The early 1900s brought dramatic change to the Northwest as Model Ts began challenging the horse and carriage in the transportation race.
In 1914, the war effort placed tremendous demands on railroads. The huge volume of supplies, troops and food overloaded the rail system. Trucks were called upon to ease the burden. Truck manufacturers and operators responded immediately, but it was apparent that, to get the job done, a good highway system was needed. The federal and state governments began by establishing highway commissions with responsibility for seeing that the roads were built and maintained. By the end of the war, the motor truck was firmly established as a viable and important means of transportation.
August Charles Fruehauf (1868-1930), was a blacksmith and carriage builder in the Detroit area. In 1914, he built a trailer at the request of a merchant to carry his pleasure boat. The merchant was please with the trailer so he asked Fruehauf to build additional trailers which the merchant would use to haul lumber and wood products. Fruehauf called his product a "semi-trailers".
Meanwhile, John C. Endebrock who had been working at the Sechler Company, a horse carriage maker, since round 1910, believed that the future would be in "truck trailers," and that the horse-drawn wagon would become obsolete. Endebrock developed a device for coupling trailers to a truck, which could be pulled by a Ford Model "T" passenger car. Endebrock's trailer design included angle iron chassis frames with crossmembers on spring hangers and artillery wheels. He introduced his new design in 1915 The name "Trailmobile" was chosen because the vehicle would "trail" behind an automobile.
It was during this same time that Seattle businessman Edgar Worthington was managing his mother's building, occupied by a car and truck dealership. Edgar took a special interest in his tenant, the Gerlinger Motor Car Company, watching as they worked to sell and repair cars and trucks. He never imagined that someday the company would be his.
For many years, Edgar looked on as the dealership went through growing pains. business was slow in this era of change, as Gerlinger mechanic Ed Hahn recalled:
"In those days there were so few trucks and cars, and there was no union, so as a mechanic, you had to stand around the garage—or in this case, the repair shop—and wait for work to come in. Sometimes you made five dollars a week and sometimes you didn't hardly make your board; then you'd have to leave and go do other work—sawmill work or something else. So we started building that first truck to keep help around."
That first truck, unveiled in 1915, was called the Gersix, a six-cylinder vehicle which was framed in structural steel, making it ideal for the rugged Northwest. According to Hahn:
"It took us nearly a year to complete. There were just two of us as mechanics, and as soon as something came in, we'd drop it and go overhaul a man's truck or reline some brakes. As soon as we finished all that, we'd go back to working on the first truck again—sometimes nothing would come in and we'd work all day on it."
Edgar's tenant was doing quite well, or so it seemed, and the Gersix became a popular fixture in the Northwest. However, the company, which had offices in Seattle and Portland, was struggling and in 1917, was offered for sale. Edgar jumped at the opportunity. Together with his partner Captain Frederick Kent, he acquired the company and renamed it the Gersix Motor Company.
In 1918, Fruehauf incorporated his trailer manufacturing business, and the Fruehauf Trailer Company was was formed.
That same year, Endebrock of Trailmobile, designed a devise that allowed a single driver to easily couple the tractor to the trailer. Until this time, three men were required to hook and unhook trailers. The new design used a jaw with a spring locking device mounted on a fifth wheel plate that was attached to the tractor frame. The fifth wheellocked into a king pin on the bottom of the front end of the trailers. This design is very similar to the tractor fifth wheel and trailer king pin used to couple tractors and trailers today.
In 1919, C.L. Cummins founded the engine company that bears his name and set about improving and popularizing the diesel engine.
After World War I, the years brought a steady increase in good roads plus an expanding economy, resulting in rapid growth for the trucking industry. Truck registrations exceeded one million.
The first truck stops were created providing truckers with fuel, food and a mattress in the back of the fuel station.
The 1920's were years of innovation. Balloon tires were introduced for trucks, the railroads established "piggy-back" service, the first mechanically refrigerated van was introduced, and in 1921, the first sleeper cabs appeared.
By 1925, there were 500,000 miles of hard surface roads in the United States,
and in 1926, a fully loaded two-ton truck was driven from New York to San Francisco in five days.
The 1930's saw the continued growth of long-haul trucking. Though sales were down, trucking was not as devastated by the Depression as many other businesses. New models and designs were continually introduced. Still, many companies fell into bankruptcy. One of these was the Fageol Motors Co. of Oakland, Calif., which for 17 years had produced rugged, heavy-duty trucks and luxury buses.
In 1931, C.L. Cummins made several highly publicized cross-country trips in trucks and buses powered by his engines and succeeded in selling the diesel engine to American truckers. Although business dropped off substantially during the Depression, innovations in truck design continued. The cabover increased in popularity. Except for some delivery services in large cities, horses had been replaced by trucks. The freight hauling revolution was complete in a quarter of a century.
Good fortune came to Kenworth in 1933 when it became the first American truck manufacturer to install diesel engines as standard equipment. It was a major development that allowed Kenworth to develop a powerful and durable line of diesel trucks.
The new trucks proved to be a big hit with customers, who also reaped the benefit of fuel savings—diesel was a mere third the price of gasoline.
However, diesel engines were not the only advancement Kenworth made in 1933. The company also sold its first sleeper cab to Central Grocery, in Yakima, Washington.
The year 1935 marked a challenge for truck manufacturers with the passage of the Motor Carrier Act. New regulations meant stiffer weight and size restrictions, prompting engineers to develop aluminum components. Kenworth trucks began to sport aluminum hubs and cabs. Kenworth trucks also featured six-wheel drive, hydraulic brakes, four-spring suspension, and rear axle torsion bar suspension.
The Waukesha Motor Co. and the Central Bank of Oakland operated Fageol from 1932 until 1938. That year, they sold it to T.A. Peterman, a logger and plywood manufacturer from Tacoma, Wash. Peterman had been rebuilding surplus army trucks and modifying old logging trucks for use in his business. By 1938, his lumber operations had expanded beyond the capabilities of his fleet. So he purchased the Fageol assets in order to build custom chain drive logging trucks.
While Henry Ford was cranking out hundreds of trucks a day, Peterman set his sights on building 100 trucks a year, concentrating on quality, not quantity. Factory records state that 14 trucks were shipped that partial first year, and 1940 production was 82 units. The incredible speed with which the Peterbilt truck gained acceptance in the trucking industry was a tribute to product quality.
In 1999 Idle Aire inventor