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Unique Postcard Images from the Michael J. Semas Collection

Updated – The Michael J. Semas Collection is primarily comprised of unique images of the California Central Valley that has long been an agricultural area. As soon as the motor truck was developed enough to be reliable it was put to work there. Today’s feature contains four postcard images with the most interesting being the White truck in the lead image.

The White Motor Corp. started manufacturing its line of trucks in 1910 in addition to a popular line of automobiles. The unusual box chained down on the bed carries a political campaign sign for a candidate running for the County Tax Assessor position. Tell us your thoughts about this rig.

Update I – Thanks to reader Edwin Hayslip he believes the truck is a circa 1912 White five-ton model “TC.”

1911 White Three-Ton Truck

  • 1911 White Three-Ton truck illustrated in the 1911 “Handbook of Gasoline Automobiles.” 

Update III – Ariejan Bos has investigated the White truck in the lead photo further and appears to have identified it a 1911 Three-Ton model that is illustrated in the 1911 “Handbook of Gasoline Automobiles.” The 1912 models used a round tubular bumper attached to the frame in front of the bottom of the radiator. The 1912 models used a U-shaped channel iron frame, with the front of the U-shape being the bumper that also protected the radiator.

Early Mack Chain-Drive Mack

  • Jas. Suter’s appears to have been a trucker, rigger and dog lover – note the bulldog on the hood of his Mack  truck. The location of the photo is in front of the local tavern and Felix J. Scheer’s primitive well drilling rig is on the truck.

Update II – Thanks to reader Tin Indian: “See page 601 of the September 1921 issue of Oil Bulletin; Official Monthly Magazine, (google books) to see a slightly different view of the same Mack truck as seen in the second picture above. Interestingly the truck has the same load at the same location (identified as Big Bear Lake Tavern) but the Jas. Suter and other information on the cab is not there. The truck’s owner is identified in the photo caption as a R.C Finley of San Bernardino County, and the well drilling rig is described as being used there. Which image is the unaltered image?”

1911 Kissel Chain-Driven Truck

  • This Kissel 3 to 5 ton truck was part of the Fresno Consumers Ice Company’s fleet, the license plate is dated 1914.

Early Kelly Springfield Truck

  • A heavy duty unit built by the Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Co., of Springfield, Ohio.

19 responses to “Unique Postcard Images from the Michael J. Semas Collection

  1. The White truck is one of the earliest types of 1910 or 1911. In 1912 the radiator was protected by a forged steel bar, but apparently this was not enough because in 1913 the chassis I-beam ran completely around the front. The Mack is clearly the youngest of the four with production date 1920. The Kissel is not 1911, but 1913 (the earlier models had no louvres and a slightly different radiator shape). The Kelly-Springfield truck can be accurately dated at 1914 with the square shaped vent hole in the hood (earlier ones had only louvres and no hole, later ones a round hole). Its double wheels point at a 5 ton chassis.

  2. Wow, I would enjoy few things in life as much as pulling in to our weekly car club breakfast meeting in that big old White in the lead image ! That is so ….uh….unique ! You find the best pictures David, and as always, thanks so much. BUT, this time, I have a question. Having never been around anyone who “was there”, did the chain drive vehicles not have an awful time in other than smooth road conditions and slow speed of keeping their chains on ? It seems like there are so many conditions that would toss them off the sprockets, as so many of the photos look like they have a huge amount of slack. (for suspension I assume)

    • John, Good question, chains and sprockets were one of the first methods used on vehicles to transmit power and also serve as a gear reduction.

      Properly adjusted chains were used on many high-speed racing cars.

      Bob Burman set a speed record of 141.73 m.p.h. with a chain-driven Blitzen Benz on Daytona Beach early in 1911: http://theoldmotor.com/?p=89592

  3. A roller chain and sprocket drive is one of the most efficient methods of power transmission. It seems that I recall a study in the dim, dark past which concluded that a man riding a well- tuned bicycle a given distance would exert less energy than that same man walking that same distance, even though he was also propelling the weight of the bicycle in addition to his own.

  4. Chain drive was very simple . While the chain may have had a rather short life, especially in the conditions illustrated, it was easily replaced, easier than a tire in this era. Chain drive survived until 1954 or 55 on some Sterlings, which were popular with heavy haul contractors. It allowed quick and easy ratio changes and was quite reliable at the low speeds that oversize/weight loads were hauled at.

    • At a Sterling truck meet I asked the oil timers why the Company stayed with chains for such a long time. Many of them told me the same thing: In construction and trucking on loose surfaces, a chain-driven axle will not wheel hop like a gear driven axle will, and allows the truck to continue on and not get stuck.

      After having worked on and driven a number of chain drive cars that do not wheel hop because of an axle with less unsprung weight on washboarded or rough roads, I assume that is the reason why Sterling stayed with it.

      • Kenworth was the last truck maker to offer chain drive into the early 60’s for certain applications, apparently, because customers requested them. I had heard, the reason chain-drive trucks were so popular, as metal technology wasn’t what it is today and long axle shafts kept breaking, so a chain and gears were the best solution. I am fascinated with old trucks, and what the drivers had to put up with. Oiling and adjusting chains was a daily ritual, and many did have chains that flew off, and had to re-install them at the side of the road. I heard, the sound of “singing chains” is something you never forget.

  5. I disagree that the White was changed from the standard model except it lost its rear tires and front bumper. See the 1912 Handbook of Gasoline Automobiles page 201 which illustrates the 5 ton model TC. White used chassis rails like this for years. The cast wheels I think are Clark.

  6. Thanks guys, great info from you all. I have a preference for chain (or belt) driven motorcycles over shaft driven ones, just never had any info except pictures of 4 wheelers ! Thanks again, jb

  7. Honda used chain drive on their first sports cars, starting with the S500 and ending with early models of the S800. Probably last year for chain drive was 1966 or 67, and different from trucks, the respective models were good for 80, 90 and then 100 mph with the S800. The current S660 is a bit of retro, though much more modern and no chain drive (but a nice 6-speed manual!)

    Great pix of some great looking trucks and tough dudes…LOL. Wonder if they found any oil around Big Bear Lake?

    • It may appear that way, but in most instances that is not the case. I have worked on a number of chain-drive cars and all of them, other than the early Simplex either have u-joints or a flexible joint. As a frame flexes in use, without them the engine and transmission-differencial are subject to the same bending forces. The early Simplex cars often suffer cracked crankcases and trans.-diff. cases because of these forces.

      This White also has some type of U-joint at the back of the transmission because the differencial is lower than it and the engine and the drive shaft is angled.

  8. Might Jas. Suter’s rig be the early inspiration for the brass bulldog hood ornament commonly associated with later Mack trucks?

  9. Heard a story–and that may be all it is–that vegetable producers in South Jersey would deliver their loads to New York, Then on the way home on the ferry would pull one chain off and block the drive sprocket on that side, Drove home with one wheel drive, but overdrive due to the differential.

  10. During WW-2, We lived in the Atwater District of Los Angeles. I was 5 in 1944. We were very near the Southern Pacific North Tayor Freight Yard , where STEAM Locomotives Still held sway! The freight (& Passenger) trains were “ON” , 24 Hrs, 52 weeks — for the duration of the war: Chuff -chuffs, of the Engines, signalling Whistles and the windows rattling from flat cars full of battle tanks, or full lumber loads were all part of it! The Lounsberry & Harris Lumberyards utilized “HIGHBOY” Lumber Transporters for Lifting & Carrying full stacks of lumber. VERY LARGE older solid -tired, CHAIN DRIVEN Mack Trucks were used for carrying the HEAVIER Lumber as it wasn’t easy to move it with the highboys . GOING to the Freightyard was ALL on San Fernando Road, (HWY 99), Returning UN-LOADED was allowed on our city street , Atwater Avenue. The Highboys just LOOKED funny, but the Mack Trucks utilized a VERY THICK —WAXY CHAIN LUBE, and on a hot day when the truck would change gears, — or back off on the throttle — the DRIVE CHAINS would sing a LOUDER Clickety-Snappity “song” when not loaded — and get quieter when loaded. Edwin.

  11. I was in high school in the early fifties in RI and the sight of a Sterling chain drive dump truck has stuck with me all these years.

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