A Light in the Darkness: Liberty Truck Lighting systems PART 1- Electric

Illumination: a basic desire of anyone working at night or with terrible vision, or both! The Liberty was driven by people who found themselves in both those situations frequently- hopefully more of one than the other. Of course, lights for the trucks were a necessity and the Quartermaster Department saw to it that that the standardized Class-B truck had the best that could be offered at the time…at first.

To begin with we should state that there were two different lighting systems utilized by the Liberty Truck- electric for the First-series truck which was followed by what some would consider a step backwards in the form of Carbide gas and oil lamp lighting on the Second-series. The electric lighting system was a simple one attached to an acid battery which would require periodic recharging and distilled water refills. The electrical system is a hallmark of the first series of trucks. The wiring harness associated with the lighting system added a layer of complexity to the complete truck which may have influenced its removal in later series, but its usefulness was evident.

Battery assembly components manufactured by Vesta Accumulator Co., Chicago. October 31, 1918
The Battery used in the 1st-Series Class-B Standardized Truck with insulated wooden housing. Some battery components were manufactured and assembled at the Vesta Accumulator Company in Chicago, IL. This was one of 7 reported producers of batteries for the Class-B.

The system consisted of 2 adjustable-focus head lamps, 2 tail lamps, 2 small side lamps mounted near the front bumper support, and a single dash-mounted ‘trouble light’ which could be plugged-in to a socket to turn it on in case of emergency. The headlights were mounted to brackets on the exterior of the upper firewall above the engine housing. Each lamp could be adjusted to allow a more focused beam of light. We have little information on the output of the lights as far as brightness in actual practice, but given the technology of the day and standard 6V bulb brightness it was probably not the greatest…but at least it was better than candles. In fact, the 1918 ‘Standardized Military Truck Class-B Instruction Book’ lists the head lamps as containing ’21-candlepower bulbs’ when focused correctly at about 20 feet away. For comparison, your average 60W vehicle headlight nowadays is around 7,000 candlepower (abbreviated ‘cp’) measured at a distance of around 30 feet.

Electric Headlamps- page 41
Illustration of the first-series truck electric head lamp from page 41 of the ‘Motor Transport Corps Instruction Book, Class B Standardized Military Truck’ from 1919. This very rare instruction manual was released after WW1 and details many of the mechanical and cosmetic differences between first and second-series trucks. (photo courtesy of William ‘Adrian’ Winget digital collection)

For obvious reasons of detection and ‘tactical environments’ the tail, side and dash lights were all much less powerful than the head lamps containing 6V, 2cp bulbs. This would have provided enough illumination to aid close vision but remain hard to detect at a distance. The rear tail lights were circular and smaller in diameter to the headlights and mounted to brackets on the left and right of the rear bumper mounts. This was long before the time of blackout lights, so they just had to hope they were dim enough to avoid distant enemy detection…or just remove them outright.

Electirc system in use
Quartermaster Corps soldiers assemble a first-series truck and lower the firewall onto the frame at the Diamond-T Motor Car Co.,Chicago, IL. April 30, 1918. Note the head lamps and wiring harness prior to being installed. (photo courtesy of the National Archives)

The light assemblies were produced by four different companies, all of which were located in the Midwest-much like the rest of the truck’s components. These included the C.M.Hall Lamp Co. of Kenosha WI, the Indiana Lamp Co., Connersville IN, Edmunds and Jones Corp., Detroit MI, and the Guide Motor Lamp Manufacturing Co., Cleveland OH.  Many of these companies would continue to produce for military vehicles and become household names during and after WW2.

Test Vehicle, December 10th, 1917. 4
A good shot of the electric head lamps on a Class-B test truck in December, 1917. Note the prototype single-bolt bumper style which was replaced with a 4-bolt-per-side bumper on production first-series trucks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s