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E. J. Roberts Garage and Tow Car – Danville, Indiana

E. J. Roberts Garage was in Danville, Indiana, which is situated about 25-miles west of the City of Indianapolis. Like many other garages did in the period, the shop tow truck was a converted automobile. In this case, Roberts cut off the rear section of a 1910s or ’20s Cole V-8 powered touring car and mounted a Manley “Wrecker Crane” on the rear. The car was manufactured by the Cole Motor Car Co. located in Indianapolis.

Tires were the bane of the early motorist and tube problems, punctures, tread loss, and blowouts were fairly prevalent at the time. Roberts’ specialty was tires, along with the sale of Standard Red Crown gasoline, repair work and car storage. The garage sold and serviced the complete line of the U.S. Tire Co. including solid rubber tires used primarily on trucks.

Tell us what you find if interest in the enlargeable photograph below courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

30 responses to “E. J. Roberts Garage and Tow Car – Danville, Indiana

  1. No earth-shattering observations here, but I was interested to see that the window has both an ad aimed at Ford owners and a sign for Dodge Brothers Motor Vehicles. Also, as mentioned, lots of tire promotion – United States Tubes, U.S. Solid Tires, Royal Cord, Chain Tread, and Nobby Tread, along with something partially blocked by the Manley that might be United States Tires.

    • I sure would not want to be near, when the chain binds up and snaps, going around a corner, or backing up. Something like that, you would never see it coming.

  2. Manley was originally incorporated in April 1911 as the United Engine and Manufacturing Company, in Hanover PA (per the “Alphabetical List of Charters of Corporations Enrolled in the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth During the Two Years Beginning June 1, 1909, and Ending May 31, 1911”). In 1919 they moved to York and became the Manley Manufacturing Company, with about quadruple the floor space of their Hanover facility, according to the September 11, 1919 issue of The Iron Age. Per Manley’s advertisements in the ’20s, they first produced their first wrecker crane in 1917, so that provides the earliest possible limit for the photo.

  3. The “good old days” when the ultimate winter tire was one with nobby tread – preferably a sawdust tire. They were great on dirt roads and didn’t damage the paved ones, but of course there wasn’t much pavement to damage back then.

  4. After a vehicle would be attached for towing, light weight tow vehicles as shown would, when proceeding from a stop, have its front end lifted off the ground. Then when applying the brake, the front end would slam down onto the road. Front tires with full tire pressure could pop so air pressure was reduced for a “softer landing”.

    • Is there a way to tell between a Cole and a Jeffery, given that both had coachwork done by Seaman (at least until 1919 when Nash-Jeffery acquired a controlling interest in Seaman)?

      • Differences are small indeed, but can be found in the louvre patterns, the location of the hood brackets, the radiator shape and the wheel hubs.

        • Thank you – I was looking at images of both and couldn’t spot any differences right away other than the badging on the radiator front.

    • Back when retreaded tires were a bigger thing, some of them would have tiny inclusions of non-rubber things. As the tire wore, the objects would fall out and leave tiny holes in the rubber that were intended to improve grip. Goodrich used sawdust, while US Rubber used rock salt. General Tire used a blend of two rubbers, one highly porous and the other vulcanized, to get a similar effect. Popular Science wrote about them in September 1945, and the Victoria Advocate on November 3, 1949. Toyo’s current Observe series of tires includes ground walnut shells, which dig into the ice and should also leave similar holes when they fall out.

      • I remember the sawdust type retreads. Corncobs were used as well. They never lasted more than one winter season, but sure worked well. Also, locally, a retreader was using coil springs embedded in the tread. That must have been the precursor to the studded tires.

    • According to a Times “About Cars” column from 1994, in the fifties and sixties, some retread shops mixed sawdust with the rubber compound. As the sawdust worked its way out of the mix, it left little pores that — so the theory goes — acted like suction cups to make the tires grip ice.

  5. I enjoy hearing from folks that can explain these scenes. Way before my time. I think there’s an important point I haven’t heard yet, Manley indeed, these hoists, if not mistaken, were hand cranked. You can see the handle by the big gear. While they weren’t lifting ’58 Cadillacs, it was no “girly man” job.

    • Seems to me that the origin of the word is knob and it should actually be knobbly, to describe a surface covered in small bumps (knobs).

  6. The Jeffrey was a 122 inch wheelbase and cost $1,350 as a Chesterfield “6”. It only came as a 5 passenger and
    probably weighed around 3,500 lbs. The Cole V8 was a 127 inch wheelbase and came as a 7 passenger. It cost $1,785
    and probably weighed 4,000 lbs. They do look similar but tire size should be a giveaway. The radiator emblem is definitely Jeffrey and Cole liked to spread their name across the radiator fins in a large fashion.

  7. I worked in a gas station in the late 50’s, I was 16 at the time. Most tires we sold came with a 12,000 mile warrenty, the ones we are sold with saw dust in the were called pole grips, l remember the owner telling one young guy that with pole grips he could go any where. An hour after I put his tires on some one brought him back to the station, he tried drive out in a field covered with snow, made it a couple hundred feet. We had a cab over jeep and I had to go pull him outl, It was a 55 chevy.

  8. I love to see these old shop made wreckers, every garage had one when I was a kid, I still have a Manley boom they work well and will last forever. Crank very easy.

  9. The successful idea of Windlass cranes is centuries old! Correct gear ratios and “safety ratchet & pawl included provide a safe lift or a safe landing for the crane. Cast iron gears and cast chain Pulleys became a Godsend for Later Crane equipment , as earlier crane technique was: hemp rope with “block & tackle”, which requires a lot more savvy & skill to not let the load escape! the 1930 Ford Model AA 1- 1/2 ton Truck was significant in changing everything: With its: 4 speed Warner Transmission with Power Takeoff, — the Winch was Power Driven by Driveshaft !!! This created a competition for manufacturers – that eventually produced “Rigs” like: “The Holmes Wrecker”. The greatest availability of Automobiles turned into “wreckers” was the aftermath of WW- 1 (1919) and the Great Depression (1929) when Huge Powerful cars (to be Converted) were: “A dime a dozen” in junk yards” The ’30 AA Ford Truck offered a basis for a: “New standard reliable Tow Truck for a reasonable price”. The 1- 1/2 Ton BB Fords and V- 8’s allowed More towing power for decades! As Drayage trucks got bigger, — so did the Tow Trucks and their lifting & rescue equipment. Edwin W.

  10. The building at 38 N. Washington St. looks like it could be this. Other than minor modifications to the windows and paint it is about the same.

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