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Tugboat Annie – A Vintage Tow Truck from the Streamlined Era

Updated – After streamlined designs produced for automobiles in the early-1930s became accepted and popular with the public by the middle of the decade, designs for trucks soon to followed. The styling departments of the larger automobile companies that produced trucks and the smaller independents soon joined the movement. Some truck builders hired freelance designers.

The White Truck Company and Labatt’s in Canada hired Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky to produce custom designs that attracted a large amount of attention. Brooks Stevens also designed the Western Clippers and one-offs like the Zephyr Land Yacht. On the west coast, Wellington Everett Miller produced custom bodywork concepts for regional truck body builders. 

Update – Reader Michael Leicher has informed us that “Tugboat Annie” was built at a body shop in Sleepy Eye, MN (40-miles west of Mankato) that was run by a friends family. The shop also built similar trucks for breweries in the area.

Tugboat Annie FS

  • Full-sized enlargeable image of “Tugboat Annie” a Miller Motors tow truck based in Mankato, MN.   

Miller Motors was a DeSoto and Plymouth Distributor an hour and a half SW of Minneapolis, located in Mankato, MN. The management was wise enough to have an eye-catching tow truck built that served as a rolling billboard for the firm. “Tugboat Annie,” built in 1937 on a cab-over-engine International truck chassis and was apparently constructed by a truck body builder.

Miller Motors is still in business today, 88-years later, operating a Continental tire store, oil change facility and parts and accessory store. The business began in 1927 as a repair garage and later expanded into car sales later during the thirties.

This large-sized photo from the Detroit Public Library was found at Automobilia via Ron Clark. Many have wondered for years who designed it, and what company constructed it? Can any of our readers unravel this mystery? 

14 responses to “Tugboat Annie – A Vintage Tow Truck from the Streamlined Era

  1. I think this was the most beautiful era for design, in all areas of transportation. Trains of this era are just beautiful. In Wisconsin, ( before my time) we had the Hiawatha, and the Zephyr engines, of the ’30’s that looked like this. ( and went 100 mph, to boot) This appears to be a D300, but the body maker looks like it made all the panels, and could be any make, but the “3 Diamond” hubcaps prove it’s an IH. Clearly brand new, as delivered, as the hooks and cables show no use. Nice front bumper, too, that’s not stock. Sadly, tow trucks, as I remember them years ago, were these beat up, greasy, neglected hulks, that sat in a corner until they were needed and I doubt this truck looked like this for long.

  2. It was built at a body shop in Sleepy Eye MN. A friend of mines family owned the shop. They also built similar trucks for local brewery’s .

    • I believe this could have been built by “Ebenhoh Body Shops” located in Sleepy Eye MN.

      Google search “Ebenhoh Custom Truck Body” (not sure this is the exact business name though) for a picture of the business n the 1940s.

      Google search for “Hubbard Milling Company panel truck, Sleepy Eye, Minnesota” for a possible panel truck the shop painted.

  3. This one is a definite great idea, to be added to my friend John DeRosia from Seattle IPMS amazing ongoing Project of his United States Geological Survey vehicles.

  4. As a youngster past ready to graduate to a bicycle, I utilized my tall wheeled tricycle to tilt it up on TWO wheels , to learn balancing, I “Biked” beyond my block, to see the sights of the “adult world” For some reason, I found TOW TRUCKS to be of interest , mainly because the older Packards, Pierce Arrows, Cadillacs of the twenties and thirties — had MOSTLY found the World War Two Scrap Yards, the rest were hidden away, and what was left, were MODIFIED frames of the above brands, sporting Hand Crafted Wrecker “Girders” with a hand cranked WINCH and hook with spreader plate, to hook to a bumper or an axle. These were always dirty, and in a back corner of used car lots, independent garages, body shops and neighborhood’s Independent gas stations, that still had glass-topped gas pumps. Occasionally, they would “come out to play”, — typically with a Pre-War relic on its last ride, or one of the huge classics from which the Wrecker ITSELF —was Hand Made from. On the way back home, at Glendale Boulevard, was “Small’s Standard Station and Commercial Towing Service which had CAB Over Engine High Tonnage Chevrolet Trucks with Professionally Built Wrecker Chassis/Bodies, with fancy chrome rails & knobs . Their Targets were the Diesel truck & trailer Rigs of Highway 99, nearby — and out of town , on the “Ridge Route” and Angeles Crest. I got to hear the stories of tough towing jobs, because I went to school with their son, who got to “ride along” in the Summertime ! TOWTRUCKS? Knights in shining armor to little Eddie! Edwin – 30 –

  5. Tinindian is correct, it was the Ebenhoh Body Shop in Sleepy Eye MN that built it. Joe Ebenhoh is a friend and his family owned the shop. He has a book with pictures of smilar vehicles that they have built. I am trying to get him to scan them for me. He currently owns a body shop in Plymouth Mn.

  6. Hi,
    Today is march 21 , 2017, and I have just read your post on Facebook.
    I am a Colorado native, and remember a Lincoln conversion that I last saw around 1992. It was very cool.
    I happen to be a professional Scale model maker, as well as an Award winning Dioramist, and I am currently putting the finishing Design work, into
    a massive “500 Sq. Ft.” (+ or -) Automotive Junkyard Diorama, that we are building over the next few months.

    I would love to see some of the streamline coach built Trucks, as my display will span the late Teens through the late 1960’s .

    I would be delighted to see designs, that I might be able to pick from, to scratch build an appropriate tow truck for our project.

    I am on line, and have seen many trucks of this era.

    If this is something doable, I would appreciate your getting in contact with me.

    I will
    Be happy to share our project with you, and or your site. We plan on debuting at the 2017 SEMA Show.

    I have enjoyed seeing your site,
    ( as a collector / buyer / seller, of vintage cars and trucks, I have owned 190 of them,
    And will be placing my 1957 Mack B – 61 cab on a late model Chevy roll – back Chassis, when I’m get the time, after this project.


    Chris Stames

  7. Tow trucks are not only of interst to real world truck lovers but also to model builders. A one time there was a 1/25th scale model kit made of this exact ruck. It was resin cast by the late Ray Parsons of R&R vacuum cast co. I found one today through a friend of mine and plan on using it as a tow vehicle for a scratch built 20 foot Curtiss Aerocar travel trailer that is nearing completion on my model work bench., You can see an image of the kit he offered by searching the web for Tug Boat Annie truck kit.

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