Feature Truck for Summer 2004
1932 Pierce-Arrow Tanker
by Ed Roberts
Jim Dobbas displayed several of his trucks at the Fontana truck show, including this beautiful gold and black 1932 Pierce-Arrow tanker. We would like to thank him for stopping on his way home and dropping off the truck for us to display for a while in the museum. Jim purchased the truck from M. Freize Hansen of Fresno, California in 1972. It was used to haul petroleum products throughout Northern California.
The brass data plate shows that this truck is a Model PX, 4-ton, serial number 6400020. Historical records show that Pierce-Arrow built 100 PX trucks in 1931, nos. 6400001- 6400101. This seems to indicate that the featured truck was built in early 1931. However, we know that this was a very difficult time for the company, with sales way down. Perhaps this truck was not sold and registered until 1932.
The PX left the factory as a 4-wheeler with a 24,000 lb. GVW rating, 6,500 lb. front axle, 1 7,500 lb. Pierce-Arrow worm-gear rear axle, Hercules 6-cylinder gas engine, Pierce-Arrow 4-speed transmission, cast spoke wheels, and 2- wheel air brakes. The truck was later modified with a diesel engine, auxiliary transmission, trailing axle, disc wheels, and 10.00-22 tires. The engine is a very early Cummins HA-6, rated at 125 hp from 672 cubic inches. (In the mid-’30s Cummins replaced this model with the 150-hp HB-600.) The radiator was moved forward a few inches to make room for the longer Cummins engine. The auxiliary transmission is a 2-speed type. The shift lever is mounted toward the passenger side of the truck, to the right of the hand brake, where it must be difficult for the driver to reach.
The trailing axle is a very interesting Freuhauf model, with a walking beam suspension and no springs of its own. The original rear shackles on the truck’s rear leaf springs have been removed. The weight at the rear of the truck is carried by the front spring shackles (pressing down on the springs and the original rear axle) and by the pivot points in the middle of the trailing axle walking beams. Each walking beam is held up at the rear by the trailing wheel and at the front by a new shackle welded to the rear of the leaf spring. Thus, the original set of springs (probably with added leaves) carries the load for both rear axles. Many different companies have made trailing axle attachments over the years, with each company using a slightly different design. To provide adequate traction, they were generally designed to split the weight approximately 60:40 between the driven axle and the trailing axle. I would hate to have been the engineer who had to calculate the spring rates and axle capacity for the complicated setup on the Pierce-Arrow.
The featured truck was made during a very difficult time for Pierce-Arrow. The original Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. made luxury automobiles and high-quality trucks, all with a fine reputation. However, by the late-1920s the company had become very conservative. Pierce-Arrow stubbornly stayed with 6-cylinder engines in its cars long after other luxury makes had gone to 8 or 12 cylinders. P-A used 4-cylinder engines in most of its trucks through 1929, after most competing makes had 6-cylinders. Sales were falling even before the Great Depression hit.
In 1929, the declining sales of its high-priced vehicles put Pierce-Arrow in a difficult financial position. The board of directors voted to accept a takeover by Studebaker Corporation. Studebaker tried to revive the Pierce-Arrow brand. New car models with straight-eight engines up to 132 hp replaced all of the six-cylinder cars. Later, V12 models with up to 175 hp were added. Studebaker combined the truck manufacturing operations of Studebaker and Pierce-Arrow into a new subsidiary named SPA Truck Corp. The Pierce-Arrow trucks hadn’t changed much over the years and were looking rather outdated by this time. Studebaker management shut down production a few months into 1929 so new models could be developed. The new Pierce-Arrow truck line, including the 4-ton PX model, was introduced at the end of 1930. All models used Hercules 6-cylinder engines instead of Pierce-Arrow engines, possibly because Studebaker’s foundries didn’t have the capacity to produce engines for all of the corporation’s new car and truck models.
In 1932 Studebaker, through its SPA Truck Corp. subsidiary, bought a large amount of White Motor Company stock and gained control of White. White effectively became a subsidiary of SPA Truck Corp., bringing along the Indiana brand acquired earlier by White. For a time in 1932 both Studebaker and White dealers offered for sale the full range of Studebaker, Rockne, Pierce-Arrow, White, and Indiana trucks. At the end of 1932, the Pierce-Arrow truck manufacturing line was shut down and tooling was transferred to the White factory. White assembled the few 1933 Pierce-Arrow trucks that were made.
The attempt to take over White (and the effects of the Depression) hurt Studebaker financially and by mid-1933 the company was in the hands of the receivers. Ironically, one of the the appointed receivers was the head of White Motor Co. Studebaker was forced to sell its White stock. The Pierce-Arrow car line was sold to a group of businessmen, but the truck line was dropped. In 1934 Studebaker produced, for export, some trucks that were variously known as Pierce-Arrow Panther, Studebaker Pierce-Arrow Panther, or SPA Panther. These trucks were simply “badge-engineered” versions of regular Studebaker models and had nothing in common with the “real” Pierce-Arrow trucks.
The independent Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co. finally went out of business in 1938, and the famous name was seemingly gone forever. But the Pierce-Arrow name was just too good to stay dead. In 1979 the unrelated Pierce Mfg., Inc. of Appleton, Wisconsin acquired the right to use the Pierce-Arrow name on some of the fire trucks it produced.