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More on the 1919 convoy for the antique truck and car fans

Ned Jilton II • Aug 14, 2019 at 5:15 PM

After last week’s column, I’m sure every antique truck and car enthusiast was very unhappy with me.

I could almost hear them. “Come on, Ned. How can you write about a cross-country convoy in 1919 and say nothing about the trucks?”

This week’s column will fix that.

Thanks to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, I was able to get a look at the detailed report filed by 1st Lt. E.R. Jackson in addition to then Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s report.

The convoy was made up of several different makes of cars and trucks, some familiar and some forgotten. Among the vehicles were Cadillacs, Dodges, Whites, Garfords, GMCs, Macks, Packards and Rikers.

Jackson’s report is quite detailed and 30 pages long. It makes interesting reading, for some, but space is limited, so I’ll try to hit the highlights along with a couple of comments from Eisenhower.

At the top of Jackson’s list is the Cadillac.

“In general, the operation of the two Cadillac touring cars and the search-light truck was satisfactory and these three vehicles required but little attention. Although the Cadillac used by the expeditionary commander covered approximately double the mileage of the trucks, but few adjustments were required. … The Delco system of ignition was used on the Cadillacs and generally gave satisfaction.

“The performance of the Dodge cars and trucks were equally quite satisfactory but with a few points that require attention.

“The hood fasteners are too light and quite a large number of these were missing at the end of the trip having broken off enroute,” 1st Lt. Jackson wrote. “The chief trouble with the Dodge engine was due to the starting chain stretching, and on one light delivery truck this chain stretched to such an extent that it finally broke, damaging the oil pump drive so badly that it was necessary to install a new pump and oil pan.”

Jackson also noted that “the brakes on the Dodge required frequent adjustment and the radiator of one light delivery car was badly damaged and had to be replaced due to the fact that the brakes on this car did not hold on a steep down grade.”

In other words, that Dodge ran into a tree at the bottom of a hill.

Getting into the trucks, Jackson said that the cooling system of the six Whites operated very efficiently; however, the steering column on all of these trucks worked loose after about 2,000 miles and required tightening up.

The Packard trucks impressed Eisenhower, who wrote, “The only Packard trucks on the trip were three of the 1 1/2 ton type. Mechanical difficulties in these were so few as to be negligible. These trucks surmounted the stiffest grades with motors running quietly and easily, and trucks in good condition. One Packard truck was badly overloaded during the entire trip. Its load was partially distributed in the latter part, but then weighed near end of trip, its gross weight was still 1,500 pounds in excess of that of any other type of 1 1/2 ton truck. The performance of these three trucks is considered remarkable.”

While the Packards got glowing reports, the Garford trucks brought the disapproval of both Eisenhower and Jackson.

“As the trip went on, it soon developed that difficulties arose much more frequently in some types that in others,” wrote Eisenhower. “The Garford trucks were particular offenders. While other makes and types had difficulties at times, so many repairs were necessary on the three Garford trucks as to justify the opinion that it is not so well constructed as other standard makes on this trip. One Garford was compelled to abandon the trip entirely.”

Jackson agreed, noting, “Of all the makes of motor trucks comprising the convoy, the three Garfords proved to be the most unsatisfactory, and developed the most serious mechanical troubles, making it necessary to ship one Garford back to Washington by freight on account of the engine being damaged beyond repair.”

When writing about the GMCs, Jackson made it a point to note that the failure of two of the vehicles to finish the trip was not the fault of the manufacturer.

“Of the five GMC ambulances and two GMC 1 1/2 ton cargo trucks, one of each type failed to complete the trip,” Jackson wrote. “On July 10 a GMC truck skidded off the road and down the mountain side near Ligonier, Pennsylvania, and was damaged beyond hope of repair by the convoy. On July 19, a GMC ambulance ran off the road and overturned in the ditch as the result of careless driving, just a few miles east of Chicago Heights, Illinois. The body was so badly cracked and the frame kinked to such an extent that this ambulance was exchanged for another at Chicago. Aside from those two accidents these vehicles had very little trouble.”

Toward the end of his report, Jackson got into the heavies: the Macks and the Rikers.

“The five Mack 5 1/2-ton trucks were the heaviest in the train, and their performance was quite satisfactory on the good roads east of the Missouri River, although they consistently showed the greatest water consumption, amounting to more than fifty gallons per day on one occasion, the results of a continual tendency to overheat.

“Experience gained on this trip proved conclusively that the Mack truck is not suitable for use over poor roads because of its chain drive. Mud and sand frequently packed between the chains and sprockets so that they became locked and it was only possible to tow these vehicles backwards, under these conditions.

“Of all the heavy, rear-drive trucks in the train, the three Rikers made the best showing, and it is believed they are the most satisfactory trucks in their class adopted by the Army. Very little trouble was experienced with these vehicles,” noted Jackson.

Jackson’s report covers many more vehicles, including motorcycles, and goes into much more detail than I have here. There is also more in Eisenhower’s report including the types of tires used (some trucks ran solid tires) and how they performed.

If you would like to see the reports, including the daily log of the convoy, and more photographs, you can find them online at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library. Go to https://www.eisenhowerlibrary.gov/research/online-documents/1919-transcontinental-motor-convoy

Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at njilton@timesnews.net.

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