The name “Trailmobile” was first used commercially by another Cincinnati carriage maker named Charles A. Behlen who patented a “Trailmobile” in 1915. Soon afterwards all of the trailers built in Cincinnati became commonly known as Trailmobiles and despite the fact that Behlen first used the term in his patent, another Cincinnati carriage builder named Sechler & Company were the first to register and use it as a trade name.
Behlen had established his Cincinnati carriage works in the 1840s, and along with William Brickell, Moors & Albrect and John Everett, was listed as one of the Queen City’s largest manufacturers by 1850. He exhibited a Barouche, Physician’s Phaeton and Hearse at the 1876 United States Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Their factory was located at 15th and Vine Streets in downtown Cincinnati.
His sons joined him sometime during the mid 1800s and did business as Charles Behlen’s Sons Co. George Behlen was listed as the firm’s president when they introduced an automobile in 1909. Called the Behlen, the 4-cylinder 24/30 hp shaft-drive runabout was priced at $1500 and was produced in very small numbers.
By 1912 the C.A. Behlen Co. had elected to become an automobile distributor, handling Locomobile gasoline-powered cars and Detroit and Bailey Electrics. In 1915, Charles A. Behlen Jr., the grandson of the firm’s founder, patented a trailer which he christened the “Trailmobile”.
Although Behlen was the designer and patent holder, he licensed the trailer and the trade name “Trailmobile” to another Cincinnati carriage builder, Sechler & Company.
Sechler & Company was just one of the many firms founded by Daniel M. Sechler (1808-1903) during the nineteenth century.
Daniel Montgomery Sechler was born on March 4, 1818, in Danville, Pennsylvania to Rudolph and Susannah (nee Douty) Sechler. Following a public education he was apprenticed to a Port Deposit, Maryland carriage builder at the age of seventeen.
He relocated to Milton, Pennsylvania in 1839 where he entered went to work for the Ball Carriage Works, eventually becoming a partner in the style of Ball & Sechler, Carriage Manufacturers. When his partner passed away he continued in the business for another three years, producing between fifty and seventy-five carriages per year.
On January 19, 1841 Sechler married Miss Pamela Mackey, of Milton, Pennsylvania, producing one son, Thomas Mackey Sechler. Soon afterwards he sold the Ball & Sechler carriage works and moved to Wooster, Ohio, where he pursued other business ventures, one of which was an Adams County foundry.
In 1852 Sechler was hired by an Ironton, Ohio machine shop to take over its pattern dept. and two years later he established his own nail works, the Star Nail Mill (later the Bellefont Iron Works), the first production nail supplier in Ohio.
In 1858, he established a large wholesale and retail iron goods store in Cincinnati, where he sold goods manufactured by rolling mills and foundries located in Ironton and Pomeroy, Ohio. In 1867 he acquired an interest in the Swift Iron & Steel Works, of Newport, Kentucky and in 1869 became a partner in a Montgomery County, Tennessee, pig iron foundry.
In 1877 Sechler returned to his roots, establishing a carriage works in Cincinnati, Ohio which was incorporated in 1879 as Sechler & Company. In late 1887 he sold his interest in the firm to a group of Cincinnati investors and retired, and set out on an extended European vacation.
After almost a full year of retirement, Sechler came upon the realization that in order to be happy, he needed to work, and in 1888 established the D.M. Sechler Carriage Company in a rented facility located at 3rd Avenue (today’s Railroad Ave.) and 7th Street, in Moline, Illinois.
In 1890 Sechler built a new factory at the corner of 3rd Ave. and 6th St. and by 1894 had introduced a line of private label bicycles which were marketed under the Eclipse, Road King, Falcon and Templar brands. By 1900 the carriage company employed over 200 hands who were producing as many as 6,000 vehicles per year.
In April 1891 Sechler organized another Moline-based firm, the Mutual Wheel Company, in order to supply regional carriage manufacturers with a steady supply of well-built and reasonably priced carriage and wagon wheels. Organized for $40,000, Sechler served as president and J.C. Moon, of St. Louis’ Moon Brothers Carriage Company, vice-president.
A new plant was constructed for the wheel company just east of the carriage works at 709 3rd Avenue, and by the time of Sechler’s passing, Mutual Wheel had become one of the largest manufacturers in the United States, with 250 hands turning out 100,000 sets of carriage, wagon, and buggy wheels per year.
Sechler’s long experience in the production of iron goods resulted in the introduction of the Black Hawk corn planter in 1897. Built at the Sechler carriage works, the Black Hawk eventually became the second largest selling planter in the nation and it popularity led to further products, including a popular line of manure spreaders. In November of 1910, the company changed its name to the D.M. Sechler Implement & Carriage Co., but the post war depression of 1918-1919 forced the sale of the firm to the Ohio Cultivator Company. In 1931 a spectacular fire destroyed the firm’s massive factory causing damage estimated in excess of $100,000 to the plant and adjacent factories.
On January 8, 1889 Thomas M. Sechler joined his father in Moline as vice-president of the carriage works, and when his father passed away on May 27, 1903, took over as president. He was also a director of the Moline Wheel Co. and was also the founder and president of the Wright Carriage Body Company, which was founded in November of 1902 with a capital of $50,000.
Wright’s officers included T. M. Sechler, president; C. W. Wright, vice-president and manager; Edgar H. Wilson, secretary and treasurer. Its directors included T.M. Sechler, W.L. Velie (of the Velie Carriage Co., Moline), H.C. First, C.W. Wright, Fred Peters, E.H. Wilson, Elmer E. Morgan and C.H. Dooley.
The new firm erected a two-story 160’ x 60’ factory building, as well as a 60’ x 65’ wing for engine, boiler and dry house, and production of carriage and buggy bodies and seats commenced in March of 1903.
Located at 1625 3rd Ave. at the intersection of 3rd Ave. and 24th St., the Wright Carriage Body Co. went on to build some early production automobile bodies for Velie, Pan American, R&V (Moline)-Knight, and Stearns-Knight as well as a line of Ford Model T& TT Driver Salesman Truck bodies. The firm was reorganized in 1921 as the Moline Body Corp., manufacturers of open and closed production automobile bodies for Marmon and Velie.
In August of 1925, the firm was reorganized once again, emerging as the E.H. Wilson Manufacturing Co. The Wilson company manufactured production bodies for Marmon and General Motors’ recently organized Yellow Truck and Coach Mfg. Co. In late 1925 Wilson received a record order from Yellow Cab for 1,000 taxi-cab bodies, but are best-remembered for a small series of bodies they constructed for the 1927 Marmon E-75 Speedster.
Harry McLaughlin was born in St. Louis Missouri on February 17, 1897 and moved to Moline in 1926 where he found employment with the E.H. Wilson Mfg. Co. as a patternmaker and draftsman. When that firm withdrew from business in 1932 he formed the McLaughlin Body Company, of which he is president, director and majority stockholder. Ray Cundy, the firm’s vice-president was also an investor and director of the firm.
The McLaughlin Body Co.’s early customers included Diamond T, GMC, International Harvester and Minneapolis Moline. During World War II, McLaughlin supplied the U.S. Army with various products including cabs for the infamous White half tracks.
In 1956, the company established one of its current manufacturing plants in East Moline, Illinois by purchasing Buddy L Toy Plant and the Minneapolis Moline Foundry building.
In 1959, McLaughlin built the first cab for the John Deere Combine.
Also in the late 1980's, McLaughlin once again started to build for the military and continues to this day to provide truck cabs for military use. Continued growth in the 1990's led to diversification into other markets such as construction and even front-end loader equipment.
Today McLaughlin produces cabs for John Deere, CNH, Caterpillar, Agco, Stewart Stevenson, AM General, International Harvester, Ford and Mack from its two plants, one located near the Case and John Deere Harvester plants in East Moline, Illinois, the second inside the I-H Farmall plant in Rock Island, Illinois.
Thomas M. Sechler was born October 25, 1841, in Milton, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. After a public education in Adams and Lawrence counties, he attended Cincinnati’s Hughes High School, graduating in June of 1860. He enrolled in Marietta College that fall, graduating third in his class on July 2, 1863.
Immediately after graduation, Sechler enlisted in the Union Army and served with the Second Ohio Artillery, serving as acting Assistant Adjutant General, acting Assistant Quartermaster, and Provost Marshal. When hostilities ended he held the rank of First Lieutenant.
From 1866 to 1869 he was associated with his father’s Cincinnati iron goods store and from 1869 to 1877 was placed in charge of the family’s pig iron foundry in Montgomery County, Tennessee. In November 1877 he returned to Cincinnati to work at Sechler & Company, remaining with the firm until his father retired in May, of 1887.
Sechler was an active member of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) and served at various positions including Cincinnati Post Commander, and chief mustering officer of the Department of Ohio. Sechler was also an active member of the National Association of Carriage Builders, serving as its vice-president for a three-year term.
Two years after the retirement Daniel M. Sechler’s 1887 retirement, the Cincinnati branch of his carriage-building empire hired a 14-year-old office boy named John C. Endebrock. Endebrock worked his way up through the firm and by 1910 was in charge of Sechler’s foreign sales representative.
By that time Sechler’s management had come to the realization that the days of the horse-drawn carriage were coming to an end and that if the Sechler Company were to survive, it must diversify into other products.
Endebrock goes on:
The firm’s entry into the automotive age was prompted by the introduction of aftermarket frame extension/truck conversion kits for the Ford Model T that sufficiently strengthened its frame to enable it to tow an auxiliary trailer. Manufactured by Truckstell, Olsen, Smith (Form-A-Truck) and numerous other firms, none of them had yet developed a hitch that would quickly enable a trailer to be connected to one of the new trucks.
Endebrock and another Sechler engineer named Jacob Knapp began work on designing a fifth wheel that would allow a cargo trailer to be towed by a reinforced Model T. Knapp was a long-time Sechler employee, having designed a fifth wheel for the firm in 1887.
Endebrock and Knapp’s experiments revealed that existing trailer couplings could not absorb the incessant strain of starting and stopping in traffic. They came up with a simple spring-action drawbar that helped isolate a trailer from its tow vehicle.
Sechler’s engineers also set about designing a self-coupling fifth wheel, that allowed the operator of a fifth wheel equipped truck (or tractor) to quickly couple or uncouple a semi-trailer.
Originally, a fifth wheel was a steering bearing that enabled the front axle of a 4-wheeled horse-drawn wagon to rotate in relation to its body. The fifth wheel as introduced by Sechler & Company (Trailmobile) and Lapeer in the late teens refers to a semi-trailer coupling that allows a trailer to pivot when rounding a corner.
When placed in reverse, a horizontally oriented pivoting skidplate placed over the rear axles of the tow vehicle, or semi-tractor, engages and locks onto a kingpin attached to the underside of the semi-trailer. Once secured, the trailer is allowed to pivot on the axis created by the union of the kingpin and the semi-tractor’s fifth wheel.
With assistance from James Morrison, the president and chief engineer of Cincinnati’s Highland Body Co., Endebrock and Knapp developed a fifth wheel with a spring-loaded self-locking jaw that clamped onto the kingpin of a semi-trailer when a truck backed into it.
The process could be just as easily reversed through the movement of a latch located on the fifth wheel that released the kingpin on a jacked-up semi-trailer when the truck moved forward. The original patent for the design was awarded to Morrison, who assigned it to Trailmobile in 1919. It was subsequently improved upon by Endebrock and Knapp, giving us the world-famous Trailmobile fifth wheel coupler that continues to be used today.
The name “Trailmobile” was first used commercially by another Cincinnati carriage maker named Charles A. Behlen who patented a “Trailmobile” in 1915. Soon afterwards all of the truck-pulled trailers built in Cincinnati became commonly known as Trailmobiles and although Behlen first coined the term in his 1915 patent, Sechler & Company were the first to bring a “Trailmobile” to market.
Sechler produced both two and four-wheel trailers which featured a rigid steel chassis that emulated those found on the leading trucks of the day. They were available in a variety of wheelbase, load range and axle combinations, all of whom featured the firm’s spring isolated drawbars or fifth wheel couplers.
Starting in 1916 the firm advertised itself as Sechler & Company, manufacturers of Trailmobile but the wide acceptance of the new trailer prompted a reorganization of the firm as the Trailmobile Company in 1917.
As early as 1914 Sechler started supplying horse- and motor vehicle-drawn trailers to the US War Department for shipment to British and French troops. When the United States officially entered the conflict, the firm ramped up production providing the US Army and Signal Corps with a wide array of trailers and truck bodies. Over 10,000 trailers and vehicle bodies were produced between 1914 and 1918 including: ambulance bodies, field kitchens, ammunition carriers, gun carriages, baggage carriers, searchlight carriages, aeroplane carriers.
By 1916 Endebrock had become secretary of Sechler & Co. and during the same year was elected secretary-treasurer of the newly formed Trailer Manufacturers Association of America. The T.M.A.A.’s first president was C.A. Geiger, president of the Troy Wagons Works Co.; its vice-presidents, Miss Kate Gleason, secretary of the Rochester Trailer Co. and A.P Warner, of the Warner Mfg.Co.
In 1919 a group of Trailmobile directors headed by C.W. Shipley and John C. Endebrock, formed the Oakley Realty Co. which was organized in Cincinnati with a capitalization of $320,000 in order to take advantage of the booming post-war real estate market.
John C.’s brother, Robert A. Endebrock, also started his career at the Sechler carriage works, later becoming one of the firm’s contributing engineers.
Caleb W. Shipley, an 1882 graduate of Yale University, oversaw the firm during its transition from carriages to trailers, retiring in the mid-twenties. He was succeeded as president by J. Englander, who oversaw the 1928 merger with the Lapeer Trailer Company of 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:
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 Linn 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.
In 1932 Trailer Company of America made another acquisition, purchasing the Highland Body Manufacturing Company of Elmwood Place, Ohio. The two firms had enjoyed a long business relationship and Highland Body’s president, a brilliant engineer named James Morrison, had assigned a number of his patents to Trailmobile.
The history of Highland Body goes back to 1870 when Anderson & Harris, a Dayton, Ohio farm implement manufacturer, established a satellite carriage and wagon works at Elmwood Place, a newly organized northern suburb of Cincinnati. The village was laid out in 1875 by Frank L. Whetstone and L. C. Hopkins and by 1880 had a population of 136, many of whom were employed by Anderson & Harris.
The Anderson & Harris Carriage Company was constructed adjacent to the tracks of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad (C.H. & D. R.R.) at the corner of Center Hill (now Township) and Elmwood Ave.’s.
On July 28, 1888 their Cincinnati plant was destroyed by fire with a loss estimated at $50,000. $30,000 of the loss was covered by insurance. The plant was rebuilt, and was one of the first Elmwood Place businesses to be wired for telephone service.
Between 1895 and 1896 Anderson & Harris manufactured a bicycle, which was marketed as the Fleetwood. On June 19, 1896 the firm was placed in the hands of P.G. March and a Cincinnati solicitor named Otto Pfleger. Its liabilities were listed at $80,000, assets $100,000.
The firm remained in business for a short time, but on June 16, 1897, the firm’s vice-president, Nicholas Curtis, petitioned the court for a receiver, stating that the firm was in arrears for taxes and that no dividends had been paid out in seven years. The rest of the firm’s board opposed that move, electing to reorganize it as the Highland Buggy Company. Colonel A.E. Pound was listed as the firm’s president, and H.J. McCullough, secretary, treasurer.
Established with less than-stellar finances, the Highland Buggy Co. had a hard time convincing new investors of their solvency and on May 16, 1906 it was once again forced into bankruptcy, its liabilities totaling $90,000, its assets, $110,000.
With a skeleton staff of 50 hands, the firm’s receiver managed to keep it doors open and sometime during 1909, sold it to two brothers, named James and William Morrison, who reorganized it as the Highland Body Manufacturing Company.
The Morrisons were the children of Cincinnati natives Thomas and Olivia Proctor Morrison. William was born in 1872, and James in 1876. The brothers were members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and held degrees from Cornell University in mechanical engineering. Consequently, the pair were well-suited to the task of turning an old-school buggy maker into a modern motor vehicle body manufacturer.
The reorganization of the firm was announced in the leading automobile trades, with their stated product line being “Highland Bodies for Motor Trucks.” William Morrison served as the firm’s president in charge of sales, James Morrison, president, in charge of manufacturing.
From its inception, the firm was closely associated with commercial bodies for the Ford Model T. Although some very early Ford trucks were sold with commercial bodies, Ford discontinued the program in 1913. For over ten years Ford literally gave away their truck body business to independent builders such as Highland. However that all stopped in 1923 when declining sales and profits caused them to implement a new fully equipped Ford Truck sales program starting with the 1924 model year.
Sales were so brisk that in May of 1913 the Morrisons bought back most of Highland Body’s stock, reducing the firm’s liabilities from $50,000 to $5,000. At that time the firm advertised regularly in the automotive trades in addition to the Ford Owner, a magazine that was distributed to purchasers of the Ford Model T.
Exponentially increasing sales created a need for additional manufacturing capacity and during the mid-teens, the firm was recapitalized twice, the first time for $81,900, and again in 1917 for $150,000.
Two of the firm’s bodies were selected for inclusion in Kingston Forbes' landmark coach building bible; Principles of Automobile Body Design.
Highland established large factory branches in Detroit and Chicago and by the early twenties was one of the countries largest commercial body builders. During the late teens, their Cincinnati neighbor, Trailmobile, utilized the talents of the Morrison brothers engineering skills as a large number of their patents dating from that time were assigned to the trailer manufacturer. The first were a semi-trailer and 5th wheel designed by James Morrison in 1919.
Dean E. Baskerville, a well-known Detroit body engineer, got his early training at Highland under the tutelage of the Morrisons. He eventually became chief body engineer at Maxwell after short stints with Dodge Brothers, Packard, Motor Car Supply Co. and Troy Mfg. Co.
In 1921 a federal judge held the Field Body Corporation of Owosso, Michigan in contempt for violating an injunction against infringement of one of the Morrison brothers’ patents.
In 1922 they designed a “Combination Open and Closed Cab” that featured pocket doors that slid into the rear of the cab when not needed. The doors included windows that could be folded back into the back part of the cab during warm weather.
The firm was a frequent exhibitor at the annual New York and Chicago Good Roads Expositions which were sponsored by Good Roads magazine. Highland introduced their Coupe Cab at the 1927 New York show, one of the nation’s first true extended cabs. By that time all of Highland’s cabs were built with steel roofs that were built with insulated three-ply 18 gauge panels.
In 1928, William Richards, the former manager of the Corbitt Motor Truck Co. body plant, relocated to Cincinnati to become a Highland body engineer and designer. Two years later Highland introduced their first Sleeper Cab. Designed using a modified Coupe Cab it was initially offered for Ford, and White truck chassis.
Highland’s sales suffered during the early day so the Depression and in 1932 the Morrisons decided to sell a controlling interest in the firm to their much better financed Cincinnati neighbor, Trailmobile, with an exchange of stock.
Unfortunately William Morrison wouldn’t live to see the great success of his firm under Trailmobile ownership as he passed away on April 3, 1933, and as he was unmarried, his brother James inherited his Trailmobile stock.
The November 1st, 1932 Cincinnati Examiner reported on the purchase of a fleet of new Kroger tractor trailer trucks and illustrated how Trailmobile and Highland Body worked in tandem to increase each other’s sales.
In 1934 Highland Body hired Harvard graduate, A.H. Morse, as their new factory manager. Later that year, the firm entered the bus manufacturing business, introducing a vehicle designed for inter-city commercial passenger service.
The Trailmobile merger resulted in a combination of the firm’s engineering departments which were now headed by Highland’s chief engineer, James J. Black, who had served as chief body engineer since 1932.
In 1935 John Weber began his long career at Highland Body/Trailmobile. Weber was later put in charge of the firm’s combined truck cab division, and when it was spun off in 1948, became Truck Cab Mfg.’s president.
The firm’s 1935 product mailers included a number of new products developed in association with Trailmobile such as new Stake & Rack Bodies, Livestock Trailers, Smooth Pane Trailers, and Refrigerator Bodies and Trailers.
Most early Trailmobile trailers were equipped with a single axle with an overall length of between 24 and 32 feet. They were often combined with another trailer using a fifth-wheel equipped “tag axle” allowing a single tractor to tow two trailers in tandem. When trailers began to exceed 35 feet during the 1930s, the shorter trailers were given the nick name “pup trailer” and today the term refers to a short, single axle, semi-trailer between 26 and 32 feet in length.
In 1936 Highland Body sent out an eight-page mailer describing the winter sales benefits of their new line of Chevrolet-based sleeper cabs. Under Trailmobile, both firms enjoyed continued sales success and by 1937 the Trailer Company of America and its subsidiaries employed close to 1,400 and the firm’s Oakley plant, which was situated on the North side of Robertson Ave., between 31st and 34th Aves., had grown to 29 acres.
The Trailer Company of America was listed as a manufacturer of house trailers during the 1930s, but its manufacture was short-lived.
In the late 30s Trailmobile established a satellite sales and manufacturing division on the West coast. Their sales office was located at 620 Hegenberger Rd, in San Leandro (Oakland), California and a 70,000 sq. ft. factory was established nearby at 901 Gilman St., (at the corner of 7th St.) in Berkeley, California.
In 1941 Highland Body received a contract from the Railway Express Agency (REA) to build a fleet of Express Messenger bodies. Unfortunately it was the firm’s last large commission before it converted over to war work. Later that year they became one of 28 firms selected to manufacture the G518 1-Ton cargo trailer for the US Army.
The “Ben Hur” trailers (named after its most prolific producer, the Ben
Hur Mfg. Co.) were typically towed behind 2.5 ton trucks but during the war
could be found being towed behind 1 ton to 7.5 ton trucks and even some
Armored Vehicles. The G518 typically consisted of an 8’ x 4’ steel or wood
box mounted on a heavy-duty 1-ton single axle trailer. Most were covered
with a wood or metal frame and tarpaulin. Variations of the trailer were
used to haul fire pumps, mobile kitchens, generators, and other goods
Trailmobile started ramping up for wartime production in late 1939 and by mid-1942 had completely converted over to war work. A backlog of orders created the need for additional manufacturing space, so the directors purchased the vacant Goodall Co. clothing plant in Oakley, effectively doubling their capacity.
Since its founding in 1928, the Trailer Company of America had long established ties with St Louis banking and transportation interests and during the War was headed by a St Louis banker named David R. Calhoun, Jr. Calhoun was also the president of the St. Louis Union Trust Co., and had large holdings in Trailmobile, the Herman Body Co. and Handling, Inc.
While the Highland body works concentrated on building a single product, the 1-ton Ben-Hur trailer, its parent firm produced a wide variety of trailers for the War Department. Between 1941 and 1945, Trailmobile produced close to 40,000 vehicles, including tank retrievers, M-5 bomb carriers, flatbed trailers, stake bodies and a mobile offices and record-keeping van bodies which helped it earn an Army-Navy “E” Award during 1944.
The “E” award was the Army-Navy Award for Excellence in War Production and was normally awarded when a firm completed a large order for the US War effort or filled an order in a short period of time. At the ceremony, the employees would be given an enameled pin mounted on a card certifying their contribution to the war effort with a message from the president. The employer would be presented with an “E’ flag and banner and outstanding employees would be presented with a special certificate.
During 1943 the supplies, equipment and personnel of the Highland Body were gradually transferred from Elmwood Place to Trailmobile’s 31st and Robertson facility in Oakley. On January 1, 1944 Highland’s employees were placed on the Trailmobile payroll, and the Elmwood Place commercial body builder faded into obscurity.
On November, 1st, 1944, the Trailer Company of America and its various holdings were consolidated and reorganized as the Trailmobile Company. By that time the Trailmobile name had become synonymous with the semi-trailer and the firm’s directors hoped to capitalize on that recognition when the war ended.
Unfortunately, the expected post war prosperity never arrived. Most of the country’s steel and aluminum was funneled to Detroit’s automakers between 1945 and 1947 and despite an increased demand for Trailmobile semi-trailers they were unable to keep up with the demand due to material shortages.
Trailmobile’s truck cab building operations were sold off in 1948 to a group of former Highland Body Company employees headed by truck cab engineer John Weber, who relocated it to the Western Hills and organized it as the Truck Cab Manufacturing Company.
The firm remains in business today producing custom-built cabs for fire trucks, crash vehicles, crane carriers, snow removal and construction equipment at their 2420 Anderson Ferry Rd. factory in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In October of 1946, Joseph Kuttler, a Trailmobile vice-president and manager of their west coast operations, announced that a $125,000 addition would be constructed to the 901 Gilman St factory in Berkeley.
According to Kuttler, the new 60-70,000 sq.ft. structure would double the firm’s west coast manufacturing capacity and include a Southern Pacific Railroad spur line that would enable freight cars to enter the building to load and unload. Employment was expected to increase from the present force of 125 to at least twice that number.
In 1949, Trailmobile’s St. Louis-based owners hired George M. Bunker to take over the fading firm and with the financial backing of the Mellon family, he turned the firm around, doubling its sales to $52 million, and boosting its stock value by 400%.
The firm’s officers were as follows: president, George M. Bunker; vice-president of sales, William A. Burns Jr.; vice-president of engineering, James J. Black; and vice-president of manufacturing, S.E. Briggs. At that time, Trailmobile’s chief competitor was Fruehauf, who held 40% of the US semi-trailer market compared to Trailmobile’s 30%.
In 1951 Bunker brokered the sale of Trailmobile to the Chicago-based railcar manufacturer, Pullman, Inc., for $41.5 million. William A. Burns Jr. became president of Trailmobile and Champ Curry, president of Pullman Inc., became Trailmobile’s chairman. Bunker left to become president of the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Co.
Following the acquisition Trailmobile acted as a separate member of the Pullman group, retaining its own staff and manufacturing facilities. At the time of the takeover, Trailmobile had 63 branches and distributors in 35 states and 10 additional outlets in Canada.
James J. Black served as Trailmobile’s chief trailer designer and engineer and was the man responsible for Trailmobile’s distinctive “roundnose” semi-trailers that debuted in the late 30s. Black had started his career with Buick in 1920, leaving to go to work for the Lapeer Trailer Co. in 1922.
Black became Trailmobile’s chief engineer when Lapeer’s engineering department was consolidated with Trailmobile’s in 1932, and in 1944 joined the Trailmobile board as vice-president of engineering. He was active in the Truck-Trailer Manufacturer’s Association and following Pullman Inc.’s 1951 takeover of Trailmobile, was elected to the Pullman board as its vice-president of engineering.
Under Pullman’s ownership Trailmobile expanded into many new trailer-related fields. The started producing new car carriers; bulk cargo; livestock; cement, gravel and asphalt hoppers; dump, side-dump and bottom dump; grain; milk, fuel and bulk liquid tank trailers in addition to their existing line of flatbed, lowbed and dry, insulated and refrigerated van trailers. An optional sleeper compartment was available on the firm’s dry vans which was located at the front of the trailer.
During the early 50s Trailmobile introduced the aluminum bodied OP (Outside Post) body and the all-steel IP (Integral Post) body for both semi-trailers and straight trucks. Their work with aluminum continued through the 1950s culminating in an extruded aluminum bulk-liquid container that was introduced in 1960.
Canadian Trailmobile Ltd was established after the Second World War to market the firm’s products north of the border. A sales office was established in Toronto and a small manufacturing facility in Scarborough, Ontario at 807 Pharmacy Ave. Arthur Hailey, the famous British author, worked in the Toronto office as Trailmobile’s manager of sales promotion and advertising from 1953-1956, when his writing career took off.
Trailmobile established the Trailmobile Finance Company in 1955, a year in which they produced a record 12,000 trailers and van bodies. They also sold a controlling interest in Canadian Trailmobile Limited to the National Steel Car Corporation Ltd. in 1956, who later totally absorbed the firm.
Trailmobile returned to Canada seven years later when they purchased the Brantford Coach and Body Co. from Cockshutt in 1962, reorganizing it as Pullman Trailmobile Canada Limited. Canadian Trailmobile Ltd. was located at 50 Shaver St. in Brantford, Ontario, and at that time of the purchase was Canada’s largest truck body and semi-trailer manufacturer.
Trailmobile also established a plant south of the border as Pullman-Trailmobile de Mexico S.A. C.V. The Mexican plant manufactured semi-trailers for the burgeoning Mexican trucking industry from its Santa Clara, Mexico City (DF) facility. It was merged into ETA Pullman Mexican operations in 1969.
During the 1960s Pullman-Trailmobile entered the intermodal container manufacturing business with trailers manufactured by Trailmobile. The PAT (Pullman and Trailmobile) intermodal container system was designed for combined sea, land and rail transportation using Trailmobile-built semi-trailers loaded onto 50-ton Pullman-Standard trailer train rail cars.
PAT system containers and trailers were either purchased or leased from Pullman by various transportation and manufacturing firms. The containers could be securely sealed greatly reducing the "falling off the truck" syndrome that had long plagued the shipping industry.
Originally 12 and 24 feet, 17 and 35 feet and 20 and 40 feet in length, today’s containers have been standardized at 20 and 40 ft, although a new 45’ model has recently grown in popularity. By the 1970s intermodal containers dominated the international shipping business and today the world’s largest manufacturer is South Korea’s Hyundai Group.
In December of 1955 Trailmobile purchased a 40-acre factory site near Livermore. California for approximately $50,000. The new plant, located at 6000 Stevenson Blvd., Fremont, was completed in late 1956 and the firm gradually shut down their Gilman St. factory in Berkeley.
The new Stevenson Blvd. plant occupied a 42 acre parcel inside of the Southern Pacific Industrial Park with a 22,000 sq. ft. office and a 208,000 manufacturing facility which included a Southern Pacific spur that ran into the plant. When the Fremont plant closed down in 1975 the firm’s west coast operations were consolidated into the Charleston, Illinois facility.
When William A. Burns Jr. retired in 1965 he was succeeded as Trailmobile president by John W. Scallan, the president of Pullman-Standard. Scallan retired in 1968 and was replaced by J.M. Gilroy, Pullman-Standard’s vice-president of marketing. Gilroy joined Pullman in 1961 after 28 years in sales at General Motors.
It was under Gilroy that Trailmobile finally began production of fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) truck bodies in 1972 in its new Charleston, Illinois manufacturing plant.
Located at 1000 North 14th Street on a 130 acre parcel, the 111,000 sq. ft. plant and 8,000 sq. ft. office building were built in 1971-72. During its first full year of operation, the firm hoped to produce 8,000 semi-truck trailers and van bodies.
During the 70s production was consolidated at the new Charleston plant and the firm’s various Cincinnati facilities were closed down. Into the 1980s Trailmobile successfully competed against its two main competitors, Fruehauf and Great Dane, but by 1988 its sales had fallen substantially behind their competitors and Pullman put the firm on the market.
A family run Indonesian conglomerate, the Gemala Group, purchased Trailmobile from Pullman in 1989 for a reported $20.5 million. Gemala’s chairman, Sofjan Wanandi, placed his son Edward in charge of the Trailmobile operations and he relocated to the firm’s corporate headquarters in Chicago’s Illinois’ Amoco Building.
Edward Wanandi, Trailmobile’s new CEO, enlisted Jay Nieszel to be the firm’s new president and Timothy McDonnell, vice-president. The first order of business was to shut down Trailmobile’s Canadian manufacturing facility in Brantford, Ontario and to consolidate its North American manufacturing operations at the firm’s Charleston, Illinois plant.
Under Wanandi, Trailmobile embarked on a massive building program. In 1994 they opened up a new dry freight van assembly plant in Jonesboro, Arkansas and in 1999 a $22-million 235,000 sq. ft. refrigerated trailer assembly plant in Liberal, Kansas. They also acquired a controlling interest (54%) in Canada's second-largest manufacturer of dry-van trailers, Mond Industries, for $8.6 million. Originally located in Toronto, Mond had recently built a new 120,000 sq. ft. plant in Mississauga, Ontario, and was in the process of closing its Toronto factory.
The massive expansion program was ill-advised and within 18 months Trailmobile was forced to file for chapter eleven bankruptcy. Trailmobile surrendered possession of its Liberal Kansas trailer manufacturing plant to the city manager of Liberal on September 12, 2001 after it defaulted on its lease.
Trailmobile’s Jonesboro, Arkansas and Charleston, Illinois plants were sold to Great Dane L.P. in a $10 million deal authorized by the Chicago Federal Bankruptcy Court. Savannah, Georgia-based Great Dane immediately placed the Charleston plant on the market. It was eventually sold to two Charleston businessmen, William Whitworth and Charles Kirchner on April, 21st 2005.
Trailmobile’s 120,000 sq. ft. Mississauga, Ontario, Canada plant was unaffected by the US firm’s 2001 bankruptcy and continues to manufacture new Trailmobile trailers as Trailmobile Canada Ltd.
Today Edward Wanandi remains in charge of the reorganized Trailmobile whose offices are located in Lake Forest, Illinois. Although they no longer manufacture trailers in the United States, Trailmobile continues to distribute Canadian-made Trailmobiles as well as OEM trailer parts for Trailmobile and other trailer manufacturers such as Great Dane, Strickland, Utility and Wabash from their Erlanger, Kentucky distribution center.
Trailmobile currently controls 6 US factory branches and 5 in Canada and distributes Trailmobile products through 80 independent North American dealers, 75 in the US, 5 in Canada.
© 2004 Mark Theobald - Coachbuilt.com