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1938 Reo Tractor and Curtiss Aerocar

A Sensational Streamlined 1938 Reo Tractor and Curtiss Aerocar

Dr. Hubert Eaton was a man of vision, in 1912 took over the management of Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, CA. Five years later he changed it from being just a memorial to the deceased and began to turn it into a park-like atmosphere called the Forest Lawn MemorialPark. His idea was a success that led to opening three more in the greater Los Angeles area.

Eaton, being a very successful businessman was able to see things differently, and when it came to selecting a traveling vehicle both for work and pleasure, he choose something sensational. Eaton had a custom built Reo tractor constructed by the Standard Carriage Works of Los Angeles that was reminiscent of the “Zephyr Land-Yacht” tractor designed by Brooks Stevens two years earlier. This tractor pulled a top of the line Curtiss Aerocar.


  •                               A second verion of the tractor that apparently was built for Augustus Post.

The tractor that Standard built was a sleek and aerodynamic modern cab forward design that has been reported to be designed by Harold H. Robinson. It was powered by a White flat-12 bus engine that was replaced after over a quarter of a million miles by a Cummins diesel. It is equipped with an onboard generator to power the trailer and living quarters for the driver.

The Aerocar has fitted with a deluxe cupola that Curtiss had been building for a few years that allows passengers a commanding view of the road. It features: intercom for communicating with the driver, rear view mirrors, windshield wipers, a speedometer and a compass. The Aerocar was named the “Vagabond” by Eaton and is equipped with: air conditioning, restroom, kitchen and can sleep six.

This unique combination was used by Forest Lawn until 1991, and is in the Peterson Museum collection in Los Angeles where you can view more images of the rig. All photos are courtesy of the Peterson.




21 responses to “A Sensational Streamlined 1938 Reo Tractor and Curtiss Aerocar

  1. Very sleek combination, Robinson and Curtiss were ahead of their time . I don’t know of any state that currently allows passengers to ride in a trailer while it’s moving. Even a fifth-wheel hitch is not fail-proof, trailer king pins do sometimes break. I wonder what Forest Lawn was using it for 80s and 90s.

    • Actually there are a number of states where it IS legal to ride in a fifth wheel. Sure would not recommend it hough, for people or pets.

    • As far as I understand it, traveling in the trailer is allowed with adequate communication available to the driver. I have heard from lots of New England RV-ers, don’t know if the rules are different in other regions… Also, am unsure of age restrictions…

    • In the 80’s and 90′ it was used for hunting trips, management trips, and sight seeing trips, i know, because I was the driver for 12 years 1978- 1990

      • David, would you share some of your memories about your time with the REO/Curtis aerocar? It must have been a fascinating time commanding such an unusual vehicle.

      • Now David, that’s a story worth telling! Do you have any journals or clippings or memorabilia you’ve kept? Have you ever thought of putting your story out there? You must have some fascinating tales you could tell. I’d like hear them – if you’re amenable, of course. Please respond here and we’ll go from there. Thanks.

  2. An anomaly. The tractor in the second photo is different in the front than in all of the other photos . The entire front grill and windshield are totally different. The front wheel appears different as well. Only a guess on my part. Being such a special custom vehicle, it is not likely an error made in photo identification. Was the entire grill and windshield change necessary when the engine was changed in 1953? Is only the second photo of the REO with its original engine? Pure speculation on my part.

    Thank you again David G, and the Peterson.

    • Hi Wayne, good eye. Apparently, there were 2 of these built in 1938. One for Mr. Eaton, as described, and another one built for balloonist and aviator, Augustus Post, a close friend of Curtiss. The 2nd tractor was based off a 1 ton Chevrolet truck, which may explain some of the differences. I like the horns on the front of the trailer. The coupling device was interesting. It consisted of an airplane tire and wheel mounted inside a metal box, to cushion road shock.

      • The REO/ Aerocar is a “one of a kind”, entirely different from the also unique Augie Post rig. The AP Aerocar trailer is smaller, and the smaller GM tractor was based on a Chevrolet 1 ton truck with mostly standard Chevrolet front end sheet metal and modified rear end sheet metal to accept the fifth wheel. This wonderful rig also survives today. The REO is a one off custom body, there are really no physical similarities between the two tractors. Regarding the cosmetic discrepancies found and mentioned above between the two photos of the REO, the REO had in fact had modifications made to the tractor (both mechanical and cosmetic) over the 50 plus years of ownership with the Eaton family and Forrest Lawn, including the above noted upgrades to the windshield and the grille, increasing driver visibility and air flow to both the original White flat twelve and its replacement, the current supercharged Cummings flat six .

        UPDATE: Consideration is underway for the REO to make its first ever East Coast appearance at Hershey 2018. It has never been further east than Nevada prior to going to the Peterson Museum in 1991, then being put into storage and disappearing “in plain sight” for the past 20 plus years. It is currently being recommissioned for the road in its entirely original condition, a fascinating story in itself. (Perhaps the Old Motor may want to revisit this story?) In May of this year, in testament to the iconic status of the “Vagabond”, as Dr. Eaton named his prize, noted German model maker AutoCult GmbH just released (May, 2018) a limited production die cast model of this amazing vehicle. (333 pieces, already sold out!).

  3. Reminds me of another 1938 streamlined RV, the International Harvester ‘Jungle Yacht’ built for Italian explorer Attilio Gatti’s Congo Expedition.

  4. I find this amazing!!! Something that I never saw ANYWHERE IN, —Or NEAR Forest Lawn !!! Forest Lawn was the first thing that we looked at —at the front door of 3332 Atwater Avenue, when going outside, as a little kid, circa 1942- onward. On my way, bicycling home from Irving Junior H.S. , I would do my homework in the Memorial Park . Years later, I was “caught” using a marble bench for a surface plate, to flatten my Whizzer motor-bike’s cylinder head , — using water soluble grinding compound. I convinced them to allow me to finish my work, — so the WHOLE bench-top would be sparkling clean! They agreed , —(But gave me a “phoney warning”) to LOOK “official” . I got a TOUR of thier maintenance shops out of the deal , —but I NEVER saw this (above) vehicle, in Glendale, Atwater (L.A.) , or anywhere else in California, nor did I hear anything about it from Mr. Kinnon, a local CUSTOM TRAILER Builder. Perhaps it wasn’t regarded as being APPROPRIATE for the Memorial Park , just like my Whizzer Cyl. Head “Repair Shop “, on their premises, near where all of the babies are buried ! They were “sort of” friendly to a young Mechanic — but NO MORE bench top grinding!!! Edwin – 30 –

  5. Here in the UK special dispensation has to obtained to carry people in a semi trailer.Airport transfer buses were the main use.’but the way the tractor/trailer rode was the death of them .I have never really got the camper thing,any’ holiday ‘where i still have to make my own bed or do the dishes is not a holiday.

  6. The Reo and the Curtis are in the Murphy Museum in Oxnard, CA. I saw it and photographed it on August 15, 2015. It is the one, pictured, with the louvers and the two piece windshield. It is identified as Hubert Eaton’ rig. You can see it on their website

  7. Actually in World War Il Greyhound used improvised buses consisting of a truckload tractor pulling a trailer! Photos exist of these; they were also used at 1939-40 New York Worlds Fair. Cuba does the same today.

    • After a great deal of work, gruesome logistics, a final rush to get the rig up, running, driving and roadworthy (not to mention a few hundred hours of cleaning and polishing), the Vagabond was delivered to Hershey in grand style, where it was first displayed in a spot of honor in the front of the main entrance to the Giant Arena (same spot as the GM Futureliner in the previous year). Then, on Saturday it was driven to the Show field and displayed by the Region as a non-judged entry, where it was one of the hits of the show. The constant crowds surrounding the grand old lady made it almost impossible to get a clear photograph. That 3 day odyssey sparked a half dozen videos, a TV appearance or two, many interviews and magazine spotlights. The The AACA organization was amazing with their graciousness and hospitality which made the showing a reality. There were dozens of social media reports and sightings along the way and back, and even Hemmings Motor News said that in over 30 years of coverage the REO was one of the most amazing vehicles it has chronicled.

      Here is hoping Mr. Clark and others will share their experiences over the years with the Old Motor family. This would be amazing reading!

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