F.W.D. Trucks: Steering Through 1919’s Road Challenges

In the summer of 1919, as the U.S. Army embarked on its monumental convoy across the continent, the performance of various vehicles was tested. Among them, the F.W.D. (Four Wheel Drive) trucks stood out for their remarkable resilience.

The is a black and white historical photograph depicting a convoy of old military or utility trucks on a road. These vehicles have a distinct early 20th-century design, with canvas covers over the cargo areas and solid rubber tires. The trucks are marked with "F.W.D.", which may indicate the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company, a pioneering firm in four-wheel drive vehicles. The location is stated to be between Chambersburg and Bedford, Pennsylvania, indicating that the trucks are climbing the Tuscarora Mountain range in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The scene has a rural setting with trees lining the roadside and a mountainous backdrop, suggesting the rugged terrain these early vehicles had to navigate. The road is unpaved, typical of the period. There appears to be at least one person visible, possibly a soldier or a driver, standing by the roadside near the convoy, which might suggest a military or government operation, considering the uniform look of the vehicles and the era the photograph likely represents.

July 9, 1919. F.W.D. trucks between Chambersburg and Bedford, PA climbing Tuscarora Mountains in the Blue Ridge - After Ike Documentary.

These 3-ton trucks (chassis #8044, #8175, #13325) distinguished themselves by navigating challenging terrains in Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada without assistance. Their ability to traverse muddy and sandy stretches unaided set a commendable record.

The image is a black and white historical photograph from the 1919 military convoy. It depicts a line of old trucks, driving on a paved road. The setting is rural with open fields and a few scattered trees. The landscape is flat, which suggests that this location is in a valley or plains area. The trucks are equipped with canvas covers, which were common in military and utility vehicles from the early 20th century.

F.W.D. trucks west of Placerville California, September 3, 1919 - After Ike Documentary.

Despite facing some mechanical issues, the F.W.D. trucks proved their reliability. The initial problem of frequent fan belt breakages was resolved by installing endless belts. Additionally, minor modifications like replacing a carburetor significantly improved fuel efficiency.

The F.W.D. is a difficult truck to steer, especially where the road is rough on one side and good on the other, as it has a decided tendency to run into the bad spots. 

1st Lt. E.R. Jackson

Ord. Dept., Ordnance Observer

Despite these difficulties, the trucks demonstrated impressive durability, completing the journey on their original tires, which remained in excellent condition.

A black and white historical photo showing a parade of military vehicles. The setting is an urban street lined with buildings featuring signage from that era. There are several American flags visible, indicating a patriotic event or a national holiday celebration.
The photo captures a mix of vehicles including trucks with canvas covers and a few early model cars. 
Crowds of people are gathered on the street, some are walking alongside the trucks, and others are observing the event, indicating public interest or community involvement in the procession. The architecture of the buildings and the presence of the businesses such as "H.S. CROCKER CO., PRINTERS-ST OFFICE FUR" (likely shorthand for "stationery and office furniture"), as well as the "RAVINE HOTEL", provide a glimpse into the commercial life of the time.

FWD Seagrave Museum in Clintonville, Wisconsin

The FWD Seagrave Museum in Clintonville, Wisconsin, is a facility dedicated to preserving and showcasing the history of the F.W.D (Four Wheel Drive) and Seagrave companies, both of which have played significant roles in the development of automotive and firefighting technologies.

F.W.D, founded in Clintonville in 1909, is renowned for its pioneering work in four-wheel drive vehicles. Originally, the company focused on developing and producing four-wheel drive automobiles, trucks, and military vehicles, which included significant contributions during both World Wars. Their technology revolutionized many aspects of vehicle mobility and capability, particularly in rugged or challenging environments.

The image shows a collection of old trucks in what looks like an exhibition setting. The focus is on a military-style truck with canvas coverings and a large "FWD" logo on its radiator grill, indicating it might be from the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company, which is known for its role in the development of four-wheel-drive vehicles. In the background, there are other vintage trucks, and we can also see some historical photographs hanging on the wall, which suggests a historical or educational purpose to the exhibit.
The second image is a close-up of a description plaque, which reads:
"1917 Type FWD Model B
This truck is the product of the efforts of the late Don Chew (ATHS member) in research and time. It is said that this truck is restored from parts of other model B units Don found and scavenged including one that apparently served overseas in WWI. Don's meticulous work resulted in the truck you see here right down to the tools and implements it carried at the war front. Don used this truck as a show truck at WWI anniversary events along with period type vehicle shows. After his passing and our contact with his family, this truck was acquired separately to add to this display of Model B trucks, probably the largest display of FWD Model B trucks together in one location.
On Loan From Museum Board Member Mark Thomas"
This plaque provides historical context for the truck shown in the first image, indicating that it is a restored 1917 Type FWD Model B, which has been pieced together from parts of other Model B trucks. It also mentions that the vehicle on display was used in World War I and later as a show truck at WWI anniversary events. The truck is on loan from Mark Thomas, a museum board member.
The description highlights the dedication of the restorer, Don Chew, to the accuracy and authenticity of the vehicle, even down to the tools and implements it carried during the war. It also implies a high level of historical importance and rarity, as it is part of what is claimed to be the largest display of FWD Model B trucks in one location.

A 1917 Model B on display at the FWD Seagrave Museum in Clintonville, Wisconsin

The museum showcases a range of vehicles and equipment from both companies, including antique and historical fire trucks, military vehicles, and other significant pieces from their storied pasts. 



Original Text from the “Report on First Transcontinental Motor Convoy” by 1st Lt. E.R. Jackson, Ord. Dept., Ordnance Observer.

F.W.D.: The three (3) Four Wheel Drive trucks were, in general, the most satisfactory in the Convoy and of all the various makes represented, the F.W.D.’s alone were able to pull through all the bad, muddy and sandy stretches of road in Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada, absolutely unaided. This is a rather enviable record, and the few mechanical difficulties experienced with this truck were of a very simple nature

A considerable number of fan belt breakages occurred until a shipment of endless belts were received and installed, after which no further trouble was experienced. The upper radiator support studs sheared off several times and should be increased in size or otherwise strengthened.

Instead of the Model G Stromberg Carburetor, one of the plain type, Model  M, was installed on an F.W.D. (#415768) at the suggestion of the Observers, and gave much better satisfaction, increasing the miles per gallon about 25%.

A fun fact about F.W.D trucks in the 1919 military convoy films is that they are seen only occasionally, not due to their rarity but because of their reliability. F.W.D trucks, known for their robustness, rarely broke down, making them less dramatic for film scenes. In contrast, scenes of other trucks struggling in mud were more visually entertaining, leading to more screen time for less reliable vehicles.

On three occasions, one F.W.D (#415766) burned out #4 connecting rod bearing, due in two instances to coasting down a steep grade at an excessive speed, although using the motor as a brake. The third case was due to lack of proper lubrication, and although the amount of oil in all of the trucks was checked up carefully every morning, in this instance the quantity of oil remaining in the crank case was not only insufficient for splash lubrication, but there was hardly enough oil to permit the pump to function properly, indicating that this truck had not been properly inspected before starting in the morning, or had been overlooked altogether. The engine had been used to retard the speed of the vehicle without assistance from the brakes, which were badly worn and needed relining.

The Eiseman Magnetos used on these trucks were very satisfactory, requiring only an occasional cleaning and adjustment of the interrupter points.

The main drive shaft in an F.W.D. (#415766) was twisted off at the rear transmission bearing, when an inexperienced driver threw in reverse gear and dropped in the clutch while coasting down hill at high speed, intending to use the motor as a brake.

The clutch alignment joints required a few adjustments.

The F.W.D. is a difficult truck to steer, especially where the road is rough on one side and good on the other, as it has a decided tendency to run into the bad spots. However, these trucks went all the way on their original tires, which are still in excellent condition.

This is a black and white photograph showing a parade of covered trucks, including F.W.D. vehicles, passing through a city street with large buildings in the background. The event appears well-attended, with crowds of people lining the streets and some standing in formations, possibly military or police units.
Several American flags are prominently displayed, adding to the formal and celebratory atmosphere of the event. The architecture of the buildings is grand and stately, indicative of an urban setting in the early 20th century. The presence of onlookers in period-appropriate attire, including hats and coats, suggests this was a significant event for the city.

F.W.D. trucks in city parade in San Francisco, California, September 6, 1919 - After Ike Documentary.

Divided Paths: Urban Renewal and the Legacy of the Interstates
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, commonly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act
Image Gallery – After Ike Documentary
Aerial Image Gallery – After Ike Documentary
Firestone Film – 1919
Contributors to After Ike
The Outlaw – 1943 American Western