Air forces or support branches which were affiliated with it. Polish military records quoted in Tarczynski’s book show that as of June 1936 at least 3 trucks remained in service with the 1st Anti Aircraft regiment, two of which were scrapped in early 1939. It’s possible the last remaining Liberty truck was still in service when Germany invaded in September of the same year.
A special thanks to fellow reenactor and expert on all things Polish, Rafal Drwiega who provided me with a quick translation of the details of the Liberty’s service from Polish sources and Jan Taczynksi’s Pojazdy w Wojsku Polskim: 1918-1939 in particular! Thanks Ralph!
This weekend as many of you know was Veterans day, but not just ANY Veterans day: this Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the end of hostilities in the ‘War to End all Wars’.
In true Cantigny Park style we celebrated both on Saturday with our ‘Brew-it-Forward’ Veterans event, and on Sunday with the ‘Bells of Peace’ ceremony marking the end of hostilities and the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice. My self and other museum volunteers brought out the Liberty to show the public and wore original WW1 uniforms to interpret the lives and history of those no longer able to tell their story. The truck performed fantastically in the frigid temperatures, and the public crowded around to see this wonderful marvel of a by-gone era roar to life. Our truck is a second-series assembled from parts of first and second series trucks alike, so we have taken to calling November 1918 its general time of creation, making this Veteran’s day its 100th birthday.
We hope that our impact was a deep one and that the public we talked to will not forget the importance of this conflict and lives lost during it. Though fading in American memory, the Great War will forever live on in the stories of those who knew others who experienced it, and through our continuing outreach. The Liberty Truck is a powerful living artifact that can help us to bring history and the memory of WW1 alive for generations to come. To all of you out there who have served, thank you for your service and happy Veterans day!
I previously posted back in October about one of two hard-to-find parts that I finally managed to come across for our truck. Now I’m here to talk about the other part I didn’t mention: the Carbide Gas generator!
Now, for those of you not familiar with the gas/oil lighting system on second-series Liberty Trucks, check out my earlier post here: Liberty Truck Lighting Systems PART 2: Did We Say Electric? We Totally Meant Gas and Oil… I am now and will forever remain on the lookout for the correct generator, but for the time being this model I found is about as good as its gonna get. The Liberty was issued from the factory with a ‘Solar’ brand model 1012-B Calcium-carbide gas generator. Now the biggest issue with brass-era automobile lighting is that there isn’t a whole lot of technical data out there immediately available for you in terms of measurements and model years. I have been hunting for a 1012-B for several months but never found anything close. I had reached out to several restoration specialists in the field of brass-era gas lighting, but none responded to my inquiries. However, as I would see the truck every day the empty bracket on the firewall mocked me and began to haunt my dreams. “When will I find you?” I asked myself. As I continued to search, I began to fear that I may never be able to truly complete our truck…
I got lucky one day, and noticed a generator which kept popping up on my search feed. The price wasn’t fantastic so I kept scrolling past it. But as days wore on and I continued to search it became evident to me that I may not find anything better for much less. It wasn’t a 1012-B, but the dimensions and design looked very similar- so I took a chance and it paid off. After some back and forth over tax-exemption (we are a 501c3 museum and the generator was coming from an estate sale which would’ve required us to pay state taxes), I settled on a price. It is in fact a Model 712 which is pre-dates the 1012-B by a few years, but works exactly the same: Water goes in the top, drips slowly onto Calcium carbide pellets which makes acetylene gas which powers the search light! At first glance all the parts are present on ours and appear to be functioning or capable of it, but we won’t be ale to tell for sure until we get it cleaned up and filled with some carbide pellets.
The 712 model has a few small features which differ from the correct 1012-B model. Most noticeable for us is the presence of mounting lugs molded into the generator body- these stick out in such a way that they make it impossible to mount on the truck. However, if ground-off, the dimensions are perfect for fitting to our truck ( the 1012-B had no mounts on it at all and is meant to ‘sit’ on a small lug mounted to the truck and is then secured to the firewall via a ring mount). The other major difference is the gas nozzle on the top of the reservoir- the 1012-B has only one whereas ours has two- intended to split the gas to be distributed to two headlamps. Ours only hooks to one main line which feeds the search light. If we simply plug or cover one of the two nozzles on ours, we should be good to go for functionality purposes or until we find a proper 1012-B to use. The other big difference appears to be the materials used; the older 712 is all brass construction whereas the 1012-B appears to have had a brass top reservoir and a steel or aluminum lower cannister which was painted black (prior to being painted drab to match the truck). However, I’ve been unable to confirm this as I haven’t been able to personally inspect an original.
All there is left to do now is remove the mounting points and round-out the reservoir rim, clean it up, paint it and mount it to the truck! Now if we could just find an original working fuel transfer pump….
Welcome back to the blog and Happy Halloween! I am very excited to announce that I finally located and purchased two of the 3 missing parts for our truck which have kept me awake at night since the truck arrived at the Museum- a Carbide gas generator and Klaxon horn! I’ll be covering the horn in detail in this post.
Now, I know what many of you brass-era enthusiasts might be thinking: ‘Ian, that’s a motor cycle horn and not a car horn’. Well, you would be right. Except, that its also the type of horn used on the Liberty trucks and differs slightly from electric motorcycle horns of the time period that closely resemble it. In the many photos I have scanned through as well as surviving examples, there are two types of horn used- the short bell, rear-push ‘Hand Klaxonet’ style horn appears to be the most common which is also the style that the trucks left the factory with. There was also a long-bell version which looks more like the standard truck horns of the era and is also outlined in a government contract photo from the National Archives as a ‘Class-B truck horn’. This however appears to be in the minority.
The rear-push short bell ‘Hand Klaxonet’ style is the more common of the two and I managed to find one in (very loud) working condition on eBay a month or so ago for around $250. All that remains now is to clean it up a little and paint it to match the truck as was commonly done. I have also noticed that there appears to be a small screen placed inside the bell on some horns in museums. I have not been able to verify if these screens were ever on issued horns at the time, but at the moment it appears to be a post-war feature as most photos show no screen. Our Klaxonet is an original body and mechanism with a reproduction bell. The reproduction bell was actually a large factor in buying is as I felt it was in very nice shape and also helped to reduce the cost slightly from others I had come across. It appears to also be missing several of its 6 retaining screws which affix the bell to the body. These can be easily replaced with new flathead screws and nuts. These screws are also integral to mounting the horn to its bracket.
And there in lies our next hiccup: we have a horn, but no mount. A mounting bracket was one of the few items we were never able to find in all the parts trucks we accumulated over the last decade. We have been carefully studying period photos, as well as photos we have taken of surviving examples such as the truck at the Fort Eustis Transportation Museum and US Marine Corps Museum at Quantico, VA. While we are unsure if these brackets are original, they appear to be so and are also some of the few photos we were able to get close enough to potentially replicate as most original photos are nearly impossible to get a complete walk-around view of. A small pixelated scan of an original manual shows a similar mount but only from the side- this would appear to indicate that this style was in fact original. It appears to be stamped steel and bent after stamping, making it easy to replicate.
There is also a mount outlined in the contract photo of the long-bell horn made for ‘Class-B trucks’ under contract for the government. This mount however would not fit the holes already present in the firewall of our truck which remain from a previous horn mount. At this time our money is on the mount style encountered at the Fort Eustis Museum simply because it is of a style which would better perform given the rear-push style of Klaxon horn used and brace the horn best from rear-applied force.
I want to thank Will ‘Adrian’ Winget for providing some very helpful information regarding horns and bracket images for this post. Stay tuned for more posts in the future and coverage of the other new part we finally tracked down that our truck was missing- a Carbide gas generator!
Hello everyone! Its been a little bit since our last post, so I figured I would update you all on our truck. We have been VERY busy since the Liberty, now officially named ‘Nancy’ in honor of our museum director’s late wife, arrived at our location in late August. She has been driven weekly at minimum and in many cases, daily. Giving me time to get use to the ins and outs of operating the truck and also get it ‘worked in’ so to speak. When the truck came to us, it was tight- crank starting the engine has gotten easier as engine was essentially brand new and completely restored using close to 99% original parts (aside from hoses, a few clamps, seals, and the magneto flexible coupling which we had to have manufactured). Since receiving the truck, it has been officially revealed to the public both at our park and outside it. In fact, the truck’s first public appearance was at this year’s Society of Automotive Engineers ‘Comvec’ national convention in Rosemont, IL. We were personally contacted by Navistar, the convention’s corporate sponsor this year who saw the significance in the truck’s development and now 100-year-old production history. All-around, it was a very fun experience to talk with so many engineers who appreciated the truck for its history and connection to the SAE!
First Division Musuem staff and volunteers at the SAE Comvec in Rosemont in September 2018
Our set up as part of the SAE’s ‘Mobility History Committee’ who sponsored our movement to and from the convention
Since Comvec we have continued to run the truck and bring it out for various events throughout the park and around the museum to include the Cantigny Car show which was the weekend following the SAE conference. Over 3,000 people attended and the truck truly stole the show away from our several WW2 vehicles also in attendance. Maintenance and parts hunting have continued to plague us just as any other antique vehicle owner- in particular getting the foot brake working and properly adjusted (breaking an original spring in the process…). This has been a time-consuming affair taking up several of our motor pool volunteer nights over the last month or so. However, I am happy to announce that we finally have the foot pedal not only adjusted but very responsive. With a vehicle of this age and lack of other examples, learning anything mechanically on it is very much a hands-on and flying blind process. In this case, the only documentation we had to go from were small, low quality photocopies of the brake disc system from an original manual from 1919. We are now very familiar with the brake linkages and system on the truck- something I plan to detail in future posts, so stay tuned!
That’s all for now. Pop back in soon for more updates and some upcoming posts on further history surrounding the truck’s service and parts!
Throughout my time writing for this blog and generally working on/with the Liberty truck, I have often been asked ‘Who made the truck’? This is a tricky question because the answer isn’t that simple and really causes me to go down a deep hole of research and information and rattle on and on about war production etc etc. The truth is, well, complicated.
To begin with, the Class-B Standardized military truck was a joint effort from day one: designed by engineers from multiple companies and societies, parts made by over 150 companies, and assembled from those parts by several different factories. This was all intentional of course- although convoluted and complex, the system for producing parts and assembling the trucks was intended to allow for multiple factories to be disrupted or sabotaged and still have several sources for one or more parts. The engines just to name one example, were built by 4 different companies- the batteries were made by seven, the cargo bodies were made by 5, and so on. An October 1917 article in the New York Times titled ‘New Army Truck Mechanical Marvel’ outlines the cooperation in making the engine saying: “…the crank case is Continental, the cylinders Waukesha, the oiling system a combination of Wisconsin and Buda, the pistons Hercules, the timing gear system a combination of Buda, Wisconsin, and Continental. The governor is a combination of Kelly-Springfield and Waukesha. The camshaft is a composite design…What has been said of the engine can be said of the transmission, the axles, and other parts”.
Naturally, a question I often get in regards to the Liberty truck is “Who made them”? In reality, everybody and their brother contributed parts or design features to the truck but it is often attributed to the Quartermaster Corps or Society of Automotive Engineers who actually created the designs for the truck. Because of this, the truck is often listed in reference material as just ‘Liberty’ or ‘Class-B military truck’ with no maker mentioned. The best way to interpret who made the truck, I find, is to list the more recognizable civilian company names that assembled them. Much like cars today, the maker is often considered to be the person who assembles the trucks final components but doesn’t necessarily make all those components themselves. While the trucks were also assembled by Quartermaster soldiers on the factory floor, civilians at 15 different companies- some well known, others long gone- assembled the Liberty trucks in their factories primarily in the Midwest.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks and Commercial Vehicles by Albert Mroz claims a total of 9,364 trucks assembled by 15 companies in total between 1917 and 1918. The breakdown of assemblers and production is as follows:
Bethlehem Motor Truck Corporation of Allentown, PA- 675
Brockway Motor Company of Cortland, NY- 589
Diamond T Motor Car Company of Chicago, IL- 63
Garford Motor Truck Co. of Lima, OH- 978
Gramm-Bernstein Company of Lima, OH- 1,000
Indiana Motor and Vehicle Co. of Indianapolis, IN- 475
Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Company of Springfield, OH- 301
Packard of Detroit, MI- 5
Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company of Buffalo, NY- 975
Republic Motor Truck Company of Alma, MI- 967
Selden Motor Vehicle Company of Rochester, NY- 1,000
Service Motor truck Company of Wabash, IN- 337
Sterling Motor Truck Company of Milwaukee, WI- 479
United States Motor Truck Company of Covington, KY- 490
Velie Motors Corporation of Moline, IL- 455
On every Liberty produced there was a data plate- located to the left of the dash- which outlines the basic vehicle information: Serial number (also stamped into the frame and firewall), max load, speed, etc. While the trucks did not list the name of the particular factory that assembled it, they did provide a number corresponding to individual assemblers. This was no doubt done in an attempt to protect the strategic locations of US manufacturing. While it has yet to be officially proven, it is thought within the Liberty Truck community that the assembler number corresponds to the factories within the alphabetical list. For example: assembler number 9 would be the ninth assembler down the alphabetical list, in this case Pierce-Arrow. I would like to remind the reader that this has NOT been officially proven with documentation, but like many things related to the truck, we are missing lots of supporting government documents or have yet to discover them, so this appears to be the current assumption.
While these official numbers are the only ones I have (and am still digging to find Albert Mroz’s source on them), I have also found mention in contemporary documents from after the armistice claiming that trucks would continue to be produced from ‘existing parts’. There is no official number of trucks that I have yet found that outline the amount made after November 11th, nor an official last date of production, but we tend to guess there were somewhere around 2,000-3,000 more trucks produced following November 1918 when additional contracts for around 43,000 trucks were immediately halted. Production more than likely ended completely in early 1919.
But this is just scratching the surface! The Class-B Standardized Liberty truck was a truly all-American marvel of engineering which encompassed parts made by over 150 companies, and we’ve only covered the assemblers so far. Come back soon and we will have even more info on the companies that made this truck possible!
So we talked a little while ago about electric lighting on the truck- sure, it wasn’t like today’s bulbs but electric lighting was the latest and greatest form of automobile lighting during WW1. So naturally an improved second-series truck would have the best and BRIGHTEST (get it?) features…right?
Instead, the second-series Liberty Truck introduced very late in the war would have not electric, but gas and oil lighting systems in their place.
The oil lamps were simple enough- a standard Kerosene oil lamp similar to any other of the time period using a threaded wick. They would need to be lit by hand in the event of use, but could be very easily extinguished (on their own more often than not) and cleaned and disassembled in the field. It is a safe assumption that generally, your run-of-the-mill rural-born US doughboy would have been more familiar with the care and maintenance of an oil lamp than an electric light which was an added benefit to this system. Kerosene would have also been readily available anywhere the truck might be whether it be Europe or the US.
But the oil lamps weren’t the only illumination- the main source of light on the second series of trucks was an acetylene gas-powered search light, mounted on the center of the dash and typically controlled by the co-driver. This was not the pressurized acetylene we are familiar with today: the searchlight was powered by lump or powder calcium-carbide which would interact with water by way of a filter reservoir and slow drip system (the gas ‘generator’). This interaction would in turn create acetylene gas which would travel up a brass or rubber hose through the dash to the search light which could be ignited by the operator in the cab. This gas system is a larger version of what was commonly encountered on the lamps of miner’s hats and helmets of the period and was also quite common on commercial automobiles such as early model-T’s.
A ‘Solar’ brand gas generator was initially issued with trucks. With a brass housing, the Solar generator was typically painted drab to match the vehicle and obscure the shiny brass. Photos have been found of some trucks in use with the Army which have had the generator replaced with other models of gas generator or pressurized tank, the reason for which is unknown.
The question after all this that begs an answer is really, well, why not just stick with the electric system? In my extensive research and combing documents I have found little written during or after the war as to why or when they made the switch officially. One theory could be that the removal of the wiring system contributed to an overall simpler truck; easier to assemble, less parts to fix, less parts to supply, and a simplified standardization process which was at the core of the trucks design.
Another theory could have been field maintenance. Oil lamps and carbide gas generators are far easier to clean, replace and fix in a field environment than electrical components and would have required far less invasive maintenance than an elaborate wiring system. Familiarization with oil and carbide lamps amongst generally un-educated and often illiterate soldiers is another factor, where electrical wiring would have required someone with more advanced technical training or knowledge to fix. Keep in mind that for many in America, electric lighting was still quite new and some may have had their first experience with it in the Army. While the official documented reasons are still shrouded in mystery, these theories are simply some of my own from observations interaction with both lighting systems and considering common social and educational limitations of the time period.