Through the years, this author often heard "bits and pieces" about a company which manufactured motor trucks at a Lowell site. Many of the stories were handed down from one generation to another, repeated often, and soon became only tales. But a few weeks ago, the Old Timer received information from a special friend that gave him the clues to where the actual story could be found -- in the 1918 issues of The Lowell Tribune!
On Jan. 3, 1918, the following advertisement appeared in the weekly newspaper: "Lowell Motor Truck Company wishes to announce they have purchased the John Miller Blacksmith Shop." It was also explained that Mr. Miller's business would still go on, as before. Plans were to build axles for the trucks at that location. John Miller's shop was located at the site that Dante's Restaurant now calls home.
On Aug. 8, 1918, a full-page advertisement appeared, placed by the Gary Motor Truck Company of 0-515 Broadway, the parent company of the Lowell group: "Hundreds of Citizens have invested in Gary Motor Stock." The ad urged prospective stock buyers to "get in on the ground floor" and "buy stock now, at $15.00 per share."
It was Sept. 3, 1918, when a special meeting of the stockholders of the Lowell Motor Truck Company met for the purpose of approving a transfer of stock to the Gary company. This was approved, and then it was announced that several new sites were being taken into consideration for a new factory building in Lowell. Carl Kenney presided at this meeting, as president, and other directors and officers included Senator Grant, Herman Burnham, Emil Ruge, Frank Maloy, John Miller and Frank Nelson. The Gary company praised these men for "being a big asset to the Lowell Community." Plans were also made for a large delegation of Lowell citizens to visit the Gary plant on the near future.
A report was made Sept. 19, 1918, that the preliminary work on the Lowell plant was going along better than anticipated. Almost all of the stock had been sold, and a new site was located for the factory. Five acres of ground "just to the south of the Lowell Stock Yards" was purchased from John A. Kimmet, a Lowell businessman who sold the land at a bargain price "to help the town." (The stock yards were located on the south side of Oakley Avenue at the railroad, north of Rieter Automotive -- Globe Manufacturing). Construction was to begin soon after, about 60 men were to be employed at the plant, and the Town of Lowell was expecting a boom. (The building later became the site of the Lowell Roofing Company.)
Large advertisements hawking the stock for the truck company kept appearing often during the year 1918, with these headlines:
"City of Gary buys $3,500 truck"
"Big addition to present plant [at Gary]"
"Entire output sold in advance at liberal profit"
"Capital needed to further increase production"
"Substantial earnings on invested capital"
One full page ad in October 1918 read: "Gary Motor Trucks Muster In" -- "As the American ships stand today as the advance guard of civilization, so Gary trucks today take their place at home as an advance guard of Commerce. By meeting and solving transportation problems of patriotic importance they help hold the business fronts of America."
Also that October, a "Roll of Honor" was printed, listing all the companies that bought trucks, including Abraham Callner and Kenney Brothers of Lowell. Standard Oil was also one of the buyers, and a large shipment was to go to Atlanta, Georgia.
Soon after, for reasons unknown, William Nichols of Lowell, one of the directors, severed relations with the Gary company, and Clifford Hill, also of Lowell, took his place. In an annual report to stockholders, it was reported that "Certain settlements caused an agitation."
The plant in Lowell was basically an axle plant, though some trucks were assembled there with the name "Lowell" on the radiator. The Old Timer recalls seeing Thomas Arnott driving his big, rugged looking Lowell truck with hard, solid tires, as he delivered furniture from his store, now the Midtown Hardware.
Prices for the trucks: $1,900 for a one-ton model, $2,250 for 2 1/2-ton, and the 3 1/2-ton sold for $3,850, with the 5-ton going for $4,850.
Sad news came in the annual stockholders report of Oct. 10, 1919, where it noted that there was a loss for the past year of nearly $5,000, but hopes were that a new general manager and a new sales appeal would put the company on the profit side again.
But the advertisements no longer appeared, and soon the factory in Lowell was an empty building. The Old Timer remembers the site, even in the early twenties, when another company was making road scrapers there. It was the Lowell Road Plane Company, which was another short-lived group that sold stock in the area. (The scrapers were pulled, either by horses or tractors.)
Both companies disappeared, but the nearby stockyard operated by Edward Yates went on for many years. Blacksmith John Miller also stayed in business, selling Studebaker Farm wagons, Studebaker cars, Fordson tractors, serving as the local Ford automobile dealer for decades.
Information for this story was sent to the Old Timer by his Lowell High School history teacher, Helen Alltop, daughter of prominent business man Carl Gragg. Copies of the advertisements and news items were courtesy of The Lowell Tribune.
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Another interesting advertisement found in the June 27, 1918, Lowell Tribune: "Fourth of July Celebration in Lowell at Oakland Park -- Parade - Ball Game -- Dancing -- Sponsored by the Southern Lake County Chamber of Commerce."
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