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Wilcox Trux History by Ronald Pearson
By Ronald Pearson
In the early days of the automotive industry, many small companies entered the business of producing cars, trucks and buses. Not all were located in Detroit and not all enjoyed longevity. One such small, short-lived company was located in Minneapolis . Founded by Harry Eugene Wilcox1 was the “H.E. Wilcox Motor Car Company”, also known as the “H.E. Wilcox Motor Truck Company”, “H.E. Wilcox Motor Company”, and “Wilcox Trux”.
I first came across the name in a most surprising way. While visiting in Sweden , a few years back, a cousin showed me a leather watch fob with a metal medallion bearing the stamped impression of a truck and the words - “Wilcox Trux, Minneapolis , Minnesota ”. It had been handed down from his grandfather and he wanted to know if I knew anything about it or the company. I was unaware but told him I would send him whatever I could find when I returned home. His grandfather had been in this country between 1911 and 1918 and that provided me with a period for research.
What little information I found, and some of it not too clear, indicated the company was located at 1030 Marshall Street Northeast in Minneapolis along with the Wilcox-Bennett Carburetor Company and the (John) Wilcox Sash and Door Company roughly between 1906 and 1926 (depending on the source). At first, they produced the “Wolfe” motorcar. In 1909, they turned to truck production consisting of one-ton and three-ton models as well as buses, possibly some for a fledgling bus company in Hibbing , Minnesota – forerunner to the Greyhound Lines.
By 1918, Wilcox was making trucks in six sizes, ranging from three-quarter ton to five-ton capacity. In the 1920’s, Wilcox increased bus production and introduced a line of six-cylinder engines with ratings from 80 to 105 horsepower. In 1922, production turned to the larger heavy-duty truck models ranging from a one-ton “AA” to the five-ton “F” chassis.
Operations ceased in 1926 when Sales Manager Carl H. Will bought the firm from the Wilcox family2 and changed the name to “C. H. Will Motors Corporation” in 1927. Will Motors produced buses for Greyhound with their final delivery of “Will” buses to Greyhound in January of 1931.
Wilcox plant at 10th & Marshall Street NE, Mpls. Minneapolis Public Library, Special Collections photo
Wilcox chassis and the fire service …
… When fire departments began converting to motor apparatus, many apparatus builders took advantage of truck chassis available from the automotive industry rather than build their own as a quick way to gain a piece of the market and keep costs affordable for small towns and rural areas. This was especially true of some local apparatus builders -- …drive the truck chassis of your choice in the back door and drive out the front door with a ‘fire engine’. Some of these builds exceeded the load limits of their chassis and drive trains when fully loaded – but then, it beat shoveling out stalls in the morning.
Motor fire-engine configurations offered by the various builders were:
Hose Wagons; Combination Booster & Chemical; Combination Booster & Hose; Combination Chemical & Hose; Combination Pump & Hose; Triple Combination Pump, Hose & Chemical; Triple Combination Pump, Hose & Booster; High-Pressure Chemical; Booster engines, and Specials.
I first came across a fire engine on a Wilcox chassis when scanning archive photos from the Waterous Company for the Land-O-Lakes Chapter of SPAAMFAA. Aside from building fire pumps, Waterous also built fire engines on a wide variety of outsourced truck chassis, especially on the Model-T Ford. One chassis model was used for their custom-builds that I could not identify which I assumed they built themselves. Wrong assumption!
In conversation with Matt Lee of Plymouth , Michigan , he informed me “Wilcox Trux” of Minneapolis supplied those chassis. Apparently, Wilcox won out over Sanford Motor Truck Company3 of Syracuse, New York, in a bid to supply Waterous with chassis for use as their “standard bearer”. Unfortunately, no data was found to identify the specific Wilcox chassis used by Waterous between 1922 and 1924 in building fifteen of the engines identified. ( See Two Harbors & St. Louis Park photos.)
Of 300-plus photos scanned from the Waterous archive records, 16 photos were identified as apparatus built on a Wilcox chassis; three were sold to fire departments in Minnesota (Anoka4, Two Harbors, and Winnebago), six in New Jersey, four in New York, two in Iowa, and one in Ohio. The “shipping dates” range from 1922 to 1927. There may be more but without a photo, there is no way to identify them in the Waterous shipping records.
In their catalog, the model Waterous illustrates as their standard is actually a “ Sanford engine”. Sanford records show five complete engines shipped to Waterous with four bearing the Waterous name; this was between 1927 and 1929, after Wilcox ceased production. Waterous quit building fire engines in 1929 but continue to this day to supply the fire service with pumps and water hydrants.
Northern Fire Apparatus records have long since been destroyed but a catalog found at the Minnesota History Center , dated February 1, 1923, provided a partial listing of their builds. Their motto: “We Furnish Everything but the Chassis”. This list included only five engines built on the Wilcox chassis up to that point. Whether they built more after that date, other than for Princeton and Wayzata in 1924, is unknown. The list includes:
1. Estherville , IA , a “Special” of unknown type, October 10, 1914
2. Anoka , MN4, a Combination single-tank chemical and hose wagon, March 11, 1921
3. Marble, MN5, a Combination double-tank chemical and hose wagon, May 8, 1919
4. St. Louis Park , MN , a “Special” four-tank chemical, June 30, 1917
5. Sauk Center , MN , a “Special” of unknown type, April 30, 1915
St. Louis Park ’s “Special” on a 1917 Wilcox chassis. Northern Fire Apparatus catalog photo
Minneapolis Fire Department
In addition to what has been previously identified, there was one other known fire engine in Minnesota built on a Wilcox chassis. It was in 1912 when the Wilcox Company offered a four-cylinder truck chassis (#2052) to the city of Minneapolis to be purchased only if it proved satisfactory. The Minneapolis Fire Department Repair Shops built a combination chemical and hose body on the chassis and painted it cream with red trim and wheels, and found it very serviceable. (It resembled a horse-drawn hose wagon with headlights and chain-drive …minus the horses!) It served as Engine 22 from 1912 to 1915, as Engine 27 from 1915 to 1920, and in reserve until 1922 when it was dropped from the roster, disposition unknown.
Of the aforementioned apparatus built on the Wilcox chassis, only four are known to this writer to exist today:
A 1921 Northern/Wilcox Combination hose and chemical6 engine with 40-gallon Champion chemical tank built for the Anoka Fire Department and rebuilt by Waterous in 1927 as a Triple-combination by adding a 500-gpm pump. (Rumored to be somewhere in the Caledonia, Minnesota area.)
Anoka Fire Department photo
A 1922 Waterous/Wilcox Triple-combination engine with 400-gpm pump and 40-gallon Champion chemical built for the Two Harbors Fire Department. (Last heard, it was in excellent condition, offered for sale by a woman in Iowa , and apparently sold to an unknown buyer.)
Waterous Archives photo
A 1924 Northern/Wilcox six-cylinder Triple-combination engine with 500-gpm pump and two 40-gallon chemical tanks6 built on the 5-ton “F” chassis for the Princeton , Minnesota Fire Department. (Mille Lacs County Historical Society, un-restored.)
A 1924 Northern/Wilcox six-cylinder Combination engine with 500-gpm pump built on a 3-ton chassis for the Wayzata, Minnesota Fire Department. (Wayzata FD, restored.)
Jack Mersereau photo
Minneapolis , Minn.
There is no indication that W.S.Nott, another local fire apparatus company, ever utilized the Wilcox chassis.
1According to his obituary in the Minneapolis Tribune of October 30, 1954, Harry E. Wilcox ran the Minneapolis Automobile shows for many years and was the first man to drive a car from Chicago to Minneapolis .
2The actual train of events leading to the sale of the firm to the sales manager and demise of the firm is a closely held family secret.
3Sanford was a Waterous customer, using Waterous pumps on their apparatus builds.
4The Anoka rig is a 1927 Waterous rebuild of the 1921 Wilcox/Northern Combination Chemical & Hose via C.H. Will Motors Corp. The rebuild added a windshield, a 500-gpm Waterous pump, an additional electric siren on the driver’s side, and was painted ‘battleship gray’ with red trim. When originally delivered to Anoka in 1921 it was painted red with gold trim.
5Rebuilt by Waterous in 1924 adding a 300-gpm pump.
6Chemical tank(s) eventually replaced with a booster tank.