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 very Liberty-like truck in the background.

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… Now I am now and will forever remain on the lookout for the correct generator, but for the time being the 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 Klaxon-3 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 Klaxon-3 or ‘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 Klaxon mounted on an early production First-type 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 Klaxonet-style horn and mount used on the Marine Corps Museum’s 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 Liberty Truck manual ca.1918. (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!

Update: October 2018- ‘Nancy’s’ Brakes, Conventions, and Driving!

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!

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!

DSC_6172

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!

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!

 

Liberty Truck Lighting Systems PART 2: Did We Say Electric? We Totally Meant Gas and Oil…

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?

WRONG.

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.

Searchlight and Acetylene Generator Tank 4
Illustration of the second-series truck oil lamps and brackets for them from the Class B Standardized Military Truck Manual, 1919.

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.

Searchlight and Acetylene Generator Tank
Another illustration from the 1919 Motor Transport Corps truck manual showing the ‘Solar’ acetylene gas generator and search light system found on second series trucks.

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.

'Solar' Brand Acetylene Gas Generator
A Solar Model 1012-B Carbide Gas generator. This model, along with the 1011-B were found on the second-series liberty truck and typically painted drab to match the truck. The C.M. Hall Lamp Co. also produced electric lighting for the first-series truck under government contract.

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.

tool crib
A second-series truck languishing in what appears to be a truck dump somewhere more than likely post-war. Though blurry, the dash-mounted searchlight and Solar gas generator mounted on the firewall are clearly visible.

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.

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.

 

IT’S ALIVE!

 

At 1:30pm Eastern Standard time after over 10 years of blood sweat and tears from the combined efforts of three different Cantigny Park historic motor pool managers, a team of volunteers and professional restoration specialists, our Second series Class-B Standardized Military ‘Liberty’ Truck is ALIVE!!! The engine cranked right over and after a few small throttle and magneto adjustments ran smooth as silk and was shortly thereafter driven around the property of Firebrand LLC in Woodstock, GA. the truck drives flawlessly in forward and reverse gears and shifts perfectly and stops completely. The First Division Museum staff are extremely excited to finally see this decades-long project come to an end and bring the sights, sounds and smells of a war now 100 years past to life. A VERY special thanks to Tom Bailey at Firebrand for all his work in the last few months bringing our truck’s restoration to completion. We will be flying out to his shop at the end of the week to inspect, drive, and film the truck before its triumphant return to Cantigny Park!