Anyone thinking Tesla's promised semi will be the first all-electric work truck is sadly mistaken. The early 20th Century had many battery-powered vehicles available for work and play, and one tough survivor from that era is currently for sale in West Virginia.
This particular Commercial Truck Company Model A 10 Standard was built in Philadelphia in 1912 and used locally by the Curtis Publishing Company for more than 50 years to deliver The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, and other publications to the post office and area newsstands, according to the seller's representative. The publisher eventually purchased 22 C-T trucks to haul paper, coal, and waste, replacing dozens of horses it had previously used. It retired its electric truck fleet in 1964.
The truck is owned by 87-year-old Carroll Hutton, who is selling it and other antique vehicles from his Winfield, West Virginia-based collection to donate to a local children's charity. Hutton's agent, Greg Lipscomb, is assisting in the sale and spoke with The Drive.
Lipscomb noted that the truck is motivated by four 16-horsepower GE electric motors, one at each of its solid rubber wheels. A period brochure from Commercial Truck Company notes the Model A 10 could hit 10 mph unladen, or 8 mph carrying a full five-ton load. The vehicle itself is a little more than 18 feet long, about the length of a modern full-size pickup, but weighs considerably more at 14,500 pounds thanks to quarter-inch thick steel construction and the eight 500 pound lead acid batteries that powered it.
Batteries are not included in the sale of this otherwise nearly complete and unrestored four-wheel-drive time capsule.
"I really would like to see this restored and put back to work," Lipscomb said. "That's possible, but only if a complete set of batteries can be replaced or reproduced. It's a very low-tech motor vehicle, and over 100 years old, so I don't think that task will prove to be much of a hurdle."
The economics of why the Curtis Publishing Company went electric is obvious to Lipscomb. "At the turn of the previous century, these trucks cost $15 a day to operate with charging, labor and maintenance. That was about a third the cost of using horses for the same job."
The Commercial Truck Company lasted from 1906 to 1928, when "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks and Commercial Vehicles" notes it was purchased by another electric work vehicle manufacturer, Walker Vehicle Company, which itself closed up shop in late 1941. Curtis Publishing sold off many of its publications by the late 1960s, but still exists as an art licensing company.