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Lapeer Tractor Truck Co., 1916-1919; Lapeer Trailer Company, 1919-1928; Lapeer Trailer Corp. division of Trailer Company of America, 1928-1932; Lapeer, Michigan
Associated Builders
Trailmobile; Winn Trailer Co. 1932-1940s - Lapeer, Michigan

On July 1, 1928 the Trailer Company of America was formed as a holding company for the Trailmobile Co. of Cincinnati and the Lapeer Trailer Corp. of Lapeer, Michigan.

Trailmobile’s president, J. Englander, would also serve as president of Lapeer while Lapeer’s current president, Sidney B. Winn, would serve as vice-president and general manager of both firms. Trailmobile’s secretary-treasurer, Henry M. Wood, would assume the same position at Lapeer.

The officers of the Trailer Company were as follows; L.W. Childress, president; Frank H. Simpson, vice-president; and A.J. Woltering, secretary-treasurer. The firm directors included J. Englander, Sidney B. Winn, L.W. Childress, Frank H. Simpson, A.J. Woltering and Herman A. Bayless.

Levi Wade Childress was a St. Louis-based investor who held large stakes in numerous water and land-based shipping concerns. He was also the president of Columbia Terminals Co., the Laclede Gas Light Co. and the Mississippi Barge Line.

Frank H. Simpson was a Cincinnati investor who had helped finance Powell Crossley’s Marathon Automobile Co. in 1918. At the time of the Trailer Co.’s organization he was president of the Simpson Realty & Holding Co. and a director of the Union Savings Bank and Trust Company of Cincinnati.

A.J. Woltering was born and educated in St. Louis, Missouri and served in the U.S. Navy from 1917-1918. He joined the Columbia Terminals Co. after the war and later became associated with the Lapeer Trailer Company as its chief financial officer.

Herman Bayless was the Cincinnati attorney who negotiated the deal.

At that time Trailmobile and Lapeer were two of the largest trailer manufacturers in the country, and both offered their own version of the automatic fifth wheel or trailer coupler.

Lapeer’s automatic coupler was designed and patented by its president, Sidney B. Winn. Winn (1881-1965) was a Detroit native who began his automotive career with the Hupp Company, serving as a district sales manager for the RCH, and in 1912, general manager of the Hupp-Yeats Electric Car Company, Detroit, Michigan.

For a number of years Winn had wanted to manufacture his own vehicle and the opportunity presented itself in 1916 when he designed a gasoline-powered combination truck tractor designed to pull the new heavy-duty trailers that were recently introduced by Fruehauf and Sechler. He found some willing investors in Lapeer, Michigan and founded the Lapeer Tractor Truck Company with Frank Thompson and Capt. E.T. White.

The 5-ton Lapeer Tractor Truck entered production in 1917 powered by a 4-­cylinder Wisconsin engine coupled to a heavy-duty 3-speed transmission equipped with a Torbensen internal gear drive.

The Lapeer had a completely enclosed cab, which was rare for a truck built during the teens. Although production of the Lapeer tractor truck did not last long, its innovative coupling system survived into the twenties on the firm’s trailers which became its main product when it was reorganized in 1920 as the Lapeer Trailer Co.

The Winn-designed Lapeer fifth wheel included an integral ramp and caster system which easily allowed a Lapeer fifth-wheel equipped tow vehicle to securely latch onto a Lapeer trailer by simply backing into it. Although the coupling method was substantially different from that used by Trailmobile (formerly Sechler & Company), the results were the same.

In 1922 Lapeer introduced the Lapeer bus-trailer, a semi-trailer designed to transport human cargo. It was built on a Lapeer drop-frame trailer chassis and mated to its tow vehicle using the patented Lapeer fifth wheel hook-up.

A feature in the October 4, 1924 Oakland Tribune described the Lapeer fifth wheel system:

“Thousands of Lapeer trailers are in use throughout the country. Railroads are using them for transportation across cities and for short haul business, There are now 200 at work on the Pacific coast, with forty-six in Oakland and San Francisco.

“The Lapeer trailer fits any tractor equipped with a Lapeer unit. All that is necessary is to back the tractor to the loaded trailer, throw a lever on the tractor, hook on the trailer and be on the way with the load.

“It is a well known fact that a load can be pulled with less power than carried. That is the principal of the tractor trailer combination.

“By the use of trailers, tractors can be in use at all times. One trailer can be loaded, one in transit and the third unloading at the same time. Many of the large hauling concerns are using this system of hauling and more are planning tractor-trailer installations.

“The Lapeer Trailer is built in Lapeer Michigan by a concern that has been in business for many years. The company has built up a good reputation and has done business throughout the country. Some of the largest users of hauling equipment in the country are now using this equipment. The American Express Company has many hundred in use now and are ordering more.

“A feature of the trailer is the automatic lowering and raising of the front wheels. When the tractor hooks on to the trailer, the front wheels rise automatically and stay out of the way until the load is dropped.”

In 1921 F.W. Forshey resigned as manager of the motor service department of Columbia Terminals Co., a large St. Louis, Missouri trucking company, and became plant manager of Lapeer. Seven years later, Columbia Terminals’ president, L.W. Childress, would play an integral part in the ill-fated Lapeer-Trailmobile merger.

Around 1920, Winn licensed his fifth wheel system to the Fruehauf Trailer Co. of Detroit, but by 1927 he had become unhappy with the arrangement and as Lapeer needed money for expansion he began courting Fruehauf’s main competitor, Trailmobile, to see if they might be interested in a merger.

When the Trailmobile-Lapeer merger took place in 1928, Winn terminated his licensing agreement with Fruehauf seeing it as a conflict of interest. Fruehauf ignored Winn and continued to use his fifth wheel on their trailers prompting Winn to file suit against them for patent infringement.

While the case awaited trial, Fruehauf’s Frederick F. Fildes developed a fifth wheel system that was loosely based upon the coupler designed by James Morrison in 1919.

Winn/Lapeer eventually won the case, but by that time Winn was no longer associated with Trailmobile and had established his own firm, the Winn Trailer Corp.

Although the press release announcing the Trailmobile-Lapeer merger stated that both companies would continue to “operate as separate manufacturing and selling organizations”, by 1931 the much smaller Lapeer plant had been shut down and the two firm’s once independent Midwest sales and service depots had been consolidated under the Trailmobile brand.

By 1931 Sidney B. Winn realized that the Trailmobile-Lapeer merger was simply a thinly disguised takeover scheme, and he resigned and established a new Lapeer-based firm, called the Winn Trailer Corp., with Henry W. Raymond. Winn Trailer was reorganized later that year as the Winn Manufacturing Co. with S.B. Winn, president and treasurer and T.G. Caley secretary.

With a staff of between 25 and 45 Winn continued to produce trailers and fifth wheels at his small Lapeer factory into the late 1940s. At the time of his retirement, Winn held 57 patents directly relating to trailers, tractor trailers, trailer jacks, draw bars, fifth wheels and trailer couplers.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






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