By By Eric Cramer, Rock Island Arsenal Garrison Public AffairsJune 22, 2009
Only two of the many vehicles in the Transcontinental Convoy are old enough to have actually taken part in the original convoy, a 1918 Dodge command car, and the 1917 Four Wheel Drive Co. truck belonging to Don Chew.
"There were three of these in the original convoy," Chew said.
Chew said the Four Wheel Drive Co., of Clintonville, Wisc., built 6,000 of the vehicles between 1917 and the company's failure in the 1920s.
"There were two original owners of the company who created the four-wheel-drive system and created the whole concept, and they used an attorney. The attorney stole the company from them," Chew said. One of the company's founders went on to work as a designer for the famed Oshkosh heavy equipment manufacture in the Wisconsin city of the same name.
Chew's truck is part vehicle, part restoration, and part archeology project.
"I didn't dig it up, but I did dig up some of the parts," he said. "The body came out of a cornfield near Mason City, Iowa, and I've bought and purchased parts from all over the country."
He said he strongly suspects that some of the parts he purchased came from among the three original Four Wheel Drive Co. trucks used in the 1919 convoy.
"I bought three batches of parts from Riverside, Calif. When I got to researching, I found out that very few of these trucks ever made it to California, but among those very few trucks were the three that were in the 1919 convoy. I think the parts I bought probably came from them," Chew said.
Restoring the vehicle was a year-long project that consumed all of his time. "I'd get up, work on it, go to bed and get four or five hours of sleep and then get up and work on it again."
The truck is making the trip, this time, on a flat-bed trailer. It's engine pulls it along at a stately 12 miles per hour, too slow to maintain the 30-mph pace of the rest of the convoy. "You can get it up to 15, but its hard on the engine," Chew said.
He said he plans to tear down the engine when he returns to his home in Colorado following the completion of the convoy. Improper piston rings don't allow the engine to develop enough compression to operate correctly at the 6,000-foot elevation where he lives. He's having new pistons and piston rings custom manufactured to allow the vehicle to operate more efficiently.