The 1913 Avery farm truck that appears on the cover of the May/June 2013 issue of Vintage Truck magazine is the product of J.B. Bartholomew’s desire to appeal to the greatest market and have a vehicle that was part farm tractor and part motor truck. Although ultimately declared a failure, this farm truck represents the entrance of Avery into the world of gasoline power.
What else is in this issue?
- Delivery Designs – Brooks VanEttes
- Chevy Talk – 1946 Half-ton
- Triple Diamond Treatise – Transmissions
- Wagon Wheels – 1962 Chevrolet Station Wagons
- Dodge Garage – 1946 WC
- Model Maker’s Corner – International 6X6
- Skinned Knuckles – Magnetic Particle Inspection
- Tech Tips – Unsticking the Motor: Backwoods Revival
- Northern Exposure – 1956 Fargo
- Tailgate Talk – Pickup Archaeology
1913 Avery farm truck
A Bit of Both Worlds
By Patrick Ertel
The truck industry had yet to sort itself out in 1909. Half a dozen manufacturers built motorized wagons, but no one agreed on what to call the vehicles they made—though “motor truck” was gaining popularity. International Harvester had just begun to call its Autowagon a motor truck, but the nomenclature was still inconsistent in its advertising. If the terminology was inconsistent, the vehicles were even more so. These new contraptions could be powered by gasoline, electricity, or even steam, because no one knew which of the three was the most effective power source. Four-wheel drive was being developed by men who thought it would become the standard drivetrain, but as we all know, it didn’t.
In 1908, the Avery Company, a farm equipment manufacturer in Peoria, Illinois, decided to try its hand at making a gasoline-powered vehicle. Avery had grown from a small manufacturer of corn planters to one of the country’s premier steam traction engine manufacturers under the leadership of its founders, Robert and Cyrus Avery. The company didn’t have any gasoline-powered vehicles in its catalog in 1905, when company president Cyrus Avery died. J.B. Bartholomew, Cyrus’s brother-in-law and owner of the Bartholomew Company, which manufactured Glide automobiles, became the new president.
With Bartholomew at the helm, Avery entered the new world of gasoline power. Most steam engine manufacturers were experimenting with heavy gasoline-powered tractors that resembled their steam engines, but Bartholomew started with a clean slate. The matter of whether farm tractors or motor trucks provided the greater market was still undecided, so Bartholomew hedged his bet with a vehicle that was a bit of both.
By all outward appearances, Avery’s vehicle was a motor truck, but the company’s early advertising referred to it as a farm tractor. When it made its debut at the 1909 Winnipeg Tractor Trials, observers said, “Avery’s entry was not a tractor. It was more on the order of a regular farm truck with a slow speed of a mile and a half per hour and a fast speed of fifteen miles.” The vehicle did have a front-mounted belt pulley to operate farm machines, and a variety of available drive wheels to give it traction in soft soil.
Avery’s truck was powered by a Rutenber 4-cylinder, 354ci L-head engine. The Rutenber was the first 4-cylinder engine of its type built in the United States, and Avery was possibly the first truck powered by a 4-cylinder engine. The engine featured individually cast cylinders, five main bearings, and pressure oiling. Rutenber advertised it as a 40‒-45hp engine, and Avery claimed it produced 45hp at the belt pulley and 12hp at the wheels.
A unique feature of the truck was the design of the rear wheels. J.B. Bartholomew applied for a patent on the design in 1909. The Avery’s wheels consisted of a cast steel rim with two rows of two-inch holes around the circumference. Wooden plugs were driven into the holes and held in by friction. The inventor Bartholomew claimed that the wheels would “operate noiselessly and smoothly, while at the same time, exert an effective tractive force.” Dudley Diebold, the owner of the Avery truck featured here [USE avery_6], once stored the truck in a heated shop for a few weeks. “The wooden pegs dried up and shrank in the warm dry air and fell right out.”
The wheels were available with extension rims, retractable lugs, and vicious-looking ice spikes. Solid rubber tires were also optional. When equipped with rubber tires, the vehicle was referred to as a “city truck.”
The following year, Avery bowed to convention and produced a gas traction engine in the style that was gaining popularity on American farms. The truck remained in production and was still advertised as a farm tractor, but as it failed to gain a following among farmers, Avery increasingly touted its value as a city truck.
By 1914, Avery’s advertisements listed an expanding line of conventional farm tractors, but did not include the truck. The company’s first gasoline-powered vehicle had been a failure—both as a tractor and as a truck—but Bartholomew persevered. He used his broad experience in tractors, automobiles, and trucks to continue to pursue a successful Avery truck line even as the company’s tractor business expanded. In 1912, Avery added more conventional two- and three-ton trucks with solid rubber tires to the line, and in 1916 they introduced a five-ton cab-over engine design featuring an enclosed chain drive. None of these are known to exist. In 1920, the Avery Company absorbed the Bartholomew Company and its Glide automobile. For a brief time in the early 1920s, Avery built a truck based on Guide automobile components.
In 1923, J.B. Bartholomew was in failing health. Avery could not withstand the competition in automobile, truck, and tractor industries without a strong leader and entered bankruptcy in 1923. J.B. Bartholomew died the following year.