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G.A. Schnabel
Martin Schnabel, blacksmith, 1861-1863; Schnabel & Mollman, 1864-1868; Martin Schnabel, wagon-maker, 1868-1872; G.A. Schnabel, 1872-1901; G.A. Schnabel & Sons, 1901-1923; The Schnabel Co., 1923-1979; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
 
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Martin Schnabel was born in Austria circa 1820 to a well-established family of wagon and carriage builders. As a teenager he worked in the family workshops up until he emigrated to the United States in order to avoid compulsory military service in the Austrian military. Upon his arrival he went to stay with his uncle, who lived in Pittsburgh, and found him employment as a blacksmith in one of the cities wagon works.

The blessed union with his wife Katherine (b.1822 in Germany) resulted in the 1854 birth of a son, Gustavus A. Schnabel (b.1854-d.1913). By 1860 Martin had his own shop at the corner of Penn Ave and Carson St. The 1862 Pittsburgh City Directory lists his address as Penn at tollgate, which referred to the corner of Penn and Carson St. where a toll gate had been operated for many years. A few years later Carson St. was renamed Twentieth St.

In 1863 Schnabel and another Pittsburgh wagon-maker named Henry Mollman (sometimes misspelled as Molmin) joined forces establishing a new wagon works at the northwest corner of Penn Ave. and Taylor St. in quarters rented from W.C. Denny.

Schnabel & Mollmanís timely entrance into the wagon and coach business coincided with the outbreak of the Civil War. All of a sudden unlimited amounts of money were available for war-related expenditures, and the firm soon secured contracts with the US Government to supply the Army of the North with horse-drawn ambulances and limber, caisson and supply wagons.

The 1865 Pittsburgh City Directory lists Schnabel & Mollman, as blacksmiths and carriage makers, Penn and Taylor. By 1867 Martin Schnabel had saved enough money to buy out Mollman, who relocated to the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh at the corner of Butler and Fiftieth St. Schnable advertised his new business in the 1868 directoryís classifieds under both carriages and wagons.

In 1868 Taylor St. was renamed Thirty-first St. after which Schnabelís wagon works was listed at Penn & Thirtyfirst. The 1871 directory lists Schnabel, M. Wagon Manuf., and Schnabel, B. blacksmith, Thirty-first and Penn. Later directories list B. Schnabel as a shovel maker with a shop at 4111 Penn Ave. Itís possible that B. Schnable was a brother or cousin of Martinís, or perhaps not related at all as there were hundreds of Schnabels in Pennsylvania at the time.

Gustavus Adolphus Schnabel had been working for his father since the end of the war, and when Martin Schnabel passed away unexpectedly in 1873, the 19-year-old was forced to take charge of the familyís business as the future of his three younger sisters, Dora (b.1860), Lizzie (b.1864) and Sophia (b.1866) and their Charlotte Ave. home (between Thirty-sixth and Thirty-seventh Sts.) depended on it.

By 1875 the Pittsburgh City Directory indicates that the works were now doing business in the style of G.A. Schnabel, coachmaker. The 1876 directory lists him as: Schnabel, Gustavus A., carriage manf., Penn and Thirty-first.

He married soon afterwards and in 1877 the blessed union of Gustavus and his wife, Elizabeth, resulted in the birth of their first son, Walter M. Schnabel, and in 1880, another son, John A. Schnabel. Gustavus A. Schnable Jr. would join the family in 1882 and Paul R. Schnabel in 1883.

The 1881 Pittsburgh directory listed G.A. Schnabel under both carriages and wagons with a new address, 1155 Penn av. However the factory was still at Thirty-first and Penn, 1155 was just the firmís actual street address, which was now important as they began to advertise their wagons out of town.

Some confusion arises from the fact that Pittsburgh re-numbered Penn Ave in 1885. Consequently the post 1885 address of 3061 Penn Ave. used to be 1155 Penn Ave.

As late as 1893 Schnabel continued to take out separate ads in the City Directoryís carriage and wagon sections. The 1899 directory featured two new additions, John A. Schnabel, blacksmith and Walter M. Schnabel, carriage painter 3061 Penn Ave. and in 1901 their hard work was rewarded when their father renamed the firm G.A. Schnabel & Sons, Carriage Bldrs.

Schnabel continued building their successful line of horse-drawn wagons, heavy trucks, delivery wagons and carriages into the early twentieth century when production slowly shifted over to commercial bodies for horseless conveyances.

They advertised for the first time under automobile repair and supplies in the 1909 Pittsburgh City Directory. In 1912 an advertisement was placed under the new classified heading of Automobile Body Builders, however the firmís greatest success came in the commercial body field and from 1915 onwards, motor truck bodies became the firmís sole product line.

A 1911 Fire destroyed most of the firmís aging 3061 Penn Ave factory. The firm carried very little insurance at the time and the family was forced to use their personal savings in order to stay in business. It soon became obvious that if the firm were to survive the transition to automobile and truck body-building, a much large facility was required. Consequently the firmís fire-damaged factory was abandoned and the firm moved to more spacious facilities at 2410 Penn Ave. which was located between Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Sts.

The 1914 Pittsburgh City Directory lists G.A. Schnabel & Sons Ė automobile supplies - 2410 Penn Ave. Listed officers included Walter M. Schnabel, pres.; C.F. Tiers Ė sec.; and John A. Schnabel, supt. G.A. Schnabelís personal listing was noticeably absent from the 1914 directory, and one can assume he had passed away sometime in 1913 as he was included in the 1912 and 1913 directories. The 1915 directory lists Eliz. Schnabel (widow of G.A) at her 802 Aiken Ave. home. John A. Schnabel was now included in the list of Schnabel officers as vice-pres.

After the move to 2410 Penn Ave., the firmís main customers became large retail fleets and public utilities for which they produced whatever type of body was needed. They entered the professional car field in 1912 offering bodies on their own assembled chassis notable for its Renault-style coal scuttle hood with its radiator placed behind the engine. 

They also built on White, Packard, and any other high quality chassis the customer might supply. Their distinctive wide-bodied barrel-bottomed funeral coaches and ambulances offered substantially more interior space than the competition and were good sellers in Ohio, Western New York and Pennsylvania.

Schnabel started a trend later popular in England of creating new bodies for existing used chassis. [In Britain many Rolls-Royces started out life as passenger cars in the 1930s and ended up as hearses in the 1940s & 1950s.] One disadvantage of building on existing chassis was that quite a few older chassis were too short for the coachwork, looking like they were about to fall off the back of the chassis.

By 1916, the budget-minded Schnable was producing a few brand-new coaches on their own assembled chassis, but most of their simply-styled bodies ended up on either used or low-cost chassis such as Ford's Model T. Mainly a commercial body builder, Schnabel built few if any professional cars beyond the early twenties when they turned their attention to insulated and refrigerated truck bodies.

In 1915 Paul R. Schnabel was listed as a foreman at the family firm and Gustavus A. Schnabel Jr. received a BA in education from the University of Pittsburgh. By 1918 he had found a job teaching with the City of Pittsburgh at the Irwin Ave. Jr. High School.

At that time all-weather tops were becoming popular and the Schnabel brothers offered custom-built automobile tops for owners of touring cars, roadsters and phaetons. Although that business began to flounder with the availability of popular-priced closed cars, their commercial body business continued to increase and by 1923 the once spacious 2410 Penn Ave. factory was seriously limiting their earning potential.

As a direct consequence, in 1923 the firm was reorganized and incorporated as the Schnabel Company Inc. with Walter M. Schnabel, pres., John A. Schnabel vice-pres., and C.F. Tiers, sec. and general manager. They moved into a large industrial complex located at S. 10th and Muriel Sts. (1000-1021 Muriel) that was shared with the Allegheny & South Side Railway Co. a division of the Oliver Iron & Steel Co., their new landlord.

In addition to buses, delivery vans, and utility vehicles Schnabel built refrigerated bodies for regional dairies, breweries and grocers extending their once-local customer-base into New York, Kentucky and Ohio.

Paul R. Schnabel (b.1883-d.1868) now took care of the firms drafting department and in 1924 applied for a patent (pat #1620494) on a refrigerated truck body which was assigned to the firm in 1927.

1928 officers were as follows: Walter M. Schnabel, pres; John A. Schnabel, vice-pres; C.F. Tiers, sec; gen supt, John A. Schnabel; Sales Mgr, Walter M. Schnabel; C.F. Tiers, pur agt; Wm. Chalks, blacksmith shop supt; Paul R. Schnabel, wheel shop supt; C.F. Tiers son, John R. Tiers, was now listed as a salesman for the company.

The firmís advertisement in the 1929 Directory follows: The Schnabel Company, Automobile Body Construction, Painting, Hydraulic Hoists and Equipment for Motor Trucks, S. 10th and Muriel St. Chiltonís listed the Schnabel Co., S. Tenth & Muriel Sts. Pittsburgh, Pa. as manufacturers of refrigerator & overhead telephone maintenance bodies.

In 1931 they built a 9-yard aluminum body for the D. Carapellucci, a local hauler for the Fire Safe Products Co. Built using a Mack AK chassis it was equipped with a St. Paul Model SUB Underbody Hydraulic Hoist.

Extensive WPA truck body contracts helped the firm survive the Depression and by the late-thirties its successful line of ice cream and milk truck bodies were nationally distributed via truck equipment catalogues.

As with many regional commercial body builders, Schnabel built the occasional fire apparatus and rescue body. An open-topped fire brigade (crew) bus on a late thirties Diamond T chassis was built for the John A. Irwin Fire Company of Evans City, PA. Schnabel included an awning could be erected over the open body if needed during inclement weather or hot sun.  

Schnabel built a few woody wagons in the late 30s and early 40s and also built a one-off woody dog trailer to match a customer's 1942 Chrysler Town & Country wagon.

Early 1940s literature shows a line of stand-up delivery vehicles for Ford chassis.

In 1940 the firm built its own metal fabrication department, which helped it survive during the War. Additional revenue was obtained building special bodies for local firms fulfilling War Department contracts.

In 1948 Paul R. Schnabel filed a patent for another insulated refrigerated truck body (pat#2612028) whose corners were formed by stepped joints of insulation boards. The bodyís floor was made up of galvanized steel-covered oak panels whose edges turned up 6 in. at the front and sides, giving a water-tight floor.

In the 1940s and 50s Schnabel was the Pittsburg distributor of Superior School bus bdies, which were used extensively by the Pittsburgh City School District. 1940s and 50s Silver Books include ads for Schnabel beverage and insulated truck bodies. Ford Truck Equipment books offered insulated and refrigerated bodies for Ford F-3, F-4 and F-5 1- and 1Ĺ-ton chassis.

Into the mid-Sixties Schnabel remained active in the insulated and refrigerated body field. Body construction had changed dramatically from their pre-WWII roots.

The bodies were constructed from standard modular panels, structural shapes and ribbed liners. Some corners and edges were made from galvanized steel radius sections, while others were built with metal die-molded reinforced plastics. Heavy-duty oak flooring protected from moisture by galvanized steel tread plates included drain holes at all four corners. Options included dolly loading systems and a wide assortment of stationary and over-the-road refrigeration options.

During the 1960s the firm moved to Nichol Ave., in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, a northwest suburb of Pittsburgh. The McKees Rocks plant was sold to the J. Murray Company Inc. sometime around 1970 and the firm withdrew from business.

A 1970 advertisement for St. Joe Galvanized Steel titled ďCorrosion hasnít had a bite of this truckĒ showed a circa 1955 truck body built by Schnabel. ďIt was manufactured by the Schnabel Company of Pittsburgh, Pa. in 1955 and has been on the road, exposed to salt, sleet, snow, rain and sun ever since. The paint coat is still tight and in good condition and there is no sign of rust rot coming from the inside. Schnabel uses extra smooth hot dipped galvanized steel sheets especially prepared to accept paint and guarantees their truck bodies against corrosion from normal wear.Ē

As late as 1979 the Schnabel Co. continued to be listed in a number of publications under truck bodies, however a post office box - PO Box 4137, Pittsburgh PA 15202 Ė was used and no street address was given.

During the 1980s the Oliver Iron & Steel Co.ís massive Muriel St complex was leveled for re-development and is now the home of a retail lumber yard operated by the Allegheny Millwork & Lumber Co.

(Not to be confused with the German Schnabel Company that manufactured specialist material handling rail cars used for transporting molten metal. The Schnabel rail car was equipped with a large container, lined with refractory (special fire brick), so that the molten metal remains molten for a period of time.  Schnabel was the leading manufacturer of these cars which are now commonly known as "Schnabel cars" by railroad buffs.)

© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com with special thanks to Thomas A. McPherson

 

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References

William Wayne Frasure - Longevity of manufacturing concerns in Allegheny County pub 1952.

Arthur Berl Fox - Pittsburgh During the American Civil War, 1860-1865 pub 2002

Schnabel Company Photograph Collection c1925-1960 - Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Professional Car (Quarterly Journal of the Professional Car Society)

Thomas A. McPherson - American Funeral Cars & Ambulances Since 1900

Carriage Museum of America - Horse-Drawn Funeral Vehicles: 19th Century Funerals

Carriage Museum of America -  Horse Drawn - Military, Civilian, Veterinary - Ambulances

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Ambulances 1900-1979: Photo Archive

Walt McCall & Tom McPherson - Classic American Funeral Vehicles 1900-1980 Photo Archive

Walter M. P. McCall - The American Ambulance 1900-2002

Walter M.P. McCall - American Funeral Vehicles 1883-2003

   
 
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