Old Woodies for Enthusiasts of Wood-bodied Cars and Trucks

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When someone says "station wagon,"
do trucks come to mind?

by Tom Brownell, Editor-at-large, This Old Truck™ magazine
Photos courtesy of James Duffy

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I was giving my students a word association exercise trying to stretch their vocabularies. "Disparaging," I said. "At the disparaging remark his face blanched."
woodie truck"Sucks," a girl responded, seeming to offer both a synonym to the word I was probing and a comment on the exercise.
"Too general," I said. "Your generation uses 'sucks' for everything."
woody truck"Only for bad things," she rebutted. "If someone said something I didn't like, I'd answer 'that sucks.' That's what I would say and it would fit."
woody trucksHow do you refute such logic (or is it illogic)?
woodie carsThe classroom example aside, I thought that a word association exercise might help put us in mind of this issue's Reflections, so here it is:

Station Wagon.

Hopefully, no one said "sucks." I expect most of you said, or thought, "car." If so, you were about 80% right. Most station wagons were cars, but they were also trucks. During the 1930s, '40s, and for the early part of the '50s, aftermarket body companies-most notably Hercules-Campbell-built wooden station wagon bodies to mount on both light and medium duty truck chassis.
1946/47 Dodge Campbell Highlander
A train station makes the right setting for a woodie station wagon. In the 1930s and '40s, resort hotels relied on vehicles of this sort to greet newly arriving guests. The Hercules-Campbell sales catalog shows the station wagon body mounted on this 1946 or '47 Dodge, which it calls a "Highlander."

The truck-based woodie station wagons were ruggedly handsome, but also expensive, at least more so than a metal-bodied production counterpart, like a Chevrolet Suburban Carryall. The wooden station wagon bodies were combined with truck chassis for a couple of purposes: for use by resort hotels in remote scenic settings to transport guests to and from the nearest railroad depot, and for use as a medium capacity school bus, mostly by elite boarding schools. The station wagon body not only adapted the truck to a passenger load of eight or more, but the stiffly sprung truck chassis also supported the weight of hotel guests' luggage or a school athletic teams' sports equipment. Either could be a payload in itself, especially in the hotel setting where guests often stayed for an entire summer and packed their wardrobe in steamer trunks, which had to be stacked on the tailgate. To support the weight of the luggage, the tailgates were braced with iron strapping and suspended from chains or cables.

1949-50 Ford with 10-passenger body
Schools used truck-based woodie wagons to transport athletic teams and other extra-curricular groups. The 10-passenger wagon body shown here is mounted on a 1949 or '50 Ford chassis and is parked in front of Waterloo High School in Waterloo, N.Y.
In my lifetime, I've seen fewer than a handful of truck-based station wagons. The small number, I had assumed, reflected very low production of the woodie bodies. A letter from James Duffy of Waterloo, N.Y., with an enclosed article on the Hercules-Campbell Body Co. and a stack of photos showing rows of freshly rebodied trucks dispelled the low-production theory.

While truck-based woodie wagons never rolled down an assembly line, photos of completed production awaiting transit and delivery indicate the numbers ought to be substantially larger than the handful existing today. But, of course, life for such a vehicle would have been hard, and without care and maintenance-annual varnishing, indoor storage in winter, mending or repairing leaking roof fabric-the bodies would have deteriorated in short order.

What caught me most by surprise was the proximity of Hercules-Campbell's woodie wagon manufacturing site to the area where I grew up. Having admired the craftsmanship of wooden bodied automobiles since age seven, when I rode in the back seat of a Chrysler Town and Country convertible, I'm wondering how I never chanced upon or even heard of the plant. The sight of completed inventory and, if I'd gotten inside, woodie bodies in progress would have made a visual feast. Studebaker M series with Hercules-Campbell body
Any light duty truck chassis could be a candidate for a woodie wagon body. Studebaker's M series trucks, sharply styled by noted designer Raymond Lowey, look great in any setting, but especially as shown here wearing a Hercules-Campbell body.

The photos tell the story. Truck-based station wagons once existed in broad enough numbers that many people would have seen one-especially those who traveled to scenic resorts or lived near boarding schools. Chances are truck-based woodie station wagons have strayed into your peripheral vision too, if not in real life at least in magazines or books.

Let's try that word association again, only this time in reverse. Trucks. You got it. Station wagons.

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Tom Brownell is a technical writer and Professor of Languages and Literature at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan USA. Tom is the author of more than a dozen books on trucks and automotive restoration and is Editor-at-Large at This Old Truck™ magazine.

This article was originally published as Tom Brownell's 'Reflections' column in the July/August 2001 (Volume 9, Number 3) issue of This Old Truck™.

© 2001 by Antique Power, Inc. Used by permission.

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