The Truck Body Part 1- an Odyssey in Wood!

One of the most important parts about a truck of any type is its ability to carry things. Presumably, in a large type of box or carrying contraption attached to the vehicle somewhere. The Standard B ‘Liberty’ was nothing special in this regard, but for those of us at the First Division Museum, finding out the details of something presumed to be so simple was far from it!

 

Liberty carrying Escort Wagon, War Bond Drive
A Type 1 Liberty truck carrying a Model 1901 Escort Wagon-the Army’s primary mode of transportation prior to the advent of motorized vehicles. The difference in carry capacity is obvious, but the escort wagon continued to see widespread use in the US and Europe during and after the war.

 

Wooden Cargo Bodies
Loosely based on dimensions of previously produced horse-drawn escort wagons of the late 1800s, the cargo bed or ‘body’ of the truck as it is frequently referred to in source documents, came in two variations: wood and steel. The wooden body was the first and most prevalent style used and approved by the government design board for the Quartermaster Corps in 1917. It was used on most Type 1 Liberty Trucks produced during the war and built at the International Harvester Corporation’s Deering Plant in Chicago, IL. So far as my research has yielded two other companies, JG Brill&Co. of Philadelphia, PA and Kundtz & Co. of Cleveland, OH produced the wooden cargo body.

The floor of the wooden cargo bed had two large removable panels which allowed for maintenance access to the drive train and rear drive transfer case avoiding the removal of the bed entirely from the frame in the event of work needing to be done. After some in-depth observation and study from multiple surviving wooden cargo bed examples, our own restoration team discovered that all wood used in the cargo body was tongue and groove which made for a much better fit and longer lasting body. This allowed many originals to keep warping to a minimum for far longer. This small but important detail is one often missing from other restored trucks as most originals having rotted away are rebuilt, often to simplified modern specs and with modern materials. The 1917 specs mentioned specifically the types of wood to be used and where on the body:

“The sides, head, and tail board and floor to be of best quality yellow pine, poplar, cottonwood or gum. The side stakes, bolsters, sills, top bows, and ridge pole may be made of best quality white oak, ash, rock elm, or hickory.”

War Department Specifications for Class-B Truck Body
Fig.1- Dimensions of the cargo body as stipulated by the War Department in 1917. The drawing was later made public in an April 1918 issue of The Automobile, a civilian motoring magazine which featured many articles and advertisements referencing the exciting new development of the standardized military truck. (photo Courtesy of McCormick Research Library)

All fasteners and hardware for the bodies were made of cast iron produced by the Eberhard Manufacturing Co. in Cleveland, Ohio. Paint was also applied to the beds, depending on the manufacturer, by a large dipping-vat method of chaining-up whole completed sections of the body and submerging them in paint. (see upcoming posts on paint for the Liberty truck for more info on that front!)

McCormick Works June 1918
Fig.2- A completed and assembled wooden Class-B body outside the McCormick-Deering Plant in Chicago, IL in June, 1918. In general design and shape, it’s not unlike horse-drawn wagons of the Civil War Era- just a bit wider. (Photo Courtesy of Navistar Corporate Historian)

In making our own truck body, Tom Bailey of Firebrand LLC in Woodstock, GA has been working hard to assemble and complete a cargo body with new wood and original hardware (fig.3). Our type 2 Liberty truck now has a wooden cargo body using components from two partially surviving cargo bodies which have been restored or partially reproduced to ensure the most historically accurate truck possible. Tom has taken great pains to ensure the wood used is the proper type recommended by the War Department, as well as being tongue-and-groove boards which interlock allowing the cargo bed to keep from warping less than many restorations done with standard treated 2x4s. The wood used throughout the truck on our type 2 is majority poplar with white oak interspersed for structural purposes as outlined by the War Department in 1917.

 

Completed bed before paint 1
Fig.4- Our class-B wooden cargo body prior to painting and fixture to the vehicle. The body was built by Tom Bailey at Firebrand LLC using proper tongue-and-groove boards. A handful of the steel hardware items had to be reproduced but were otherwise all original, restored and  primed.

This, to the best of our knowledge, is one of the most accurately re-built cargo bodies yet done on a surviving Liberty Truck. As of April 2018 the body has been affixed to the frame (see fig.4) along with the seat box bringing the truck one step closer to completion as well as finally looking more like a truck!

 

4 thoughts on “The Truck Body Part 1- an Odyssey in Wood!

  1. Sorry to bother again, but once again, where do you get your information about a steel body for the truck? All the primary source documents that are out there never stated anything about a steel body. Also the over 10,000 trucks produced prior to the wars end never had a steel body. Now the tires were made of either steel or wood, can you be messing up your research?

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    • Frank,

      As mentioned in the post, there is little known about the origins of the steel body. We have most of our documentation and info on the steel body from photo evidence form the NARA (we have another post about the steel bodies with photos coming up in the future). They are all noted as being cargo bodies for the Class-B truck and as such it is assumed they could have also been used on other similar 3.5-ton trucks of the period. Info is limited to quotations and captions on photographs taken by government regulators in 1918-19. I made it clear that they were by no means the most common cargo body style- I added them into the posts since I had the info, was intrigued by it and felt it was worth sharing in relation to the Class-B Liberty Truck. And yes, the wheels came in both steel and wooden variations but this is not a confusion.

      Documentation on these trucks is scant and far between as I’m sure you well know, so I like to share anything and everything I can when I find it. Thanks!

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      • I understand and thank you for your information. Just wanted to make sure you were clear. I read the second post and it is interesting. I will disagree on the use of steel bodies on Liberty Trucks. From all the research out there, steel bodies were of anything an experiment. Heck by time the first 10,000 trucks were built, the Army was already putting a hold on production. Just so you know, Class B refers to the weight/size of the truck, not to the specific “Liberty Truck.” It is a very common mistake.

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  2. I’m familiar with the weight class system and the differences; Class-B of course refers to the 3.5-5-ton weight class, just as the AA and A refer to their respective lighter classes and not specifically the “Liberty” that we are building. But as previously mentioned, I’m not entirely sure of the steel body’s use and production but felt it was an interesting topic in regards to WW1 truck design that I stumbled across repeatedly while studying photos from the National Archives. I felt after seeing photo after photo that it warranted a mention.

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