All That's Trucking

And you thought electric trucks were a recent invention....

June 21, 2011

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We've seen a lot of interest in electric trucks this past year or two, especially package vans -- the Transit Connect Electric, Internationals' e-Star, the Smith Newton, Freightliner Custom Chassis' MT45-EV. But did you know there were electric delivery trucks 100 years ago?

The Iowa 80 Trucking Museum in Walcott, Iowa, will host a 100th birthday party for its 1911 Walker Electric Truck on Friday, July 15 at 2:30 pm. The event will coincide with the Walcott Truckers Jamboree, July 14-15.

"Many people think that electric vehicles are a recent invention, when in fact they were in production over 100 years ago," says Dave Meier, museum curator.

The Walker Vehicle Company was based in Chicago and manufactured electric vehicles until late 1941. Walker trucks were used mainly as delivery trucks in major cities; delivering ice cream and other dairy products, baked goods and dry goods.

This particular truck was owned by Bowman Dairy and used to deliver milk to hospitals, restaurants and hotels. Electric vehicles were popular in the late-19th century and early 20th century, until advances in internal combustion engine technology and mass production of cheaper gasoline vehicles led to a decline in their use.

Iowa 80 Trucking Museum purchased this particular truck at an auction several years ago. It is one of only a handful of Walker Electric trucks known to still exist.

A Google search revealed that one of them is in New Zealand, where the Christchurch City Libraries has this interesting web page about the truck owned by the Christchurch Electricity Network Co., now called Orion NZ.

Manufactured in Chicago in 1918, the half-ton truck was engineered to reach a top speed of 14 mph and had an "optimistic" range of 40 miles, according to the report.

The controls were simple: a large steering wheel, with the driver positioned high over the front wheels; two brake pedals either side of the steering wheel; and a lever speed control. Reverse is engaged by another foot lever.

The bank of batteries sat in the middle of the truck halfway between the front and rear axles. The motor was located in the differential and the drive gears were in the wheels.

You can check out some ads for the Walker Electric Trucks here. One touts that the vehicles can "double your deliveries on a dollar." These trucks are "supremely economical -- because the motor stops when the truck stops. Half the life of a gas truck is spent 'idling,'" it says, "one reason they wear out more quickly, and cost 50% to 100% more than Walkers per delivery, per mile or per day."

Wow, sure sounds a lot like the reasons given these days for adopting the latest electric or electric-hybrid trucks.

You can read Equipment Editor Jim Park's impression of some of the new generation of electric trucks in "Silent Running," On the Road blog, 3/9/2011.


  1. 1. Bill [ June 30, 2011 @ 12:35AM ]

    Re: "popular in the late-19th century and early 20th century", this letter appeared in the WSJ 8/25/10:

    I enjoyed the article describing the efforts to create a battery-powered city delivery van ("FedEx Considers Electric Trucks," Corporate News, Aug. 12). Your discussion of the trucks brought back happy memories of my childhood in New York City in the late 1940s and '50s when we would look forward to the passing of the all-electric United Parcel Service trucks that plied the streets. We were fascinated by their smooth, silent and powerful acceleration. Occasionally, the driver would allow us to step into the cab and ride along to the next stop, usually just up the street. Why is there never any mention of the long ago widespread use of electric delivery vans? Why was that technology just allowed to die, and why are we just now "discovering" that all-electric city vans are a great innovation? Dave Coriaty Indianapolis

    Question: Where

  2. 2. Silvio [ March 21, 2013 @ 12:47PM ]

    I remember the electric trucks of the 1940s as described in the referenced story. These trucks had solid rubber tires and drive chains which resembled large bicycle chains on each side of the truck. The story confirms my own description (to my non-believing friends) of those mostly forgotten trucks.


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Deborah Lockridge

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All That's Trucking blog is just that – the editor's take on anything and everything related to trucking, with the help of guest posts from other HDT editors. Author Deborah Lockridge's career as an award-winning trucking journalist started in 1990.


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