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The First Transcontinental Truck Shipment in 1912

Updated on September 16, 2012
The truck in Ohio. Look at the road, very typical of what have to be traveled over.
The truck in Ohio. Look at the road, very typical of what have to be traveled over.
The truck stuck in Wyoming-no roads some of the time.
The truck stuck in Wyoming-no roads some of the time.

It was 100 years ago, that the first ever transcontinental truck carried and delivered three tons of Parrot Brand Olive oil soap from Philadelphia to the small town of Petaluma, CA. about 50 miles north of San Francisco. This small town was also the first place for US airmail delivery between Santa Rosa and Petaluma, about 20 miles distance.

Just to put things in perspective, in 1912, the president was William Taft, Arizona and New Mexico were just named the 47th and 48th states, Fenway Park (now closed) had just debuted in Boston and Jim Thorpe at the Olympics had won gold medals. In 1912, there was no highway system across America, no interstates, and roads, of the paved type, were hard to find after Cleveland, Ohio! Santa Rosa and Petaluma still have gravel roads, there was no highway to either.

The truck making the journey was made by Alco. The truck could carry 3.5 tons, had 40 hp and top speed of 12 mph. For its time, it WAS one heavy truck. It had a four cylinder engine and over 1000 had been sold. The company folded in 1913.

On June 20th, the five man crew and cargo set out to Carlson Currier Company in Petaluma, California. The route began in Philadelphia on June 20th and the cargo reached Chicago on July 1. Many of the roads were muddy from rain and over 100 bridges had to be strengthened in order to cross. The truck reached Colorado on July 18th and then into Wyoming for a challenging climb of 5100 ft that was 50 miles long. Many of the roads were actually trails and the truck simply drove over terrain that was flat and barren. Crossing rivers and streams presented challenges forcing the crew to make crossings or dams. It was not until Aug. 19th, that the truck had reached Elco, Utah and had to make two steep climbs over summits on narrow roads. Once down from the climb, the truck straddled a rail line and removed the tires from the front rims to travel along until they heard a train. Finally, on Sept. 3rd, the truck arrived at Elko, Nevada. Now the truck had two serious climbs over the Sierras with 15-25% grades. It chugged up slowly and going down proved hard on brakes. It arrived in Sacramento on Sept.16 and was in the state fair. After a four day trip, it arrived in San Francisco, some 80 miles away (think about this: today, you can do it in 1.5 hrs.). Finally, after another three day trip, it arrived at Petaluma and unloaded its cargo. A trip today from Petaluma to SF is about 40 min.

My, how times have changed!


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    • perrya profile image

      perrya 5 years ago

      The first real interstate highways coast to coast began in the 50's, based on the German Autobahn. The difference between a highway and just roads across the US, was that, traffic on highways are not interrupted by intersections and lights. The autobahn is directly linked to Hitler who wanted such roads to a quick movement of troops. Most of their early ones centered around Berlin in the 1930's.

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      I think the infrastructure that makes possible what we think of as everyday life is fascinating. But I never thought to wonder about when the first transcontinental truck shipment was. Thank you for piquing my interest.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      So, three months to cross... that was an epic journey. Strengthening bridges, crossing rivers without bridges and going up and down through the mountains... to deliver soap??? I'm sure the cargo was insignificant but I smell a marketing scheme here. Nonetheless, a great adventure. Wasn't it General Pershing, who, after the Great War, was tasked with developing the first real cross-country highway system? Nice article.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      Interesting history lesson. Loved the hub and the photos..We forget sometimes how life was.