Truck tankers hauled aviation gasoline to air bases during World War II. This Butler C-train (with fifth wheel on the leading trailer), operated by Groendyke Transportation in Oklahoma, is pictured in a new book published by TTMA.

Truck tankers hauled aviation gasoline to air bases during World War II. This Butler C-train (with fifth wheel on the leading trailer), operated by Groendyke Transportation in Oklahoma, is pictured in a new book published by TTMA.

Bob Arn, an old-timer in American Legion Post 171 in Westerville, Ohio, was a flyer before and during World War II, and had a thousand stories about his experiences. Arn, who died in 2016 at age 94, once talked about a mission as a Civil Air Patrol pilot in 1942, when he and a partner spotted a German U-boat near Mobile, Ala. They radioed a nearby U.S. Coast Guard cutter whose crew captured the submarine and its crew before they could escape into deeper waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

What does this have to do with trailers? Well, U-boats were torpedoing American cargo ships, including tankers, along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, a dire situation kept quiet by our government because it didn’t want the public to panic, Arn told an audience in a lecture at the Westerville Public Library a few years ago. My wife and I attended.

Petroleum products were vital to America’s support of the Allied war effort prior to this country’s actual entry into the war. The government, faced with heavy losses by U-boat attacks, decreed that oil be carried by rail and pipeline instead of ships. And to conserve long-distance hauling capacity, it further ordered that shipments under 200 miles be sent by truck.

John L. Conley's book covers the evolution of trailer design, building and use from the early 20th Century to the present.

John L. Conley's book covers the evolution of trailer design, building and use from the early 20th Century to the present.

Bob Arn, the flyer, didn’t cover that development in his talk. But it’s included in a new book, “Truck by Trailer: A History of the Truck Trailer Manufacturing Industry,” by John L. Conley, a former trade magazine editor and association president. He writes that trailer builders were allocated supplies of steel and other materials that had been limited for use in building of war munitions, aircraft, vehicles, and equipment. Many thousands of tank, van and specialty trailers were produced during the war years, helping win the conflict.

Many tank trailers worked directly for the military, hauling aviation gasoline to Army Air Corps training bases across the U.S. Some of the tractor-trailer rigs were operated by civilian companies and others by GIs. One was my Uncle Ed Nuedling, an Air Corps enlisted man stationed in Texas early in the war.

“They were Autocars,” he said of the tractors. “They weren’t geared high and we could barely make 45 mph. But on downgrades we’d put ‘em (the transmissions) in neutral and really roll.” There was probably a lot more to the story, but I was too young and ignorant at the time to ask him to tell more. He died more than 20 years ago, so I’ll never know.

An article in ATHS's Wheels of Time summarizes the book content during the first 50 years of trailer manufacturing.

An article in ATHS's Wheels of Time summarizes the book content during the first 50 years of trailer manufacturing.

Conley summarized parts of his book in an article for the November-December 2017 issue of Wheels of Time, the magazine of the American Truck Historical Society. The article covers the first 50 years of trailer manufacturing and how industry figures competed and also worked together.

Formation of the Truck Trailer Manufactures Association is among the happenings in that time period. TTMA, Conley's organization, is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and published his book as part of that. You can order the book through the association (www.ttmanet.org) or through Amazon.com, where I got my copy.

Trucking is part of modern American history, and reading tales of what happened in the trailer industry’s early days helps us understand how we got to where we are.

Author

Tom Berg
Tom Berg

Tom Berg

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

View Bio
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