Cars, trucks produced locally

Courtesy of the Anuta Research Center The former Marinette Iron Works, which dated to 1896, was the site of the Landover Truck Co. which moved here in 1917. The company moved to Elkhart, Ind., in 1919 when local financing dried up and Elkhart investors were able to provide fresh operating capital.

Most history buffs who follow the bygone times of M&M antiquity know that Menominee had a brief spurt when it manufactured cars and trucks. For about nine years — 1910 to 1919 — Albert Dudley produced the “Dudley Bug” that created a stir when the horse-and-buggy was still a major source of transportation.

Private financial support and state and federal grants hadn’t reached the measurements of present-day levels, and many of the early day entrepreneurs faded due to a lack of operating capital. Local investors kept Dudley’s dream breathing for nearly a decade before the Dudley Bug faded into motor car history. About 500 Dudley vehicles were built. About 100 of them found their way to Asia.

D.F. “Duff” Poyer was another genius inventor of the Dudley era. Poyer came up with the “Menominee Truck.” Sparked by local investors, the Menominee-made trucks hit the road about the same time as the Dudley vehicle. About 600 of the trucks were sold before Poyer’s financial resources showed signs of leaking and the product reached the end of the road. Poyer left Menominee for California to join the Republic Truck Co.

The Menominee Truck Co., which cranked out four hard-tired models from 1912 to 1916, was acquired by Four Wheel Drive Corp. of Clintonville, Wis.

More complete details about the exciting runs of the Dudley and Poyer products were outlined in previous columns.

Today’s column is devoted to another local truck company, one that never received the recognition it was entitled to in local history journals. Although it had a brief life span in Marinette, the Landover Auto Truck Co., made its run in the 1917-1919 era. The company was the brainchild of W.E. Shaw of Chicago.

According to Motor World publication in 1917, there were 4,242,139 motor vehicles in the United States, “or one automobile or truck for every 24 people.” This explains why so many entrepreneurs were engaged in the car-truck manufacturing industry when small town businessmen like Dudley and Poyer — and Mr. Shaw — were trying to match their skills against stiff competition.

While paging through newspaper files one day in pursuit of another subject matter, I spotted a short news article in the Marinette Eagle-Star about the prospects of Landover Truck Co. moving to the city. A meeting of potential share-holders to help start the engines for a new company was scheduled at the Marinette courthouse on a hot summer night in August 1917.

The first order of business was to raise capital to renovate the former Marinette Iron Works Co. at 1346-1356 Main St. For the curious, the location would be west of the Print Shop.

A committee to recruit investors was established since the Landover people in Chicago were eager to get started in Marinette. The company had truck orders for 30 days.

One of the sparkplugs in the movement was Edward W. LeRoy, editor of the Eagle-Star and vice president of Eagle Printing Co. Landover agreed to relocate here if investors could pony up $25,000 in a stock drive.

The terms of the agreement included considerations like raising additional capital once the company was up and running. A local investor was to be appointed to the firm’s board of directors and a local audit committee was to oversee “all orders for the disbursement of the $25,000.”

The company wanted to begin making trucks by Sept. 1. World War I was heating up, and Landover had visions of capitalizing on potential military contracts.

Albert Washburn, a foreman at the Brown-Mitcheson Lumber Co., was named resident manager of the new company and joined the board of directors. The company’s goal was to employ 200 men and make it the largest employer in the city.

Another stock drive, this one for $30,000, was beginning to test the mettle of local investors. With a monthly payroll projected at$15,000, the company needed the additional cash to purchase materials for producing trucks. Stocks were sold in $100 and $200 increments.

Washburn was confident the Landover truck would succeed. He called it the “best truck of its kind on the market.”

The Landover unit made here was attached to a Ford power plant and chassis and carried a guaranteed capacity of one-and-one-half tons “with a reasonable overload.” The local plant was capable of turning out one unit per day at the outset with an increase in production as sales mounted and more hires were needed.

The company had 20 units on the floor at the local plant and was looking to increase production for an anticipated spring surge in sales.

Cash flow wasn’t the only issue for Landover. A war was in progress and a major coal strike in West Virginia forced several local factories to suspend operations. Many of them switched to wood fuel. Landover used sawdust to fuel its boilers.

Whispers with negative tones shook up the stock campaign and hampered sales. In the winter of 1918, the company took out a paid advertisement in the Eagle-Star which criticized its pessimists who planted rumors of the federal government taking over the plant in wartime.

The ad noted such a move would impact every merchant and farmer in the area and even took aim at the dependable work horse. “The use of horses for work which Landover can do more effectively is a form of disloyalty to the country,” the advertisement noted.

The display ad beamed the Landover truck could work better than horses which could impact the economy and food supply of “hundreds of beings here and there.”

In endorsing its product over work horses, the promotion stated that the consumption of work horses was 18 quarts of oats per day which amounted to each work horse consuming 136 bushels of oats in a season. It even compared the cost of oats to the price of gasoline to run the trucks, noting it would cost $156.40 to feed a single horse, while a Landover truck could travel 7,000 miles on 726 gallons of gas “with more power, service and efficiency.”

In its advertisement, the company’s intent was to place heavy emphasis on the preservation of food (oats for horses) with a world war going on. Company officials highlighted the fact the federal government repeatedly had stated “the war will be won on food.”

In the fall of 1918, a Landover truck was shipped to Baltimore, Md., for the Army to test at Camp Holabird. Although a military contract never materialized, the city of Marinette purchased a Landover truck for its Department of Public Works.

A lack of capital forced Landover to suspend its manufacturing of trucks in Marinette and accept an offer from Elkhart, Ind. The company took over the former General Manufacturing Co. plant in Elkhart with an announced work force of 200 people.

The “Made in Marinette” label on Landover trucks may have been short-lived in local history, but its story line will remain forever in M&M lore.