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Early Tank Trucks

Anglo-American (a European subsidiary of Standard Oil) may have led the advent of motorized tank trucks by their use of Thornycroft petrol vehicles to deliver oil products from the railroad stations to substations, beginning 1905 (Hidy and Hidy, 1955). Tank trucks began to appear in the United States in 1910-11. Standard Oil companies including Conoco were foremost among the early users, but other refiners were soon persuaded to purchase their own fleets. Another sight was the road sprinkler or oiler which were early tank trucks used to control the horrendous dust on dry dirt roads. During the late 19-teens the tank truck began to evolve into an eye-catching apparatus with the name of the gasoline brand and the oil company brightly painted on the tank and door. A few horse-drawn wagons continued to serve some retailers into the 1920’s but were being replaced. Looking back at it, there was an overlapping period when tank-wagons were still being acquired and motorized tank trucks were being manufactured and introduced. Both were seen on the road at the same time.

In the pioneering period of tank trucks, 1910 to 1920, the following makes of trucks were among many that were fitted with tanks to carry refined products such as gasoline, kerosene, stove distillate and fuel oil:

Make or Model of truck Period of vehicle manufacture Year of tank truck photo of reference Oil Company
(in photo)
Mack 1901-date 1910 The Texas Company
Kelly 1910-1929 1910 ?
White 1900-1903
1911 Road oiler
Garford 1908-1933 1912 Rayolight Oil (Standard Oil Of Ohio)
Locomobile 1901-1916 1912-13 Tarvia (road oiler)
Sauer 1911-1918 1913 Road oiler
GMC 1911-date 1914 The Texas Company
Ford 1905-date 1915 Standard Oil
Federal 1910-1959 1916 White Blaze (Kansas City Fuel Oil Co.)
Wilcox 1910-1927 1917 Oylrite Brands (Independent Oil Co.)
Corbitt 1910-1952,
1917 Speedway gasoline (Red "C" Oil Mfg. Co.)
Dart 1903-____ 1917 Hawkeye Oil Company
Denby 1914-1930 1917 Jordan Oil Co.
Harvey 1911-1932 1917 ?
Indiana 1911-1939 1917 Polarine gasoline and Perfection oil (Standard oil)
Sullivan 1910-1923 1918 Monroe County Oil Co.
Wisconsin 1912-1926 1918 Polarine (Standard Oil Co.)
Hewitt-Ludlow 1912-1926 1919 ?
Doane 1916-1948 1920 Mohawk gasoline
Reo 1906-1967 1920 Texaco, Productos de Petroleo
Hendrickson 1913-____ ca. 1920 Pioneer gasoline
Pierce-Arrow 1907, 1909-1935 ca. 1920 The American Oil Co.

This list was compiled from searching published literature (U.S.A.) and was dependent on photographs and captions (see bibliography). Helpful publications were by Mroz (1996) and Wood (1997). Doubtless there were more manufacturers of tank trucks in use during this period than listed above.

The reader may not recognize many of the truck makes in the above list. A lot of them closed their plants many decades ago, early in the 20th century. All that remains of some models are vintage photographs in an archive somewhere. A few restored tank trucks are in transportation museums. The American Truck Historical Society publishes "Wheels of Time" and is a rallying center for collectors. Collectors are always on the lookout for ancient survivors and knowledgeable restorers have made them roadworthy for show.

Trucks made during this period of manufacture (including the few models made before 1910) had hard, solid rubber tires. Pneumatic tires began to appear around +1920 or before and were often optional. Sometimes they were mounted on a pair of wheels but not provided for all wheels. This situation changed quickly after 1925. Wooden spokes more or less persevered on some truck models into the 1920’s but were nearly gone by 1925, replaced by steel.

Tanks were built by riveting until acetylene and electric welding became the proficient means of building tanks at some point in the mid 19-teens (Wood, 1997). As far as tanks were concerned, welding was a means of boosting tank production and gave a better seal. Heil Company, a truck body manufacturer and tank fitter, attributed welding as being a great advance in tank fabrication beginning in 1910 (Wood, 1997). Although most tanks were cylindrical in this period, oval tanks were being fitted to some trucks. These would become more common in time. Wood (1997) points out that the tank compartments (needed to allow carrying of different kinds of combustible liquids) helped to subdue surging when the tank truck was on the road.

Nearly all of the motorized tank vehicles in the 1910-20 period were conventional tank trucks. However, circa 1920 a separate full tank trailer was attached to the tank truck in rare instances by a few companies for big hauls. Full trailers, semi trailers and tractor trailers became common in the next decade or so.

Crossett began its oil hauling business with one secondhand 780 gallon tank mounted on a White chassis in 1928 in Warren, Pennsylvania. The company grew into a major transporter of petroleum products in the eastern U.S. Drake Well Museum.

© 2004, Samuel T. Pees
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