The LeMay-America’s Car Museum, or ACM, in Tacoma, Wash., is saluting the trucks and work vehicles that helped Americans build up U.S. commerce and inspire evolution within the truck market during the early to mid-1900s.
The museum’s 15-truck exhibit, “Tools of the Trade – Powering the Working Class,” includes vintage paddy wagons, bread trucks, people haulers and other specialty vehicles from the first half of the 20th century.
Among the vehicles is the only one of its kind 1907 Kennett, a wooden-wheeled, open-air, surrey-type truck capable of transporting six people in seats of tufted red velvet upholstery. It’s powered by a tiny 2-cylinder engine.
“The inspiration really came from our desire to have a lot of variety in our exhibits,” said Scot Keller, curator of exhibitry at the Lemay-ACM. “You may see one or two of these vehicles at a car show, but to have this number in this variety is quite outstanding.”
People appreciate these types of vintage trucks for their historical past and because they provide a measure of how automotive technology has developed, said Stephanie Brinley, senior analyst at IHS Markit, an automotive industry research firm.
When these trucks first plied America's roads, there was little expectation that their descendants would be able to climb sand dunes and boulders, or would be coveted for their luxurious interiors and sophisticated sound systems.
However, the demand for more facility from the people operating these vehicles pushed truck makers to expand the capability of the vehicles, helping them to evolve into what is on the road today, Brinley said.
For example, the concept of flat-bed mechanisms commonly associated with dump trucks can be traced back to the 1929 ACME Model 17 and 1929 Ford Model AA 1-ton dump trucks that are on exhibit. True to its name, the 1929 Chevrolet 1-ton Huckster truck used for the open sale of items by farmers or markets is also reminiscent of early food trucks.
“Trucks have been used for literally building America, whether construction, farming, utilities or other industries,” Brinley said.
One vehicle – a 1940 Cab-Over-Engine Chevrolet Police Paddy Wagon – was so large it nearly didn’t fit inside the museum. Museum founder Harold LeMay purchased the police wagon from a Hollywood stunt lot sale.
Nostalgia is another reason why people come view the expertly restored vehicles, Keller said. People are reminded of a different time or place.
“I’ve got a couple of favorites here, but one jumps out for me because I grew up in Southern California and remember the company very much,” Keller said. “The Helms Bakery truck.”
The Helms Bakery operated between 1931 and 1969, delivering breads and pastries to doorstops around the Los Angeles Basin. Older Angelinos fondly recall the distinctive whistle of the delivery truck alerting customers of its arrival followed by the aroma of baked goods.
The 1931 Twin Coach Helms Bakery truck on display at the museum comes from Sandy Olson, owner Olson Gaskets, a vintage gasket supplier in Port Orchard, Wash.
“It was love at first sight,” Olson said.
After buying it, Olson sent it to a shop for complete restoration and brought it home in 2006. Though the decals and whistle were difficult to find, it’s together as it would have been in its day.
The bakery truck really attracts children, which Olson believes are needed in the vintage vehicle hobby. But, he says that parents and even older folks enjoy reminiscing about the past too.
“I tell people, ‘if I bring my truck, it’s going to have little kids in it tooting the whistle and blowing the horn and sitting in the seat’,” Olson said. “If that’s going to disturb the show, I probably shouldn’t come.”
Previously, the Helms Bakery Truck has been welcomed at local church shows, Nationals shows and high-end concours auto shows.
The exhibit, which opened Nov. 5, is expected to stay open well into 2017, according to museum staff.
“These vehicles are wonderful representations and a glimpse into how work and commerce was conducted during the turn of the century,” Keller said. “You’re truly looking at a piece of history.”