Wheels at Work
From tractors, taxi cabs, and tow trucks, the “Wheels at Work Exhibition” provides an in-depth look at the universe of vehicles that went to work.
GRAND UNION TEA COMPANY MARKET WAGON
Today we know the Grand Union Company as a supermarket chain with some 222 markets in six Northeastern states, but like most chains, the company traces its origin to a single store, the Jones Brothers Tea Co. in Scranton, PA.
Founded by brothers Cyrus, Frank, and Charles Jones in 1872, the company soon expanded to eastern Pennsylvania, New York and even Michigan. The chain’s headquarters and a warehouse facility were eventually established in Brooklyn, NY and the company name changed to the more familiar Grand Union Tea Company (1928).
By 1912, Grand Union had become a 200-outlet chain store with operations across the country, with the company’s growth also supported by some 5,000 door-to-door salesmen who delivered goods in horse-drawn wagons. Purchased by the Voss family in October, 1993 from Martin Auctioneers, Inc. of New Holland, PA., this is a prime example of those wagons and a lasting symbol of the once great corporation. It is currently valued in the $3500+ range.
Grand Union’s company headquarters would later be moved to Elmwood Park, NJ and the company became a major player in America’s supermarket wars before market forces led to financial problems and a vast reduction in the number of Grand Union supermarkets. But through it all, this wagon has remained the historical symbol of Grand Union.
1925 Ford Model TT Popcorn Wagon
The 1925 Model T Ford originally purchased by Albert Rich of Cambridge, New York was a specialty vehicle made by C. Cretor that used a white gas powered engine that had a steam driven powerhouse for cooking up tasty popcorn, hot dogs and other treats. The unique vehicle, only one of two of its kind ever made, was driven by Rich, and then his daughter Dorothy Rich Madison, and became a mainstay for creating summertime memories along the Eastern Seaboard. “Dottie was 93 when she came to the museum for lunch and told us all about the machine,” recalls Bob Bailey, Chairman of the museum’s Board of Trustees. Her family had traveled the fair circuit, working in Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut as well as much of eastern New York. Her father also drove the Model T to Florida for a number of years to work fairs in the winter. After her father’s death at age 83, Dottie began selling popcorn herself on the weekends and later expanded to the Saratoga thoroughbred track, working through her vacation from her “regular” job. In her later years, she stayed in downtown Cambridge and people came to her, stoking fond memories for many generations of New Yorkers. “There were three of us in tight quarters at the Saratoga Race Course, plus my brother worked in the back, keeping us in supplies,” said Kim Klopstock, local restaurateur, “We went literally non-stop, looking out at a sea of people. Most of the customers were from far away and were just attracted by the novelty of the machine. It was country coming to high-style racing!” What a combination! Country charm, high style, an antique vehicle and great tasting popcorn. That’s a winning bet anywhere.
1954 INTERNATIONAL HARVESTER STEP VAN
When Ralph W. Grasso emigrated from Italy to Brooklyn, NY in 1921, little did he know that he was beginning a saga that would lead to a Saratoga Springs summer tradition and the purchase of a step van that would become a Saratoga icon for generations of Italian Ice lovers.
A mason by trade, Grasso moved upstate in 1925 and held a steady job as a mason, earning the princely sum of $13 a week, until he was injured in a South Broadway construction site cave-in. Lacking similar employment when he recovered, Grasso went into the “lemon ice” business in the early 1930’s, squeezing the lemons and oranges by hand and using hand-cranked freezing buckets packed with salt and ice to produce the finished product.
In 1938, Grasso purchased his first truck, replacing his familiar pull wagon, and eventually upgraded to the 1954 International step van so familiar to Saratogians young and old. Older residents still tell tales of sitting on the flat surface in the front of the van so they could ring the antique bell for Grasso, who continued to make ices through the summer of 1985 before passing away in December at the age of 86.
Four generations of the Grasso family have sold ices from the truck, always using the recipes Ralph Sr. perfected “back in the day.” Lemon and cherry were available every day, with the third choice rotating among lime, watermelon, root beer, grape and strawberry. But no matter your choice, quality was assured. And for “car guys,” purchasing their favorite from what became a vintage truck made the treat sweeter yet.
The Metro step van was also known as a “walk-in” or “multi-stop delivery truck” and was adapted for such various uses as milk and bakery delivery, ambulances, mobile offices and radio transmitter vans. The driver could stand or sit while driving the inline 6-cylinder powered truck.
Produced from 1938-1975 and sold around the world, the step van’s bodies were fabricated at the Metropolitan Body Co. factory in Bridgeport, CT, then shipped to IH to be mated to the chassis. Designed by Raymond Loewey of Studebaker and Coke bottle design fame, the step vans were adapted to untold uses and have become highly collectible vehicles in recent years.
1940 GMC TOW TRUCK
Back in the day, automobile dealerships, repair shops and body shops all had tow trucks rather than relying on towing services. Most trucks were a compromise size-wise, somewhat larger than needed for towing automobiles and a bit small for tractor trailers. But when it came to winching a wrecked automobile or delivery truck out of a ditch, wreckers like this GMC were perfect for the job.
Powered by a 228 cu. In. inline six-cylinder engine working through a 4-speed manual transmission, the GMC sports a Holmes Wrecker Towing Assembly, one of just 200 built with the wood floor option.
Holmes held the original patent for tow trucks, with their mechanisms originally mounted on the rear of stripped down automobiles before the more expensive truck mounted units became standard. And anyone who had cranked the gear reduction winches of the “old days” certainly appreciated the “modern” winches connected to the truck’s power take-off unit.
Lomanto, longtime owner of Clinton Collision, found this truck rusting away in a junkyard some 35 years ago after years of use by Nichols Garage in Clinton. He then worked on the restoration for four years before a lack of time to devote to the project caused it to be shelved.
The truck sat until three years ago, when Lomanto passed the project on to Steve Hale of Steve’s Restorations and Hot Rods in Frankfort, NY. Hale, a Clinton native who is familiar to “car guys” from his American Restoration show on The History Channel, had a strong personal connection to the project.
“Joe helped me out when I first got started in this business,” recalled Hale. “I’ve always looked up to him as a good businessman and rebuilding this truck was a great opportunity to work with him again.”
Hale ended up fabricating and painting all new steel bed sides and inner wheel housings for the wrecker body, along with a custom wood floor. He also had to bring the wheels, cab, fenders and all the chrome back to original condition before the front portion could be painted by the Clinton Collision crew.
Proving that the restored truck is as good for “go” as it is for “show,” Hale drove the immaculate GMC from Utica to Saratoga Springs for installation in the “Wheels at Work” exhibit.
1957 INTERNATIONAL S-120 CIVIL DEFENSE RESCUE VEHICLE
Winner of “Favorite Truck” honors at a recent Hemmings Cruise-In, this immaculate truck was restored from the ground up by former owners Ed and Donna Baldygas, who acquired it from the Southridge, MA Fire Department.
After the specter of possible nuclear war with the USSR passed in the early 1960’s, Civil Defense officials had transferred the vehicle to the fire department, which used it until it became too old for their needs. The Baldygas family then purchased the low mileage but “rough” vehicle and embarked on the restoration.
Havens first encountered the truck at the American Truck Historical Society’s National Show in West Springfield, MA in 2012, then had to wait until June of 2015 before Ed Baldygas decided it was time to sell his jewel.
The 4-WD truck came with the winch and all the Civil Defense gear Baldygas had collected. While large, it’s actually a “light-duty” CD truck and is mounted on a 3/4-ton chassis. Other options when Civil Defense seemed a priority included “medium-duty” trucks with a 10,000-20,000-pound GVW and “heavy-duty” vehicles with a GVW over 20,000-pounds, nicknamed Calamity Janes.
The original complement of life-saving gear included self-contained breathing apparatus, axes, crowbars, asbestos blankets, rubber boots, chains, sledge hammers, first aid kits, stretchers a 1,500-watt generator, radios, resuscitators and more: anything and everything that officials could imagine might be needed to help people survive a catastrophe.
The S-120 was powered by International’s optional 264-cu.in. Black Diamond six-cylinder engine, which produced some 153 horsepower at 3,800 RPM and 248-lb.ft. of torque at 2,400 RPM. A four-speed “crash box” transmission was standard along with unassisted steering and brakes.
In the event of a missile attack, Civil Defense teams across the nation were set to roll in similar rigs following protocols set forth by the Federal Civil Defense Administration. The FCDA had been formed in 1950, following a Soviet nuclear test in August, 1949, through an executive order issued by President Harry S. Truman.
Local teams were comprised of volunteers, with relatively little federal money allocated for support. When the trucks were deemed to be no longer needed, they were sold off or scrapped. Fortunately, this vehicle’s uniqueness was eventually recognized and it was saved for posterity.
PORT AUTHORITY POLICE JEEP FROM 9/11
In the aftermath of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey established a K-9 bomb detection program. As part of that ongoing program, bomb technician David Lim and his beloved dog, Sirius, were using this Jeep Cherokee on September 11, 2001, the day the Twin Towers were attacked.
Although Sirius died when the towers collapsed, David Lim was one of fourteen survivors rescued from the site after both towers came down.
Lt. Lim had been in the basement below the World Trade Center's South Tower with his K-9 partner Sirius when he felt the building violently tremble. Feeling duty-bound to assist potentially injured civilians, Lim took time to secure Sirius in his kennel and then went to investigate the disruption, telling his partner, "I'll be back for you."
After miraculously surviving the collapse of the North Tower, Lim's first instinct was to find Sirius, but he was rushed to an ambulance and brought to St. Vincent's Hospital for treatment of injuries he had sustained from the collapse. Unfortunately, Sirius was not as lucky as Lim. His remains, recovered in the winter of 2002 in the wreckage of the South Tower, were ceremoniously removed from Ground Zero with a full honor guard in a manner befitting a hard-working member of the PAPD.
Lim has since donated items in memory of Sirius to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, including a training leash and one of Sirius' badges. Additionally, he gifted the soiled boots and gun belt that he had worn on September 11, 2001 as vestiges of his remarkable survivor story.
By itself, this Jeep Cherokee, demolished when the South Tower collapsed, is just a garden-variety patrol vehicle. But when you factor in what it represents – Lim’s extraordinary devotion to duty, Sirius’ ultimate sacrifice and the untold horror inflicted on thousands of our citizens by the attack on the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers – the Jeep holds major significance for each and every one of us.
1965 CHECKER TAXI CAB
When one envisions a taxi in New York City, this car, done up in “Park Avenue” livery, is the one that comes to mind. Generations of Americans have either ridden in a Checker cab or watched countless movie and TV characters traverse the city in one. But surprisingly, the Checker’s roots are in Chicago, not New York.
The Checker Cab Co. originated in Chicago, using vehicles manufactured in Joliet, IL until production was shifted to Kalamazoo, MI in the 1920’s. By the 1930’s, the company was dominant, having merged with their chief competitor, John Hertz’s Yellow Cab Co.
Checkers became common, though not dominant, in other US cities. Then they got a big boost when NYC Mayor Jimmy Walker (1926-’32) created the NYC Taxi Cab Commission in hopes of settling an ongoing “taxi cab war.” The Commission limited the number of medallions available and also mandated seating for five in the rear of the cab, greatly favoring the Checker’s spacious design.
Production halted during WW II, with the Checker assembly line cranking out vehicles for the war effort, and the first post-war Checkers used pre-war mechanics covered with more modern sheet metal. The basic look would be maintained for many years, with most changes related to updated safety standards.
In 1954, New York’s 5-passenger mandate was removed and a maximum wheelbase of 127” instituted, effectively cutting Checker out of the market until the 120” wheelbase Model A-8 was introduced in December of 1956. This would be the standard Checker design until production ended in 1982.
An inline 6-cylinder Continental engine was used through 1965, when Chevrolet OHV 6-cylinders became the standard powerplant, though Chevrolet V-8’s were offered as an option.
In addition to cabs, Checker offered deluxe passenger cars and even customized vehicles designed to accommodate wheel chairs and a stretched version designed for use as an airline shuttle.
This Checker features a Chevrolet V-8 engine. A peek in the back window will reveal a huge back seat supplemented by two small “jump seats” to meet the required five-passenger capacity. And a careful reading of the prices displayed on the door – 35 cents for the first 1/5 mile and a nickel for each additional 1/5 of a mile – will show how the cost of a ride has increased since the mid-1960’s.
1946 CHEVROLET SUBURBAN
The Chevrolet Suburban, first introduced in 1936, was based on a commercial panel truck and was thus larger and sturdier than station wagons of the day. Instead of having a huge, windowless cargo area, there was a large passenger compartment that made it ideal for transporting patrons from train stations to hotels, ski lodges and resorts across the nation, assuming you had a sturdy roof-rack for the luggage.
The GMC Suburban, launched in 1937, was the same vehicle in slightly different trim. Both featured a crank-out windshield, for ventilation through the gap created at the bottom, and a number of optional seating patterns.
Basically truck-based station wagons, the early Suburbans had two doors (not counting the two-piece tailgate) and accommodated three rows of seats that held up to eight passengers. The most common power plant of the day, an inline six cylinder, powered the first Suburbans. With but 90 horsepower, the 217 cubic-inch six had its work cut out when moving passengers and their luggage through the Adirondacks or the Rockies.
Also known as a “carry-all suburban” and a “suburban carry-all,” this vehicle represents the second-generation design. A styling update and use of the 228 cubic inch six-cylinder marked this version, which first appeared in 1941. Production was then halted for WW-II in 1943, except for a limited number of “staff cars” produced for the war effort.
When production of civilian vehicles resumed in 1946, the 1941 design was used initially. Periodic updates have followed since and today the four-door Suburban is a large, upscale, air-conditioned “people mover” popular with both families and businesses.
This Suburban, which resides alongside a similar ’46 version in the Taylor collection, is painted in the exact color scheme used by the Franklin Mint for their popular models, though Taylor is unsure if the Mint copied this vehicle’s paint scheme or if the Suburban was repainted to match the Franklin Mint product before he purchased it. Either way, the Suburban is touted by General Motors as the longest running, continuously made model in the world and remains a highly regarded vehicle for both work and pleasure.
1925 MODEL T PICKUP
When Jim Taylor’s grandfather opened his first canvas products shop on Bleeker Square in Gloversville in 1908, he did not have a truck. But as the business grew and Henry Ford’s Model T’s became common, he used a pickup exactly like this to distribute his products around the area.
After finding a photo of the truck in front of the original shop, Taylor and his crew did this exact reproduction of the long-lost Model T to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the family business, now known as Taylor Made Products.
“He sold and installed car tops, tents and awnings,” recalls Taylor. “We got into boat products after WW II, then in the 50’s my father came up with a wraparound plexi-glass windshield for boats. That was the infancy of the pleasure boat industry.
“We eventually expanded to tempered glass and now do glass for everything from small boats to ‘super yachts’ along with original equipment canvas for boat manufacturers and a variety of other products. But our growth all goes back to the days of the Model T truck.”
Officially listed as a “Model T Runabout with Pickup Body” when they were introduced in 1925, the trucks came in one color and model and retailed for $281 F.O.B. Detroit, meaning that just like today, shipping to the local dealer was extra.
The steel pickup body, small by today’s standards, was 55” long, 40” wide and 13” high with stake pockets on the side and an adjustable tailgate. And just like today, a heavy duty one-ton Model TT with an 8’ Express Body could be ordered at extra cost.
Some 33,800 units were sold in 1925 and the steady progression to the beloved pickup trucks of today was underway.
Overall, Model T’s were built from 1908 until 1927. Assembly-line production allowed the price of the touring car version to be lowered from $850 in 1908 to less than $300 in 1925 and, at one time, 40% of the vehicles sold in America were Model T’s.
Known as the “Tin Lizzie,” the T was offered in multiple body styles, including a five-seat touring car, a two-seat runabout, and a seven-seat town car, all mounted on a uniform 100-inch-wheelbase chassis.
The engine was simple and efficient with four cylinders cast in a single block and a detachable cylinder head. It produced 20 HP and gave the T’s a top speed of 40–45 mph. After 1920, some models were offered with an electric starter, but the great majority required cranking by hand.
The planetary-style transmission had two forward gears and one reverse, all controlled by foot pedals, while spark and throttle were controlled by a hand lever on the steering column. The “gravity feed” 10-gallon fuel tank was under the front seat and the combination of this and reverse gear offering the most power meant that the Model T often had to be driven up a steep hill backward.
Looking back, we find the Model T to be primitive, but at the time it offered a huge life-style improvement to Americans in general and rural residents in particular.
1952 FERGUSON TRACTOR
Designed by Englishman Harry Ferguson, the Ferguson TE 20 became as common in the United States as it was in England. Manufactured from 1946-52, the gray tractors were light-weight, reliable and affordable and soon became standard on farms around the world. Today, these tractors are in demand as collector items.
The TE Model’s 1946 debut in England was the culmination of three decades of development by Ferguson, who started working on plows and linkage to connect implements to tractors in 1916. His three-point hitch, introduced in the early 1930’s, became the standard world-wide and is still used today.
The TE series of tractors was introduced in England in 1946, but by then Ferguson had entered into a business relationship with Henry Ford (1938) that saw Ford Fergusons produced in Detroit. Some 300,000 were built through the end of production in 1947.
During the war years, the Ferguson design team developed many improvements to both tractor and implements and started to make arrangements to manufacture in the United Kingdom. The agreement with Ford in 1938 was to include production at the Ford plant at Dagenham, Essex, but the UK Ford company would not do it. By 1945, Ferguson had made an agreement with the Standard Motor Company of Coventry to produce his tractors, setting up production in a huge airplane engine factory left vacant at the end of the war.
Tractors began to roll out of the Coventry plant in the late summer of 1946, but when production at the Ford plant in Detroit ended, Ferguson was left with implements produced in the US to sell but no tractors. He then imported some 25,000 tractors built in Coventry to meet demand until his new Detroit facility was up and running in late 1948. All told, nearly a million Ferguson tractors were built between 1936 and 1956.
Harry Ferguson merged his worldwide companies with Canadian manufacturer Massey-Harris in 1953, three years before TE and TO20 production ended, with newer models bearing the name 'Massey-Harris-Ferguson' replacing the old favorite in 1955.
“I bought this Ferguson used from our local tractor dealership,” recalls Biebel. “They’d taken it in trade on a new tractor from the original owner, who’d purchased it new from them in 1952. So I’m just the second owner and I’ve had it for almost 20 years. For about ten years, I used it to skid logs on our property, then they became popular with collectors and I decided to restore it to ‘almost new’ condition and add it to my car and truck collection. For a lot of people, it brings back great memories!”
1952 UNIVERSAL JEEP CJ3A
This Jeep was originally ordered from Wiley Bros. and Lewis Packard-Willys of West Chester, PA in January, 1951 by Arthur Knorr, a producer of the Milton Berle TV show and the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. He lived on Central Park West in New York City, but also had property in Pennsylvania.
Fitted with power take-offs both front and rear, a pulley drive and a hydraulic implement lift, it was purchased with attachments that included a buzz saw, a lift grass cutter and a hydraulic snow plow. More standard options included a front-mounted winch, front and rear tops, floor mats, a hood lock, propeller shaft guards, a radiator cover, a governor and a heater and defroster.
A ¾ ton dump trailer was also purchased at the same time, with Knorr using the Jeep and trailer on his Pennsylvania estate until his wife passed away in 1993, at which time he sold them to Joe Copnio. They eventually passed to the Jim Taylor collection and the Jeep may well be the lowest mileage 1952 CJ in existence, with some 1,698 miles showing on the odometer. The mileage may be attributed to the fact that it was used for work, not as a road vehicle.
Unlike many acquisitions, this Jeep came with all the original bills of sale, correspondence with the dealer and even the original manual, making it a rare find interesting both for its mechanical options and its documented background.
1929 MODEL A MAIL TRUCK
By the time production of Henry Ford’s life-altering Model T ended in June of 1927, some 15 million T’s had rolled off his assembly line. It took six months for the lines to be updated and parts readied for the debut of the Model A, but in December they began rolling off the assembly line.
At first, the only truck available was an Open Cab model with a soft-top, canvas side curtains and a Model T pickup box. But the mechanics were fresh, with a new frame design holding a 40 hp 200 cubic inch 4-cylinder engine mated to a new three-speed transmission. This transmission used the familiar “H” shifting pattern that was much easier to master than the T’s planetary transmission, which required three pedals to operate.
Standard equipment included a 6-volt electric starter, a fender-mounted spare tire, 4-wheel mechanical brakes and a hand-operated windshield wiper. An all steel bodied Closed Cab with roll-up windows followed in 1928 and by the following year, a number of body styles suited to various needs were available.
A prime example is this mail truck, with a wooden body designed for that particular purpose mounted on the standard chassis. Even the floor is wood, a design whose time would soon pass.
At the time, Ford had 30% of the entire automotive market and was, not surprisingly, the largest supplier of Post Office trucks as well. Their 64.7% share of the total far exceeded Chevrolet’s, with 20.3%, and Hudson/Dover/Essex at 15%. In most instances, Ford and Chevrolet bids were within a few dollars of each other and some 50% better than other competitors. Ford’s huge Dearborn operation also supplied half of the truck bodies, no matter which chassis they were mounted on.
One item of special interest is the large padlock used to prevent theft through the truck’s rear doors. While effective, it begs the question of why a thief would not just jimmy a side door instead.
1942 Ford Jeep GPW
Originally manufactured in April of 1942 as part of the nation’s massive war effort, this Jeep still invokes images of a dark time in our nation’s history, when the world was at war and hundreds of thousands of our men and women were fighting overseas. On the home front, factories ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week cranking out vehicles, tanks, airplanes, ships and munitions for the US armed forces and our allies.
All told, 277,896 “Jeeps” were built by Ford during WW ll, while Willys built even more, some 361,339 units. Parts were interchangeable, no matter which assembly line a particular Jeep rolled off.
The designation GPW indicated the following: “G” was for “government vehicle,” while “P” identified the Jeep as an “80-inch wheel base reconnaissance vehicle/one-quarter ton truck.” The “W” showed it was a Willys.
With war under way in Europe, the Army had realized that its reconnaissance and general use vehicles were outmoded. When they decided to update their equipment, just 11 days were allocated for bidders to submit their designs. After that, manufacturers were given 49 days to submit a prototype and 75 days to produce 70 test vehicles.
Willys-Overland was the low bidder on the project but American Bantam got the bid and produced the first model for testing. But when they could not meet the government’s quota of 75 units a day, production contracts went to Ford and Willys.
The Army's Ordnance Technical Committee specifications were demanding: the vehicle would be four-wheel drive and hold a crew of three on a wheelbase of no more than 80 in. and a track of no more than 47 inches. It had to have a fold-down windshield, a 660 lb. payload and be powered by an engine capable of 85 ft/lb of torque. The most daunting demand was an empty weight of no more than 1,300 lb., all of which were met.
As for the name “Jeep,” the origin is less clear. Some say that “Jeep” was a common term used for all prototypes at military proving grounds. The term was also used for heavier equipment. For example, in the armor branch, "jeep" generally referred to a 1/2 or 3/4 ton truck, with the 1/4 ton called a "peep." The militarized Minneapolis-Moline tractor was also known as a "jeep", named for a cartoon character, and some heavy equipment transporters were known as "jeeps" by 1940.
Many believe “Jeep” was a slurring of an unused acronym, "GP" for "General Purpose", but the most popular explanation is that soldiers named it after Eugene the Jeep from the Thimble Theatre comic strip. Eugene the Jeep was Popeye's "jungle pet" and was "small, able to move between dimensions and could solve seemingly impossible problems".
No matter the origin of the name, the Voss family purchased this excellent example in unrestored condition in April of 1999 and completed a full restoration some four years later.
What is important about the vehicle is not the name, it’s the history it represents and the huge contribution to maintaining our freedom represented by all Jeeps of this design. And when American Bantam went bankrupt in 1950, Willys and its successors acquired a trademark that is still part of our automotive world today.