The Liberty Tests its Limits: The 100th Anniversary of the Trans-Continental Convoy

Howdy and welcome back! I know that amongst the many anniversaries this year revolving around WW2 and with WW1 having completed its own centennial celebrations last year, the last thing on anybody’s minds right now is 1919. But this year we celebrate several anniversaries including the return of the First Infantry Division to the United States from German Occupation duty. For many in the world of military vehicles, 1919 is also celebrated for the infamous Motor Transport Corps Trans-continental Convoy (MTC-TCC) also known as the ‘Lincoln Highway Convoy’ named for its route. Though not the Army’s first attempt, it was the most thorough in terms of surveying and support, and the first to complete the trip from the east coast to the west.

The entire convoy somewhere around Utah
“The Whole Convoy, Utah”. This photo shows all 64 vehicles and trailers in use during the convoy in one of its toughest stretches out west. It was on this leg of the journey that paved roads and bridges ceased to exist and many trucks began to run into mechanical issues, general driver inexperience or exhaustion. (photo courtesy of the Eisenhower National Archives Collection)

The MTC-TCC was an attempt to cross from coast to coast with standardized military trucks and gain valuable data and experience from it which the military could use in developing the relatively new concept of motorized transport. It was a chance to test the several standardized classes of trucks and cars that the Army had used during the World War while also providing information to the government on the state of American roads and automotive infrastructure. Beginning July 7th, 1919 and ending September 6th (a total of 62 days and 3,110 miles traveled), the convoy involved some 64 vehicles (not including trailers) to include 22 Standardized Class B Liberty Trucks of the Second-series type. These Liberty trucks formed the largest amount of any one make or model of vehicle in the trip. The ‘B’s’ as they are frequently called in contemporary accounts entered the convoy part way and came down to meet them from Chicago, joining up in time for the most arduous portion of the journey from Iowa to California. In addition to the Class-B’s, other vehicles included:

-8x passenger cars (2 makes)

-6x light delivery trucks (3 makes)

-3x ambulances (1 make)

-4x 5 1/2-ton trucks (1 make)

-3x 3-ton trucks (all commercial make)

-3x 3-ton FWD trucks (all commercial make)

-9x 1 1/2-ton trucks (3 makes)

-6x Motorcycles (2 makes)

Route Map
The 3,110-mile convoy route of the Motor Transport Corps Transcontinental Convoy stretching from coast to coast. Most of the first half of the trip encountered paved or improved roads until about Cedar Rapids, Iowa after which the roads became increasingly difficult to traverse or even non-existent.

Present as one of a handful of observers, Ralph B. Burton accompanied the convoy through its duration and recorded many of the mechanical and engineering issues encountered. His suggestions and general observations were later published in a July 1920 issue of The Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers. Throughout the article Burton makes mention of the Liberty Truck specifically on the whole as one of the more capable designs in the convoy and less prone to breakage. He specifically mentions the brakes saying, “the brakes on the Class B truck gave the least trouble of any on the convoy. These are properly designed, so that even though the drive be taken through the springs, there is no grabbing action or moving of the brake pedal and lever.” In contrast, Burton also goes on to strongly disapprove of one of my few issues with the Liberty design; the lateral accelerator pedal.

Driving Set up- arrows
The driving set up of the Liberty Truck. Blue arrows indicate the Clutch (left) and Brake (right) and the red arrow is the much smaller lateral accelerator as mentioned (and disliked) by drivers on the 1919 convoy.

For those of you not familiar, the accelerator pedal in the liberty is pushed to the right with the side of the driver’s foot, rather than depressed to the floor with the bottom of the foot as is the case with the clutch and brake foot pedals. When driving for longer periods of time unless wearing particular boots, the accelerator begins to dig into the side of the foot and is very uncomfortable, not to mention prone to slipping. It is a terrible design flaw which apparently was not much liked 100 years ago either as Burton makes specific mention of it as ” exceptionally hard to operate.” He goes on to encourage the standardization of depression pedals and the ‘clutch-brake-accelerator’ (ordered from left to right on the floor) configuration among all Army vehicles as the preferred design which at the time was not always a given nor was it among the various classes of vehicles in the convoy. Fortunately for us, the configuration stuck through today- making learning to drive the Liberty in 2018 far easier.

Check out this National Archives Film of the Convoy from YouTube!

Another draw back to the truck inherent in both experience and photographic evidence is the lack of any sort of tread or grip on the solid rubber tires. Having bogged down the truck myself in little more than wet grass, I can only imagine how many times the Class-B trucks and others found themselves slipping and becoming stuck- a fact proven by the many photos of wrecked, flipped or stuck trucks along the route. While chains were issued in a kit with the truck, they don’t appear to have helped or been used often.

LIberty off the road
One of the 22 Standard B Liberty Trucks encountered in the convoy, this one belonging to Co.E, 5th Engineer Regiment who were brought along to rebuild bridges and roads destroyed throughout the journey. Minor incidents like going off the road and breaking bridges were a daily occurrence on the convoy.  (photo courtesy of the Eisenhower National Archives Collection)

The trucks themselves were far from the only difficulty on the long journey across the United States. We take for granted the extensive system of paved roads we have in America- no matter their condition- but designated roads or paths weren’t a guarantee in 1919. In fact, by all accounts most paved or what we would called ‘improved’ roads essentially disappeared for the convoy west of Iowa. The route through Utah devolved into what was essentially sandy river and creek beds with the occasional wagon wheel ruts denoting them as regularly traveled.  On top of this there was the issue of bridges, for which the convoy brought an entire company of engineers- E Co., of the 5th Engineers to be precise. All along the route bridges would either be impassable, or left useless by the heavy trucks using them, resulting in the engineers having to rebuild over 80 bridges throughout the convoy route.

Liberty being pulled by another truck
A Class-B truck pulling another from the mire of western roads on the Lincoln Highway. The truck being pulled appears to have some sort of modification to the cargo body and has had its bows and canvas removed. The truck pulling it has a recruitment sign advertising ‘A clean start’ with the Motor Transport Corps. (photo courtesy of the Eisenhower National Archives Collection)

The convoy without a doubt played a huge roll in the future General-of-the-Army’s impressions on the importance of an interstate highway system. Spurred on by his roll in the 1919 convoy and further fueled by the road system he witnessed in Germany, Eisenhower would have been convinced fully of the need improved American automotive infrastructure. This year we mark the convoy’s 100th anniversary and as such, the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (of which the author is a member) will be traversing the very same route in a 100-vehicle convoy of historic military vehicles beginning August 10th in York, PA and ending 37 days later in Stockton, CA on September 15th. The convoy will include vehicles from the past 100 years of US military equipment and may also include one or two WW1-era vehicles. The convoy will make a stop at the First Division Museum in Wheaton, IL on Tuesday, August 20th and have all their vehicles out on display for the public throughout the afternoon. Be sure to check out their page at https://www.mvpa.org/convoys to see if they will be rolling through or stopping at a town near you!

HORNS 2- The Model 6 and Klaxon-3

As some of you regulars at the blog may have noticed, we already had a blog post about horns a number of months ago. You can see that post here if you missed it earlier. Since that time we had a brand new bracket custom fabricated for the horn to be mounted to the Liberty Truck’s firewall based on original examples. However we also experienced a loss of some storage space during that same timespan to the museum park’s horticulture team and their own fleet of vehicles, leaving us to do a massive reorganization within our motor pool in my absence. It is with a heavy heart that I must report that our Klaxonet push-horn since named ‘Jeffrey’ became a casualty of that chaotic move and is now floating in the eternal ether of missing garage parts, split pins and bolts. Our hearts and prayers are with our lonely little horn as we hope he shows up again one day…

Jeffrey the Horn RIP

With great sadness follows great joy! In my desperation and eventual acceptance of the loss of Jeffrey, I began to look for his replacement. I took this opportunity to reevaluate the use of horns with the Liberty- prior research had given me the general idea than the Klaxonet horns like Jeffrey were in fact the model used. However upon further inspection and some conferring with other Liberty Truck enthusiasts I took another look at some photos of existing trucks. The horns on the Fort Eustis’ and the Marine Corps Museum’s Liberty Trucks appear to be original to their respective trucks (Ft.Eustis’ served as our pattern for the repro horn mount in the first place). Despite looking nearly identical to the Klaxonet “Jeffrey”, these horns are in fact a totally different horn model:  E A Laboratories Model 6 which differs from the Klaxonet in only a few small details. Similar also but far easier to discern at a distance is the Klaxon-3: a longer bell but the same body style and push rod of the Klaxonet which NARA photos indicate was built under contract for government trucks at some point during WW1.

 

Liberty Horn contract photo from NARA
Klaxon-3 model horn built under contract for the government during the period of WW1. It can be assumed that this style was used on trucks like the Liberty and others built under government contract. (photo courtesy of the National Archives)

 

The longer Klaxon-3 model has been noted on some trucks but by far and away the majority have the shorter Klaxonet/E A Labs model 6 style. I have only seen a handful of original photos supporting the use of the Klaxon-3, but it was certainly used. One such example appears to be a truck assembled by the Velie Motor Company of Moline, Illinois. Appearing in a series of photos from an accident on a motor truck convoy, no other trucks leaving Velie I have found show the long type horn aside from this one convoy.

Velie Liberty Truck Camp Funston 3
Soldiers of Motor Truck Train #317 pose with their handiwork- a brand new wrecked liberty enroute from its assembly point at Velie Motor Company in Moline, Illinois to Camp Funston, Kansas. This truck appears to have a Klaxon-3 model with vertical push rod and also appears to be on a swivel, or severely bent mount.

 

Fast-forward a few more weeks as I scour eBay for research materials and the usual historical themes. What appears in my search results as I comb through various models of brass-era car horns? None other than an original E A Laboratories Model 6 horn with its ORIGINAL MOUNT.

 

I was instantly smitten and continued to monitor the horn, winning it in the final throws of a bidding war after several days. After further research and close observation, the horn is not only the correct model but appears to have formerly been mounted on an actual liberty truck. It retains original Olive Drab paint that matches other examples of surviving paint we have come across, as well as the fact that it has an original Liberty truck mount as well which fit our truck with no modifications whatsoever. And to top it off, the rear of the horn brandishes the infamous ‘USA’ stamped into parts contracted for the liberty truck design just like other parts on the truck such as our Adlake kerosene lights and oil cups. The parts Gods had smiled upon me that day and over 100 years later our horn is finally home, painted and mounted finally completing our Standard B truck.

 

First Division Liberty Truck, unknown year
A close up of a liberty truck in use by the 1st Infantry Division ca.1919-1920. Notice the obvious presence of the T-handle on the E A Labs Model 6 horn mounted to the firewall.

 

The new horn has a few small cosmetic nicks and dings, but unlike Jeffrey the bell is original to the body. After a short trip to the wire wheel, some primer and paint the horn is smooth, clean and mounted to the truck. The E A Labs Model 6 horn is truly the cherry on top for us as it was the last functional and cosmetic piece we were missing on the truck.

 

E A Horn Finished and mounted
Our new and final with original mount cleaned, painted and mounted to our 1918 Liberty; an E A Laboratories Model 6 T-handle push horn correctly stamped ‘USA’ for Liberty contracts in 1918.

Brakes: Stopping is Kind of Important.

The title says it all- stopping IS important. This is a lesson we learned very early on with our truck as soon as we began driving it around our park since our foot brake pedal seemed to be completely unresponsive- luckily our hand brake worked very well. This little issue started us on the path of familiarizing ourselves with the brake linkage system on the Liberty and just how it would work. We quickly found it was in theory a very simple system- but accessing and working on it is definitely not a one-man job. However, we found eventually that the system is about as basic as it gets but ‘simple’ doesn’t always translate to ‘simply fixed’…

Brakes - 1918 Instruction Book, Truck Class B, page 51
Brake drum image from page 51 of the Quartermaster Corps’ Standardized Military Truck, Class-B Instruction Book ca. late 1918. It’s a rather simple system with two brake shoes per drum on each rear wheel. The foot brake applies pressure to front shaft links (left) and the hand brake applies pressure to the rear shaft links (right).

To begin with, I should point out the obvious to anyone reading this: the brakes are fully mechanical. No hydraulics, cylinders or fluids involved whatsoever. This is a huge bonus both in terms of cleanup and also accessibility. As someone who has only recently become mechanically inclined, this was a perfect project to take on and a nice challenge for myself and our motor pool volunteers involved. Luckily the hand brake worked very well, allowing us to still be able to operate and drive the truck safely around the property in the meantime. Most of our issues were related to the brake shoe clearance and linkage adjustments.

Driving set up
The driving set-up for the Liberty is luckily very similar to the standard today-this arrangement was not always a guarantee during the early days of Army motorization. From Left to Right: Clutch, Foot Brake, Accelerator, Gearshift, Handbrake.

The brake system is a simple mechanical shaft linkage and drum system with adjustable linkage shafts, and shoes. From the center of the truck the lines split allowing either the foot or the handbrake to apply pressure to both wheels at the same time- the foot pedal applies to the forward set of brake shoe toggles, and the hand brake applies to the rear set. This means that if you prefer one over the other, you will unevenly wear the brake pads. With the amount of driving we do I’m not *too* worried about this, but its a factor to remember in the future for potential pad replacement. When working on the shoes and adjustment linkages in the drum, there is a convenient work window cut into the drum which allows you to access the system from the outside by just rotating the wheel by hand. This was particularly handy when replacing a broken shoe toggle tension spring.

FDM truck central brake linkages
Central brake linkage elevating the shafts over the center of the frame and the transmission. The foot brake shaft is to the left, and the handbrake to the right 

This broken spring was indicative of one of our greatest challenges working on anything related to this truck: a fear of breaking anything. While no mechanic wishes to break and replace a part, this is particularly worrisome with our truck as anything on it that is original is near impossible to replace. Most of the bolts, nuts and springs on our truck are in fact original, making work on them nail biting. In the case of our adjustment nuts, we are always wary of threading and breakages. Luckily in the process of adjusting we only broke one spring which was easily replaced to standard.

FDM truck foot brake linkage-rear
The brake toggle linkages are to the rear of the transmission and central linkages in the previous picture. It is from the toggles here that brake power from the hand and foot brakes are distributed to both rear wheel brake drums 

Over several weeks of maintenance meetings with our museum volunteers, it took us about 4 sessions of adjusting and testing the brakes and linkages before we got any noticeable result from the foot pedal. The difficulty in adjusting brake shoes to within 1/100th of an inch on a drum that is over 100 years old and slightly out-of-round was not lost on our crew as we eventually settled for best we could get. We have not yet observed any evidence of drag or pad residue from the shoes being too tightly adjusted, but can see one or two spots where there is a gap beyond the 1/100th of an inch stipulate din the 1919 truck manual. We’ve determined this to be unavoidable due to the condition and general age of the drum. Still waiting on Autozone to restock the Liberty drums…

Brake drum interior- rear right wheel
Interior of the brake drum on our truck’s rear right wheel. Note the foot brake (L) and Hand brake (R) linkages and how they apply to the front and back of the drum. You can also clearly see the front shoe adjustment toggles, spring and the clearance adjustment. The pads must be adjusted to around 1/100th of an inch clearance which was our biggest challenge.

 

At the end of the day through trial and error we managed to let out the foot pedal shaft adjustment as far as it would care to go, adjusted the brake clearance nuts and shoe toggles and ended up with a slightly more responsive pedal, which is better than it had been. However, the hand brake remains the most useful of the two. With the shaft adjustment as far out as possible I see no way of getting better leverage at the moment that would result in better applied brake pedal force, aside from fabricating an entirely new shaft linkage which is a future possibility.

This was more technical post than normal, but stay tuned for more historical info coming your way!

Taking the Truck Back to 1918!

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!

 

Carbide Generator Update: Well, at least it looks good… March 12th, 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!

Solar Brand early model Generator on FDM truck COMPLETE
The ‘Solar’ brand Model 712 Carbide generator cleaned, painted and mounted on the First Division Museum’s second-series Class-B standardized ‘Liberty’ truck. Though an older model, it is nearly identical in dimensions and features to the 1012-B model intended for the truck.

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.

A New Branch for a New Army: The brief life of the US Army Motor Transport Corps

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.

Motor Tranpsort Poster
A 1919 Recruitment Poster for the Motor Transport Corps showing the branch insignia (a winged helmet inside a truck tire) and a Packard 3-ton styled truck in the back ground.

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.

Le Hauvre Motor Reception depot, 1918
A chaotic scene at Le Havre, one of the premier Motor truck reception ports in France. In this  photo 3 different types of US motor vehicles are immediately identifiable including the Liberty, FWD trucks, and Dodge touring car. The back of the photo reads “Motor Reception park at Le Havre, Base sec, no.4, where 1500 cars a month are assembled and repaired for use as convoys with equipment from port to front. M.T.C., Le Havre, Seine Inferieure, France, Dec.14, 1918.” (photo courtesy of McCormick Research Center archives)

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.

693rd MTC Company, 1920s
An undated post card showing a Motor Transport Company (#693?) lined up in review, most likely for a command inspection during the period of the Motor Transport Corps. All the trucks appear to be Second-series models pointing to this photo having been taken in the United States somewhere after the war- most likely around 1920-21. (photo courtesy of the First Division Museum Motor Pool collection)

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.

FWD recovers a Liberty truck
A commercial 3-ton truck belonging to Service Park Unit 595 recovers a Liberty truck that has gone a bit too off-road somewhere along the 3600-mile route of the ‘Eisenhower’ MTC Trans-Continental Motor Convoy, 1919.

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!

Trucks in Foreign Service: Ciężarówki Liberty z Polski!

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.

France, June 6, 1919
A storage yard in France ca. June 1919 stocked almost entirely with Class-B Standardized Liberty trucks.

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.

Polish AirForce truck, 1919
A First-series Liberty truck on a railcar ca.1920-21 with Polish Air Force markings on the side. One of an estimated 15 which were initially allocated to the Air Forces and remained in service with the Polish Army as late as 1939. This is one of the few known photos of the truck in service during the post-WW1 era with Poland. 

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!

THE ARMISTICE IS SIGNED! The Centennial of the End of WW1 and our Liberty turns 100…

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’.

Driving the truck

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!

AT LAST! A Carbide Generator! Parts Update #2

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!

Solar Brand early model Generator on FDM truck 1
Our newly acquired ‘Solar’ Carbide gas generator for the Liberty Truck. While not the same model as used on them originally, it is of a very close style and dimensions which will allow us to mount and potentially use it with some small modifications.

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…

Solar Brand early model Generator on FDM truck 2
Close up of the model number and maker marks on our ‘new’ generator

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.

Solar Brand early model Generator on FDM truck 3
The generator is in fantastic condition. Note the two-headed gas feeder. The internals of the water reservoir appear to be fairly clean and free of too much build-up. With some cleaning and minor modifications it should be in working condition!

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….

HORNS!- Truck Parts update and brief history

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.

front view
A very clear photo of a short-bell Hand-Klaxonet style horn mounted on an early production First-series truck.

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.

Horn mount on MCM
The Hand-Klaxonet-style horn and mount used on the Marine Corps Museum’s second-series truck. Note the contact points where it is mounted.

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.

Horn mount from Manual
Horn and mount as outlined by the 1918 Liberty Truck manual (Photo courtesy of Adrian Winget)

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!