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A Pair of Locomobiles and a Harley-Davidson with a Sidecar

Today’s featured image contains a rare scene from back in the period – a 1913 Model 48 or 38 skiff-bodied Locomobile that needed to be towed in for service. The “tow car” is a 1911 or 1912 Loco Model 48 “Torpedo” touring car from which the rear section of the body was removed, and the wrecker unit substituted in its place.

The Locomobile, “The Best Built Car In America,” was a desirable vehicle to use for a conversion such as this because the chassis (see below) was built for the most part of heat-treated chrome-nickel steel. The crankcase, four-speed transmission case and a number of other components were cast in manganese bronze, and the two materials combined made for a close to indestructible chassis and running gear.

  • Overhead view of the robust 1912 Locomobile chassis as used in the “tow Car” – “The Automobile” September 14, 1911.


  • A 1912 Locomobile Torpedo which is what the “tow car” was based on featured an angled all metal cowl – The “Automobile” Sept. 14, 1911.


  • The Locomobile being towed was an updated version of the 1913 Model 48 which was offered in both right and left-hand drive – “The Horseless Age” Aug. 1912.

It was fairly common for a Locomobile to be updated, as the power train and chassis rarely ever wore out. Frequently an older chassis was fitted with the latest in coachwork by the leading coachbuilding houses of the time or converted in the Loco “Custom Department.” The Company offered this service to its customers who could have their chassis rebuilt as needed and mechanically updated if desired.

The skiff-bodied Locomobile being towed is a 1913 Model “48” (see above) and was the only model year that it was offered with both left and right-hand drive. It was updated and fitted with a custom 1916 or later style “Canoe Roadster” body and fenders (see below) and the updated radiator and hood then in use by the automaker. There is a chance this body was penned by J. Frank de Causse, Loco’s talented in-house stylist.

  • A later skiff-bodied car by the “Custom Department” of the Locomobile Company of America styled by J. Frank de Causse. He was the head Loco’s first in-house automaker styling department in the United States.

You can view and learn more about automobiles with skiff style coachwork here. Photographs and information related to the Locomobile can be accessed here.

Please share with us what you find of interest in this photo courtesy of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America.

49 responses to “A Pair of Locomobiles and a Harley-Davidson with a Sidecar

  1. I’m not sure what the tow vehicle is, the middle car could be a model 48 Locomobile? The motorcycle is a 1916-18 Harley, going by the stepped primary cover. I can’t tell if it’s a single or a twin, although it’s more likely to be a twin as they were more common, and being on a sidecar, it would make more sense. If it is a twin, the lack of electrics and a gas head light indicates it would be a model F.

  2. My guess is, the wrecker is a Locomobile roadster with a Manley car hoist, the car being towed might be an early 20’s Cadillac (1922?) Maybe an Earl/Lee bodied car. The motorcycle looks like 1917 F Harley (or is it a ‘J’ because it has the sidecar?).

  3. No guesses on any of those vehicles, but I truly wonder about the driveability of that tow truck/car. All that load on the rear would severely lighten the front end (what, no wheelies) turning the vehicle into an older version of GM power steering of the ’50s….i.e. no feeling at all. So, I truly wonder how long this truck/car combo was actually used in that fashion.

    • I don’t think so. There is no rear over-hang and that beautiful crane is fitted right over the rear axle. The wrecker has a reasonable wheelbase and a fair lump of engine as a counter-balance. I guess they just kept it fed with rear tyres on demand. I’ve seen Toyota (sorry to mention the name) Hi Lux pick-up trucks fitted with similarly well positioned cranes hauling in fair sized loads with a bit of care.

    • I’m sure this is a pretty big fish to be on that wrecker’s hook, and that’s why they bothered to take a picture of it. Still, this doesn’t look too bad.

  4. Sorry, have to pass on this one. The car is slightly Marmon-ish, but the body with its small square front door is unusual, as is the top which is not a victoria top but more a standard coupe top. The absence of louvres and the rounded lower front of the rear fender are obvious id features, but unfortunately no match turns up. Could be around 1920 and then it becomes difficult for me anyway.
    The wrecker car chassis could be a 1913 or so Locomobile, but I’m not 100% convinced.

  5. My best guess is the the tow truck is based on a Thomas and it is towing a 1920 Locomobile Type 48 with body by Farnham & Nelson .

  6. All that I looked at — was the “football field” — lenth HOOD, — and although “others” —used monster – bomber hood length, — the “buried” from side view headlamp CROSSBAR height gave LOCOMOBILE as my first W.A.G.! Congratulations to those who have ID’d way more detail than that! I really enjoy these “everyday ” photos of a “CAR ON A HOOK ” arrival at a Service Facility , — as it ALWAYS reveals a whole lot about the technology of those times , which had a LOT of “Conversions” to “tow-truck” from STRONG car chassis types. We had two early Lincoln “conversions” to “Service Car/tTow Truck” in our neighborhood. We also had the Late ’30’s and early 40’s C.O.E. Trucks from Ford & GMC which were dedicated tow vehicles when NEW, from Aftermarket Towtruck Body Manufacturers. NOTHING made today can be towed by one of these earlier trucks — as there is NOTHING LEFT to “Hook UP TO”!!! Some say: safer vehicles , now (???) Have you EVER seen ANY minor damage to a 1937 BUICK? NOT likely! Edwin – 30 –

  7. Thank you David, that was challenging but worth the effort. Boy was I off on the car being towed, and how did I miss the right hand drive? The cover on the left side was a dead giveaway on the Harley. One question though, David, the top on the 38 or 48, is it some sort of deuville, or is it a damaged tonneau? It looks most as if someone borrowed a top from a coupe.

    • You are welcome.

      It was a style of top that was fashionable at the time to keep the sun off of the rear seat passengers. This type of car was generally chauffeur driven and he was left out in the open. On some cars of the time period an add-on canvas top without bows was sometimes provided for the open area from the windshield back to the front top bow. It was intended for occasional use and in rainy weather.

      This style of top originated from the more enclosed style called a cape top:

  8. Gotta add my 2cents… If I look@ the whole pic, the car to the far left looks newer… If I’m right, and the Harley is late teens, that makes the two Locos pretty old. The Article says locomobles were rarely on a hook… So this could well be one old car getting ready for its next life… As a tow truck. Next, I have to say, the only Locomoble I’ve seen was a 1912, auctioned @ the Alex Miller Auction of Vermont. I’d love to see it again… They say these old cars are all about provenance, and I’m not sure the new owner of that car, noticed an old photo at the auction of Alex Miller shaking hands with Jack Dempsey with the Car in Time Square NYC. I think Alex was buying Jacks car.

  9. “… used Locos were highly coveted for truck conversions.”

    The International Towing and Recovery Museum in Chattanooga houses a 1913 Locomobile with a 1919 Holmes 4-ton wrecker unit, though I understand it is a modern recreation, rather than a car modified back in the day.

  10. I own one of those Model 48 Locomobiles, which had been converted to a service vehicle at some time in its life, and plan on building a skiff body for it. Also in the collection is a 1912 Alco, to which a fifth wheel hitch had been added, in order that it might tow a ladder trailer for a local fire department.

    • Good luck with your project, a skiff body sounds like a wise course of action. I’ve never seen an Alco used for FD work but I have seen a couple of photos of Locomobiles, which all had entire pumper/ladder bodies on them.

  11. The hoist apparatus sure looks like a “Manley Wrecking Crane”, made in York, PA.

    I used to have one almost identical to this example…. in fact, for a while, I toted it around the back of my 1961 Willys pick-up just for yuks… ūüôā

    I think both vehicles are probably Locos, at least the one on the hook…

  12. Great photo, I wouldn’t worry about the tow car, what is the weight of a Locomobile six cylinder engine, 1,500 pounds? Bob

  13. To my eye, the tow vehicle’s wheelbase looks a little shorter than the same model in the other photos. Could they have shortened it up a little, perhaps to deal with the weight imbalance problem? Or are my eyes just deceiving me?

    Also, how’s your own Locomobile project coming, if you don’t mind my asking?

  14. When I was kid in the early 1950’s there was a farm down the road from my Uncle’s farm in far upstate NY that had what was referred to as a “doddle bug”. My Dad, a serious ‘car guy’, identified it as a Locomobile chassis. It was bare, relatively close-coupled wheelbase with no bodywork at all. I was most impressed by the fact that had 8 forward speeds and 4 reverse. No idea of the configuration there, but it had incredible pulling power.

    During haying season the farmers would pool equipment and manpower and work their way through the neighborhood. I have seen the “doddle bug” go through a hayfield pulling a hay rake, a bailer, and two – or as many as three – hay wagons. It would run all day long and never miss a beat.

  15. Holbrook (originally in NYC, later up in Hudson) built this Locomobile 48 Cape Top Touring car

    …around the same time a Sportif was offered.

    Holbrook built around 40 Lincoln Collapsible Cabriolets from circa 1925-1929 (1 survives) and built similar cape top bodies on chassis by Cadillac, Marmon, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, and Springfield Rolls-Royce. Many of those (all of the Js?) were subsequently fitted with newer, more fashionable, bodies. After joining with Rollston and moving to the Blue Ribbon Body plant in CT, Hollbrook was liquidated in 1930. Rollston acquired its NYC facility and some of its design patents.

    Pierce 48 and 66 were also converted for tow truck or wrecker service due to the enormous torque. One of them can be seen in Chicago.

    And finally, in 1955, the “Crown” (up-and-over trim molding) “Victoria” (covered rear section) “Skyliner” (implied open front section w/fixed sunroof) from Lincoln’s parent company, Ford, continued a cape top tradition. In a new way.

    • “Holbrook (originally in NYC, later up in Hudson) built this Locomobile 48 Cape Top Touring car”
      RM Sothebys incorrectly attributed this red touring car body, is not a Holbrook, its a standard Loco touring body used from the late teens to the early 1920s.

  16. Oops! I didn’t list one significant marque: the “Js” were, of course, Duesenbergs. Around a dozen of which once wore Holbrook bodies.

  17. Why in Sam Hill are there so many French words for different car body styles?I thought America was descended from England.You got sedan,coupe,tonneau,deuville,louvres,DeLuxe,etc.I know that many of these words are descended from horse drawn vehicles.

    • A lot of history to consider. Although much of the US of A did descend directly from England, and the American revolution was against England specifically, it was both the US of A and the French revolutions that led the way for liberty and modern democratic civilizations. Remember, much of the US South and mid-West was French colonization. That became part of the US of A through the Louisiana Purchase where the US bought the territory from France. Spain and Portugal mostly colonized South and central Americas up through Texas and across to California.

      The word “automobile” itself was from France, and first used in the US about 1900. Prior to that, other terms like “horseless carriage”, “motor carriage”, or “gasoline carriage” were commonly used. A slight drift into linguistics makes me want to add that a common earlier spelling was “gasolene” carriage! One of the first periodical publications specifically for the new-fangled infernal machines was titled “Horseless Age”. Began in late 1895, in time for the November 1895 Chicago race to be covered. Use of the word “automobile” began in this country about that time, and the next really major publication was in turn called “The Automobile”. Began about 1900 if I recall correctly.

      In the earliest days of its development, Germany led the way in mechanical aspects of the gasoline carriages. Italy, France, and England followed close behind. France somewhat led the way in style in the early days, and by 1900 were almost equal to Germany in mechanical technologies. Most engines manufactured for automobiles around the world by 1900, if not manufactured directly by, were based upon De Dion (French) or Benz/Daimler (German) patents!

      France also had largely led the way in classic style or fine designs throughout archetecture and life since the middle ages.
      Sort of makes sense that so many automobile words are of French origin!

      Thank you David G for bringing this one back up! Lots of wonderful new comments, and also nice to see a few familiar names not seen much lately.

      • As for terms from the French, my all-time favorite is “chauffeur” – meaning ‘the man who heats the car’. Ettore Bugatti provided alcohol burning heaters to warm the crankcase, transmission, and differential of his cars.
        Second favorite is “carburretor”.

        • Bill, Very interesting! I had never made that connection before. Linguistics is one of many subjects I have always been very interested in, however, never really studied. Once I read what you posted, it made perfect sense. “Chauf” would have the same root as “chaf” as in “chafing dish”. In essence, “to heat”.

          • Hi Wayne,
            “chein chaud” = hot dog in France.
            In Italy the hot water tap is “c” (caldo) the cold is “f” (freddo). Still hot on the left, cold on the right though. Although, left is “sinistra” and right is “destra”. Think of the English words “dexterous” and “sinister”.
            Language can be great fun!

        • There’s a 1902 New York Times letter to the editor that links it to the French word for a stoker or fireman, i.e. the person who gets fuel into a boiler, which in turn suggests a link to steam cars. The letter objects to the use of “chauffeur” to mean driver in the Times and the Evening Post because it’s an inaccurate importation, and either “driver” or “motorman” would be preferable.

          Interestingly (to me, at least) it’s also early enough that it refers to cars as “autodrome carriages.”

          • This bit of linguistic drift seems to be getting rather lengthy? Perhaps I am not the only one fascinated by our language and how it pertains to our beloved early automobiles. I always wanted to actually take Latin, but it was removed from local scholastics a year before I began high school. Relationships between Italian, Spanish, and French (the so-called “romance” languages) link through common roots in Latin, as does “German” to a lesser extent. English has roots in all those, as well as a few Nordic languages, also Gaelic and Saxon. (No wonder we have such a confusing language!)
            I recall that “freddo” was rooted in the same Latin as “freeze” that we use (an article I read about thirty years ago). The connection between “sinistra” for “left” and sinister is also well known. Historically, left handed people have been thought to be sinister for more than a thousand years!

            Steve K (below) mentions that the Chicago race was advertised as a “Motorcycle Race”. Quite true, “Motorcycle” was a common word used before “automobile” was adopted as an English word for what in essence was a “horseless Carriage”. One of the many lesser (yet important!) periodical publications in the late 1890s and early 1900s was also titles as something “Motorcycle” something (the exact title escapes me at the moment, and mr Google doesn’t want to help any!). It was NOT originally about what we consider motorcycles today, but three and/or four wheeled motor driven “cycles”. Just another example of of the then emerging new language prompted by an emerging technology.

    • As you mention, a lot of it comes from carriages. England was on the fringes of European society for a long time, and their main point of reference for style was France, so French styles of carriages were adopted and their names used, and American coachbuilders used the Anglo-French terminology. When coachbuilders made the bodies for early cars, their terms were adapted to the automobile.

      Since Wayne mentioned the Chicago Times-Herald race in his response about the history of the automobile, one of the interesting linguistic quirks is that it predates the popular adoption of the word automobile, and was advertised as a “motocycle” race.

      • Yes, I like the point Wayne makes about language catching up with technology. Radio in the late 1910s and 1920s was another field where this happened. In Charles S. Franklin’s patent for the regenerative receiver circuit (before Armstrong’s patent!!) Franklin describes a soft detector tube (“valve” in Great Britain) as “a gas filled relay”.
        And, just to keep the drift drifting – a Russian named Oleg Losev patented Light Emitting Diodes… in the 1920s, in the then Soviet Union however he began his research & development when it was still Russia.
        Losev starved to death during the siege of Leningrad, at that time he had been working on a three junction solid state device capable of amplification. We now call them “transistors’…

        Sorry David, I’ll behave now – and thank you very much for this website, it helps me grow new synapses.

  18. The automobile at the fuel dispenser in front of the tow Loco looks nice. Is it another Locomobile?
    (Similar cowl, appears to have no louvers)

    If so three Locomobiles at one garage is almost a quoram.

    The two fuel dispensers appear more modern than the vehicles, without the volume tank. Although the attendant filling the Harley might be pulling the pump lever.

    The sign over the door:
    Is that ” White star Service”?

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