We Make Trucks and Truck Accessories: Liberty Truck Production PART 1

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”.

Cylinder Department, Waukesha Motor Co., 1918
Cylinder head production floor of the Waukesha Motor Co., Waukesha, WI, 1918

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.

Diamond-T Motor Car Co., assembly of trucks alongside civilian models, April 30, 1918
A truly amazing photograph of the factory floor at the Diamond T Motor Company in Chicago, IL ca. April of 1918. Quartermaster corps soldiers are learning to assemble the Class-B Liberty alongside civilian workers in the two rows to the right, while non-military truck models are also built in the assembly lines to the left. The soldiers were from Camp Dodge, IA and would eventually drive the vehicles once completed via convoy back to their camp. One of these trucks could very well be the surviving 1st-series truck which is on display today in the Iowa ‘Gold Star’ Museum at Camp Dodge.

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

 

Brockway Motor Truck Co. delivery convoy, Cortland NY. November 25, 1918
24 trucks in a delivery convoy from the Brockway Motor Truck Company, part of the nearly 600 trucks assembled by the company under contract during the war.

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.

Bethlehem Motor Co. liberty Truck, 1918
An early First-Type truck made by the Bethlehem Motors Corporation in Allentown, PA most likely around early 1918. Note the wooden-spoke wheels and SAE brass plate on the side of the seat box.

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!

 

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