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C T Electric (Commercial Truck Company - Electric Truck )

Posted By Eddy Lucast Sunday, June 15, 2008 5:39 AM
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Eddy Lucast
 Posted Sunday, June 15, 2008 5:39 AM

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1916 CT Electric (Commercial Truck Co) 5-ton model 36A



In January of 2008 I saw a post of a craigslist ad for the CT Electric. It's a 1916 5-ton model 36A, from the Curtis Publishing fleet.

20 CT Electric's were used during the night time hours from 1916 up into 1962 to haul 10 ton loads of paper and two hauled coal. Mine was number 14 and was used to haul coal. At least I believe so based on the piles of small coal chips found everywhere in the cab. This truck sat outside for too many years. 
The truck is powered by four 60V 200 AMP GE electric motors. One on each wheel. Each motor should produce 16 hp for a total of 64 hp. The truck is geared out to 12 MPH.

It was purchased from the 3'rd (4th) owner, depending on how you want to count them. The first owner was the Curtis Publishing Company. The second was an individual who completed a two truck purchase from Curtis, numbers 14 and number 16. It was then sold to a gentleman who intended to restore it but passed away before any thing was done to it. One of his relatives inherited it and I purchased it from them. Or so I think. I also received the very first title the state of PA. issued to it.

This is the truck when I picked it up. Everybody tells me its so ugly only a mother could love it so I guess I'm a SAP I think it looks neat. It's been called the vending machine!

I found this interesting link to an engineering handbook from 1921 and it has a lot of information on electric vehicles prior to 1921. I purchased the book and I'm waiting on the mailman.

I've decided, at least for now, that I'll preserve it rather than restore it. Its a unique piece of American history and I'd like to preserve that as it existed. My plans are to replace the wood bed around the edges. Red Oak 2" thick, that'll be needed to refasten the steel band that goes around the edge of the bed. Theres a 1/4 inch steel plate on top of it. Next I'm going to see what I can do to rejuvenate, rebuild or what ever is necessary to get the batteries back into working condition. The batteries have always been rebuilt vs replaced. Huge wooden battery boxes. Nine in all.

I've removed the cab and I intend to set it up as a display on the back of the truck. It'll help show the changes the truck went through during it's life. Charlie Wacker designed the cab he was a long time ATHS member and has passed on. There is quite a bit in print about him and his family's truck body building business and I'll post what I can as I find it. Heres a little teaser,,

Nice old truck. I couldn't help thinking of a long time ATHS member (who has since passed on) by the name of 

Charlie Wacker --he was a genuine character who was a "pistol" in his eighties -- I can't imagine how he was in his youth. Anyway, his grandfather started a body works near Philadelphia over a 100 years ago and Charlie worked there his whole life . What he didn't know about truck bodies, wasn't worth knowing. One of his pet peeves was restored trucks from the early part of the 20th century with finely finished wooden bodies, that is, the wood was stained and clear coated or varnished. Charlie ALWAYS pointed out that the bodies were NEVER done this way, but rather painted, as you have done. Charlie would have told you, "You done in right"

One of the books I have tells this story, from "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks and Commercial Vehicles" by Albert Mroz.

1907 -1928 _ The Commercial Truck Company of America was founded in 1907 in Philadelphia Pa. The vehicles were battery powered electric, although a few were gasoline-electric hybrids were also built by 1915. For 1908 the company advertised itself as the Commercial Truck Company, and showed a 35 passenger omnibus as well as a 30 passenger sight seeing coach. Already by late 1907 a 3-ton and a 5-ton chassis were available.

Other early models consisted of a 1/2 -ton to 3 1/2-Ton capacity. The 1/2-ton delivery van sold for $2200. The larger models used General Electric motors geared to each rear dual-wheel. The 3 1/2 ton truck had a wheelbase of 114 -inches and weighed 10,000 lbs. Top speed was 7 MPH.

By 1912 C.T. trucks were available in six different capacities from 1/4-ton to 5-ton. Worm-drive was adopted in 1913. The gasoline-electric hybrid tractor was introduced in 1915 and continued to be built but only for two years. A 6-ton model was added in 1921, and lighter models were improved. Most of the heavier models had four-wheel-drive with an electric motor mounted on each wheel.

As an example C.T.electric trucks were successfully operated in Philadelphia by the Curtis Publishing Company. A fleet of 22 was used by the publisher of Jack and Jill, Holiday, Ladies Home Journal, and Saturday Evening Post. Two of the trucks were  used exclusively to haul coal, while the other 20 delivered the periodicals throughout the city. Loaded with 10 tons of paper and traveling at 10 mph, they silently plied the streets in the early morning hours with nary a puff of exhaust. Curtis used the reliable C.T. fleet as late as 1962. By that time, the trucks were over 40 years old on the average. They still used the original 85 Volt 10 amp drive systems that consisted of an electric motor in each wheel. 

By 1928 C.T. offered 12 different models to chose from, but the diminishing market for slow electric trucks with a limited range forced C.T. to be acquired by the Walker Vehicle Company, an electric truck builder that lasted until 1942.


I am completely amazed at the numbers of electric and hybrid trucks made before the 1930's. I have compiled a list of those who made electric commercial vehicles using just one source.

  1. A & B The American and British Manufacturing Co. (hybrids)
  2. ACF/ACF-Brill/Brill (Hybrids)
  3. Ahrens-Fox
  4. Ajax Electric
  5. American Electric
  6. American Lafrance (hybrids)
  7. Andover
  8. Anheuser-Busch
  9. Argo
  10. Asprooth-Leoni Electric
  11. Atlantic
  12. Auto-Car (not to be confused with Autocar)
  13. Autocar
  14. Automatic Electric
  15. Bailey Electric
  16. Baker
  17. Baker (2)
  18. Battronic
  19. Beardsley
  20. Blue Bird
  21. Borland
  22. Brecht
  23. Broc Electric
  24. Bronx
  25. Buffalo
  26. Buffalo Electric
  27. Caffrey Electric
  28. Calectric Delivery
  29. Cantono Electric
  30. Capitol
  31. Capitol (2)
  32. Carl
  33. Champion
  34. Champion (2)
  35. Champion Electric
  36. Chicago Electric
  37. Clinton E Woods Motor Vehicle Co.
  38. Collins
  39. Columbia
  40. Connersville
  41. Couple-Gear
  42. CT (Commercial Truck Co) (electric and hybrid)
  43. Custer Electric
  44. Dayton
  45. Detroit Electric
  46. Detroit Taxicab
  47. Dunlap
  48. Edison
  49. Eldridge (hybrid)
  50. Electric Vehicle
  51. Electrocar
  52. Electro-coach
  53. Electromobile
  54. Elwell-Parker
  55. Ewbank (hybrid)
  56. Fifth Avenue Coach
  57. Fisher (hybrid)
  58. Fritchle Electric
  59. Gas-Electric (hybrid)
  60. General Electric
  61. GMC
  62. Great Western (hybrid)
  63. Greene
  64. General Vehicle
  65. Hewitt-Lindstrom
  66. Hunter Electric
  67. Illinois Electric
  68. JactoJenkins
  69. Joliet
  70. Joly &Lambert
  71. Kelland
  72. Knickerbocker
  73. Lansden
  74. Lansing
  75. Leoni
  76. Loomis
  77. Milburn
  78. Morris & Salom
  79. Morrison
  80. M & P
  81. Munson (hybrid)
  82. Nordskog Electric
  83. OB
  84. Ohio Electric
  85. Oldsmobile (first electric vehicle built in 1887)
  86. Phipps- Grinnell
  87. Piercy (hybrid)
  88. Pittsburg
  89. Pope-Waverly
  90. Purity
  91. Quadray
  92. Quadru (hybrid)
  93. Rauch & Lang
  94. Riker
  95. Roland (hybrid)
  96. Sampson (Hybrid) (the Road Train an 18 wheeler in 1910)
  97. Standard (hybrid)
  98. Steinmetz Electric
  99. Storms
  100. Studebaker
  101. Synnestvedt
  102. Tek-Truk
  103. Thorne
  104. Turbine
  105. Universal Gas Electric (hybrid)
  106. Urban
  107. Van Auken
  108. VEC
  109. Versare
  110. Voltacar
  111. Wagenhals
  112. Walker
  113. Ward
  114. Washington
  115. Waverly
  116. Westcoaster
  117. Wood
  118. Woods
So it appears there were many electric commercial vehicles built before 1930, Where did they end up? I decided it was time to pull a battery and see what they looked like. I accomplished nothing except an insight into what I needed for the next attempt. The batteries in the truck are 8” wide by 14” high by 60” long They go all the way across the truck and there are 9 of them. Each one has one electrical connection on each end. Also after disconnecting one of them I tried to pull it out and I can’t budge it. I’m guessing it must weigh around 5 or 6 hundred pounds each. It sits on two pieces of angle iron. I’m going to find a jack to lift some of the weight off of it. I’m concerned that the battery so heavy that great care will be needed to prevent it from self destructing. I’m also going to need a table at the right height to pull it out on.

Here are some photos of the batteries and the battery box. THis is a battery box you wouldn't want dropped on you. It has to be total over 4 or 5 thousand lbs. The last photo shows how little room there is over the batteries.

I've come to the conclusion that the best plan is to put the truck up on blocks, Build a table beside the battery box. This will allow me to slide one battery at a time out of the truck where it can be examined. To accomplish this I purchased a bunch of cement blocks and some 2 X's for a table top. Cement blocks for the bottom and 2 X 8's to make a wooden bench top out of. Another strange event was that the next door neighbor has become enthused with the truck and wants to help. What a glutton, LOL, I'm sure he'll be a very valuable addition.

Frank was kind enough to think of me when he ran across an old document published in the early 1920s. Its a manual to teach a technician how to diagnose and rebuild batteries. I printed it out and even though I printed it using both sides of the paper its still 2" thick. I've learned enough that I'm confident I can pull a battery out of the truck and look it over, test it and determine if it is serviceable and if it needs repair determine what repair is needed and rebuild it. This all assumes I can find the materials I need. At least it's a huge step in the right direction.

Heres a few more photos. I've pulled the cab off, it's now sitting on the bed. The first Photo is whats left of the signs that were on each side. There is just enough left to determine what they said and the layout. This should be handy when its time to redo them.

You can barely make out the top line which read

 The Curtis Publishing
The Saturday Evening Post
Ladies Home Journal
Holiday { Jack and Jill
The American Home 

Oh the joys of discovery, I bought a book on eBay titled "The Electric Motor Truck" by Edward E La Schum. How's that for a name?  The book was published in 1924. The first dozen pages are devoted to automotive history, from a 1924 perspective.

Some of the highlights have been.

The possibility of a self propelled vehicle was first predicted in the 13th century. The first successful vehicles were built in the 1820 with several having been built as early as the 1760's. The first American automobile was constructed in 1805 by Oliver Evans of Philadelphia.

By the mid 1820 several vehicles had been produced. With a trend starting to develop horse owners banded together and demanded they be banned from the roads. This caused financing to dry up for the rest of the 1830's. More development occurred in Europe in the 40 's & 50's.  

The first electric vehicle was built in 1851. The automotive industry as we know it began in the 1890's.

ln 1911 it took 5 acres to support 1 horse. It cost $4 a day to keep a horse. One horse could haul one ton and cover 22 miles a day on average, with 11 miles loaded at a cost of 36 cents a ton mile. A 5 ton truck cost $15 a day to own and could haul 5 tons and average 50 miles a day, with 25 miles loaded at a cost of 12 cents a ton mile.  

So then I start skipping through the sections and find one on the CT Electric trucks. So guess what,, I'm reading it next. LOL Everything's going good I'm looking at photos of my trucks components exactly as I see them under my truck and I get to the motor descriptions. Two different motors, two different voltages and corresponding battery types.

60 Volt Motors designed for use with Edison batteries. 

85 Volt Motors designed for use with lead acid batteries.

So now thinking I'm armed for bear, ready to tear into a battery and perform whatever repairs, refurb, etc. is needed.  I don't even know what kind of batteries I have.

Sooooooooooo,,, Can anybody tell me what a Edison battery is?


One problem with electric cars, however, was that the lead-acid batteries that they used (similar to the batteries used to start gasoline-powered cars today) were extremely heavy. Another was that the acid corroded the lead inside the battery, shortening the useful life of the battery.

Edison began looking for a way to make batteries lighter, more reliable, and at least three times more powerful so that they could become the basis of a successful electric car. Edison and his team conducted tests of all sorts of metals and other materials, looking for those that would work best in batteries. The tests numbered in the thousands and lasted until 1903, when he finally declared his battery finished. The battery used potassium hydroxide, which reacted with the battery’s iron and nickel electrodes to create a battery with a strong output that was reliable and rechargeable.

As usual, Edison announced the new battery with great fanfare and made bold claims about its performance. Manufacturers and users of electric vehicles, which now included many urban delivery and transport trucks, began buying them. Then stories about battery failures started coming out. Many of the batteries began to leak, and others lost much of their power after a short while. The new nickel-graphite conductors were failing. Engineers who tested the batteries found that while lightweight, the new alkaline battery did not significantly out-perform an ordinary lead-acid battery.

Edison shut down the factory immediately, and between 1905 and 1908, the whole battery was redesigned. Edison came up with a new design, and although the new battery used more expensive materials, it had better performance and more power. By 1910, battery production was again underway at a new factory near the West Orange, NJ laboratory.

I found an odometer on the CT Electric that had been painted over. I'd looked at it at least a dozen times and did not realized what it was. The book I've been reading said there was a hub odometer so I went looking and found it. It's tiny! 1" in diameter.

It has the name Veeder on it. After staring at it for 15 minutes I've decided it says the truck has 262,877 miles on it but I'm not sure. Thats only 120 miles a week for 45 years. I'm going to have to take another look.

It's Nice to Know How Far You Go
Almost 30 years later in 1895, Curtis Veeder, the founder of Veeder Manufacturing Company, invented a Cyclometer to record the miles traveled on a bicycle. He promoted the Cyclometer with the slogan, It's Nice to Know How Far You Go. The Cyclometer's success led to a full line of Veeder counting devices.

In 1928, the Root and the Veeder Companies merged to form Veeder-Root, Incorporated of Hartford, Connecticut, the largest manufacturer of counting and computing devices in the world.

This is the wheel with the odometer, you can see how I originally missed it. Heres the odometer, remember its 1" in diameter. 

This past weekend provided some progress.

With the truck level and up on blocks my time was devoted to getting a battery out of it. I had my table set up and ready to receive the battery. No matter how much I pushed it wasn't going anywhere. I decided to do a house moving job on it. I lifted the battery just enough to put some hardened steel rollers under it. I managed to move it 6 inches the first time and another 4 inches before it refused to move any further. I decided it was time to find out just how strong the handles on the battery boxes were. I was of the opinion that they would not survive trying to use them to move the batteries around, I was wrong. In the end I used a come along tied between the old oak tree and the battery handle and out it came, quite effort less I must add.  Now I know.

With the battery out where I could look it over I found some numbers and letters which I promptly entered into google with no success. Pulling the cap from a cell revealed several things. First I need distilled water, lots of it. I will stop at Wally world on the way home and pick up 10 gallons. I hope thats enough to fill this battery box. On a long shot if it doesn't run out the bottom I'll be putting the battery charger on it for a couple of hours, days or weeks depending on whether or not it looks like it will accept a charge.

 The cells have a rubber cover over the top of the plates. The rubber cover makes it difficult to determine what shape the battery is in. At least I now know there are five batteries in each wooden battery box. Frank says the number of cells don't add up to the voltage of the motors, 60 Volts, so there's another mystery. There are 4 lugs on each battery, so to my way of thinking there are two cells in each battery, this makes 10 cells per box times 9 batteries for a total of 90 battery cells. Looking at the tie straps that wire the cells together also is a mystery to me that I'm going to have to figure out.

Stopped at Walmart on the way home and became the proud owner of 5 gallons of distilled water. Took three gallons to top off the five batteries in the set. Two don't hold water, but three did. My first guess would be frozen. Time to figure out where I can find replacement cells. OK Start laughing, but, if I have to rebuild the batteries it might be a good idea to get the battery boxes in shape while I'm at it.

Stay Tuned

     Same Channel.

Its March 20th 2009 and spring is here.

I've spent the last year trying to find someone, anyone that could help with the batteries on this beast. Yesterday I had a permanant smile installed on my face when I found a company, a local company no less, that could help me with them. I was informed that they could not only help with the batteries but also could build new boxes for them if needed.

I've also had some inquiries from people looking at the two CT's fo sale by Brad over on the left coast. To satisfy some of their request for what information I could supply I uncovered the truck yesterday and took some more pictures which I'm posting below. They are mostly photos of the area under the seat. The control room if you will.


Eddy Lucast

man with wooden truck should be wary of "truck whisperer" with torch
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 11:01 AM by Eddy Lucast
 Posted Monday, December 01, 2008 5:53 AM

Bob McDaniel (Indiana...
 Posted Monday, December 01, 2008 2:40 PM

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Now this is a story I would like to see end up in print someplace or at least here where we can all watch, learn, and enjoy it. I for one will always read things like this and follow it to the end.

Click here to see my Indiana Truck web page

Or go to
 Posted Saturday, December 27, 2008 5:27 PM

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Hi Eddy

I work for Komatsu in Peoria il. and we still build a electric truck.It is a little more modern. The truck is one of the world's biggest as it will carry 360 ton in one trip. It also has 3500hp engine, 1200gal fuel tank, 14 ft tall tires. The engine powers just a electric alt. and hyd. pumps. If you put a chair in a second story window, that's about the highth of the cab from the ground. You get just one gear forward and one gear in revers. The truck drives like a VW. The electric motors are inside the rear wheels. Each motor Weight is around 32000 lbs. Each wheel has one wet disc brake on it. As you might need them as the truck weight loaded is around 1,200,000 lbs. You can also see the trucks in action on you tube by typing in (kotmatsu trucks). enjoy.

GOOD LUCK on your great find and enjoy your truck.

ps: I have two 1954 Chevy trucks, one is a conv. and the other is a cab over. The cab over still has to work. Taking John Deer tractors ( 1936 B and 1951 B) to tractor shows.

Trucks  are fun.

Later Steve

 Posted Saturday, December 27, 2008 6:25 PM
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Excellent project

Wunder ifn this is the beast in Q:


"Jist doing wot cums naturally" Sum may say "The early bird gets the worm!"

But we all know the 2nd mouse gets the cheese

Ifn U're truck comes with two sticks, U might as well just row a boat


 Posted Thursday, January 22, 2009 8:25 AM

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Hi Eddy,

I was recently handed some Stock Certificates and what we would nowadays call a perspectus for the Commercial Truck Company. In researching these certificates (Issued April 26, 1920) I came across this post. The certificates obviously have no intrinsic value, but at least I now know what these trucks looked like!

-- Michael

-- Michael

Eddy Lucast
 Posted Sunday, March 22, 2009 3:04 PM

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I posted more photos and few more comments.

Eddy Lucast

man with wooden truck should be wary of "truck whisperer" with torch
 Posted Wednesday, March 25, 2009 12:21 AM

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sub: 'electric motors';  GM got it wrong then and today,   'youd need need a jack *** [ hooked up  to a cart] to charge as you go' and sell you some crap along the way,,  thats the new motto for america , taking an old turkey and dress it up, sos to say,  over/ 
 Posted Wednesday, March 25, 2009 5:46 AM
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4bangor (3/25/2009)
sub: 'electric motors'; GM got it wrong then and today, 'youd need need a jack *** [ hooked upto a cart] to charge as you go' and sell you some crap along the way,, thats the newmotto for america , taking an old turkey and dress it up, sos to say, over/

4bangor, would you mind telling us what your talking about??????????

“He, who is without oil, shall throw the first rod” Compressions 8.7:1
Steve Peterson
Central Wisconsin

Follow The Leaders For They Know The Way AUTOCAR
 Posted Wednesday, March 25, 2009 10:44 AM

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sub: ca;  in lay means terms, ;out hear its called bull crap that is pushed in the air waves on tv,  still stinks as bad as limberger on hot exhaust manifolds,, [from what ws told], ,  the new guy in charge will tell you every thing you want to hear, over,,  

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