The History of Diamond Reo Trucks – Part II

Editors Note: Welcome to Part II of the continuing series, The History of Diamond Reo Trucks, by M.E. Follsom. For Part I of this series click here.

Diamond Reo: The World’s Toughest Truck

By: M.E. Folsom


C.A Tilt and the Diamond T Brand

(Part One of Two)

Some of you may be asking why I started with Diamond T instead of Reo. After all Reo began its operations in 1904 as opposed to Diamond T in 1905. Numerically this would make sense; the reason for this decision is to lend a continuity of the name sequence for the main brand Diamond Reo. (Diamond T plus Reo made up Diamond Reo as the end result, that’s simple enough right?)

So let’s begin with Mr. Charles Arthur Tilt (C.A. Tilt) the lifetime owner and operator of Diamond T automobiles and trucks. Born in 1877 in Chicago, Tilt would start his working career sweeping floors in his father’s factory, The J.E Tilt Shoe Company, at the age of nineteen. Eventually over the next eight years he would work his way up to managing the business when his father traveled out of town.

Tilt became interested in automobile production around the turn of the twentieth century and would begin to study and devote all his spare time to every aspect of this new industry. Around 1902 his father sublet a portion of his shoe factory to Charles Knight, the inventor of the Knight Sleeve Valve Engine and manufacturer of the Knight automobile. Tilt would become the sales manager for the Knight Motor Car Co. in 1904 and continue on as such for about year.

With 1,000 dollars of capital financed from his mother, some saying against his father’s wishes, C.A. Tilt established his own company in 1905; he chose the name Diamond T because it was the name his father used to distinguish the “top of the line shoes” from other lesser lines in his company. His father actually designed the Diamond T emblem for his son’s fledgling business, a diamond signifying top quality and a large “T” for what else but Tilt. (My question is this: Then why was his father so against his mother’s check book helping out? If indeed he helped the younger Tilt with this valuable promotion item. The world may never know.)

Diamond T emblem circa 1905

From 1905 to 1911 the Diamond T Company built only passenger car chassis sold locally with custom built bodies. A corner of his father’s shoe factory was utilized as a makeshift machine shop for production.  The very first car was built in 1905 but was not sold until 1907. Regular production of three seat touring cars would begin that year with a new model being introduced every year. These models were very powerful for their time with ratings up to 70 HP.  The younger Tilt acted as president, general manager, salesman, and chief mechanic during these formative years. In 1911 a customer requested a truck thus convincing Tilt to pursue this new form of commercial material moving as the best way to make money.

Since this is a novella that is geared towards the history of trucks, the above passages are as far I plan on going with any more specific automobile history regarding Diamond T Motor Cars.

Diamond T “the Cadillac of trucks”

Diamond T logo circa 1922

“Trucks don’t have to be homely” C.A. Tilt was heard saying more than once, history would prove this to be very true. Flowing fender lines, aggressive grills, and rakish cab contours would make up the distinctive features for the line.

From that first truck customer of Chicago plumbing supplier Wolff Manufacturing, “Old No.1” as it would be referred to years later, Tilt never looked back and concentrated his future on truck manufacturing.  This original truck with a 1.5 ton capacity featured a chain drive rear-end on Timken axles coupled to a Brown-Lipe transmission driven by a 40 HP cylinder Continental gas engine. The next truck would prove to be the bigger success with a production of 27 units and rated at a 1 ton capacity. This model was equipped with shaft drive and a new style gearbox.

The coming years saw the introduction of many different styles and capacity trucks generally suited for the agricultural and commerce delivery markets. With the United States late entry into World War One the Federal government sought suitable truck builders to fill the military’s transportation needs. Diamond T was appointed to build 1,500 three and five ton liberty trucks over an 18 month span. The company met this challenge with ease and was able to roll into the 1920’s with a production line ready for the increase in civilian for production.  With customers demanding increased vehicle speeds Diamond T started to stream-line the way their trucks appeared and began offering larger engines and air cushioned pneumatic tires.  Tilt also started to appoint chrome finishing touches to headlights, parking lights, and running boards.  All of these accouterments tended to make the competition look pretty basic. Around this time Tilt issued his famous quote about the looks of a truck. He often was heard repeating the line and by the mid 1930’s an additional slogan of “but it can feel like a home” would be added. This was due to Diamond-T being the first truck manufacturer to design an integral sleeper compartment to the cab. This new cab would be welcomed by countless over the road long distance operators. To top it off some trucks during this period came with an electric clock and jeweled cigarette lighter what trappings for a rig?

One of the biggest factors in Diamond-T’s success for the 1930’s was that C.A. Tilt looked at “the big picture” by marketing his product through a nationwide distribution and dealership network considered very innovative for the times. Other soon to be industry standards included the introduction of a 100,000 mile or a one year full warranty on all trucks equipped with “super service engines” provided by Hercules. The Great Depression in the early 30’s did stifle the growth for the firm but  smart management with lower pricing of truck units did help ease the pain of sales lost.


World War Two would again see a tremendous arms building program for the United States and its Allies. The need for well-built trucks would be at its greatest to defeat the Axis powers.  Diamond-T would produce for the United States military and its allies (primarily the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union) over 50,000 trucks of various sizes.

One of the most commonly produced units was the heavy duty Model 980/981 prime-mover which began production in 1941. Some 6000 units were built before the war’s end in 1945 and saw use by Allied forces as a tank transporter and a retrieval tractor when coupled to a Rogers trailer. The M19, as it was known in military speak, had tremendous power and reliability being able to transport the heaviest of allied tanks. Power was provided by a Hercules 895 cubic inch 185 bhp DXFE QHV inline six cylinder diesel engines or a Hall-Scott 240 bhp 440 OHV inline six cylinder engine. This Hall-Scott gasoline engine was the largest available for any military truck during the war. Many 981’s found a post war career working in the Outback of Australia as tractors for road-train applications made famous by Mr. David Baldock and Mr. Kurt Johannsen, innovators of this style of material transportation. With the company building so many trucks for the war effort the advances in truck design during this period was immense. These included the fin and tube radiators, the use of seven bearing six cylinder truck engines, four wheel hydraulic brakes, shock absorbers and fully enclosed deluxe cabs. All of these advances would become standard in truck equipment for heavy duty rigs after the war.

M19 loading Grant tank in North Africa, 1942. Imperial War Museums Source

M19 loading Grant tank in North Africa, 1942. Imperial War Museums photograph E 15577

Immediately after the war ended the company resumed production of truck models from 1-1/2 to 10 ton capacity. Pent up demand was high for new vehicles caused by the stopping of all civilian production in order to support the war effort.

A year after World War two ended C. A. Tilt would retire as the President and General Manager of the company, but would remain Chairman of the Board of Directors. After 40 years at the helm he would appoint his younger brother Ned to take over the firm and steer it into its next half century of existence. Only this next decade for Diamond-T would see its survival be steered into an acquisition by a manufacturing trucking giant.

Diamond-T model 332

Diamond-T model 332 loaded by a Drott TD-6 – Roger Amato photograph

Author’s note: Regarding next month’s installment. I am going to fast forward and will go to the end of Diamond T’s truck history. As stated this novella really is The History of Diamond Reo Trucks so the concentration of truck design and manufacturing history will only pertain to models brought forth by The White Motor Truck Corporation when this corporate giant obtained Diamond-T in 1958.  Until then.

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ATCA Upper Canada 2016

This past Saturday I went to my first international truck show…in Athens, Ontario. While Canada might not seem like an exotic locale to many it sure does have some nice trucks. And look, cats and dogs play nice here.

Mack Superliner

Now for you truck show people the name of Athens might sound familiar as being the home base of the George Tackaberry classic truck collection. As I had hoped the show grounds of Centre 76 were loaded with a wide variety of trucks from this world class collector. Just look at this General.

GMC General

Despite the largecars loaded with chrome at nearly every turn my favorite truck of the day was this M-Series 4×4 International. Nobby tires, diamond plate pit fenders, Frink body out back, it speaks all the right notes to my vocational truck loving soul.

International M-Series

But then again…this Transtar II is hard to walk by…

International Transtar II

Are you getting the feel of this show? Gorgeous trucks as far as the eye could see, so many in fact that I have to split this post over two days to give the proper coverage it deserves.

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Autocar Mondays – West meets East

Here on the east coast a truck like this Autocar DK setup for oil field work is something of rarity. This rig is a real head turner with massive steel bumper, front floats, a steel deck with with 30ft polls and Tulsa winches. I don’t know much about what is going on under the hood but I assume it’s a large one (Cummins NTC400?) based on that external air cleaner. Transmission is probably something robust like a 5+4 with locking differentials being beyond question.

Autocar Oil Field Truck

This truck was spotted in Pennsylvania at local heavy duty truck parts supplier Boot’s and Hank’s. Could it possibly be for sale soon? Thanks to David for grabbing a shot of this truck and sharing it with the rest of us. Make sure you check out his Flickr page here for more great photos of not only trucks but trains.

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Faded Treasure

Jesus said as recorded in Matthew 6:19

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

Nearly everything described in the verse above has taken place to this old truck. When we last saw this DC-75T  three years ago the body was intact as far as hood, radiator and bumper we concerned. As the story goes someone stole this sheet metal. Vandals later returned to smash the glass in the windshield while other individuals took their hammer to the wrecker body. At one point in time it’s not hard to imagine that this truck was the pride of the fleet, costing the same as a high end tow truck does today.


Autocar Tow Truck

This U-Model Mack has met a similar fate. While it was in worse shape three years ago than the Autocar it also became a victim of the hood stealing bandits of Adams, NY.

U-Model Mack

The cab on this old U was pretty well garbage from top to bottom. Think Flintstones mobile when it comes to floor pans. And then we have this old Brockway.

Brockway Tow Truck

From a distance this truck look fairly decent and then you get closer and realize that like the Mack, there is very little sheet metal left in the cab. Still, of the three trucks this one had the most life left in it. A box of dissolved road flares on the cab floor came free to the winner bidder.

Relive in glorious HD.

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Rail Car What Is It?

It’s time for another edition of Rail Car What Is It?

CSX Train

Unlike past entries, I’m not getting an aliens vibe from this piece of equipment. Instead, this one reminds of a giant device for making popcorn, similar to the ones used at movies theaters. Wait for the drum to fill up and then turn the handle to dump the freshly popped kernels.


Thoughts? Guesses? Let me know otherwise we’ll never have an answer.

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Reverse Parade

This year I helped out during the 2016 National Brockway Show by taking the “official” show photographs. This meant that I had to be in a specific location prior to the start of the parade down main street. It wasn’t possible to take both picture and video so I figured that aspect of the show had to be sacrificed for the greater good. Hanging around all day lead to a pleasant surprise around 3:30 when a second parade started to take form as everyone headed back to the museum for the final night of festivities or made a break for home. I guess it makes perfect sense now that I think about it but the Brockway Show is one of the few shows around to feature two parades in one day!

This P.M. parade also lead to some great shots.

Make sure you subscribe to the official BTPA Youtube channel for more great videos in the near future.

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Snow Pushers

Near the location of that Reo snowblower spotted in Geneva, NY a few months ago I also came across a few interesting loaders. The Hough H60 Payloader and the Dresser 530 next to it are descendents of the same heavy equipment linage.

Payloaders with Snow Pushers

Next to the IHC related products, a Terex frontloader with Protech pusher waits for winter. Undoubtedly Detroit powered to keep the operator awake during long nights of plowing store parking lots during heavy snow fall.

Terex Front Loader

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Old School Buses

If you were hanging around this site back in 2013 you’ll remember my trip to Dobbins Auto Parts when a massive auction was held to clear out the 60 acre property. Every form of vehicle could be found on the property. There were Walter Snow Fighters, classic cars, buses, trucks, heavy equipment and more. I spent the better portion of a day wandering through the property becoming more amazed with every hill I crested. There was simply too much to see and from what I learned after the fact, too much to auction off. Mr. Dobbins was heavily involved in the sale that day often refusing to sell items after the auction hammer fell or removing lots shortly before they were to be bid upon. When the sun set hundreds of items remained unsold with uncertain futures. And then there was the debacle involving a large collection of military jeeps which proved to generate much attention among collectors as well as military authorities from nearby Fort Drum. Apparently the jeeps were to have be destroyed years ago. Oops. Despite this looming legal snafu and repeated warnings that the vehicles could NEVER, EVER, be registered for road use plenty of people still dropped tens of thousand of dollars per unit. Whatever became of the jeeps and their potential owners remains unknown at this time.

But I digress. After that sale many items remained on the property. For years there were rumors of everything being junked or some form of clean up operation taking place. A few vehicles were saved including a QCUS Walter. This past weekend the final auction was held and everything that was left behind went up for sale. Believe me, compared to what could be found in the weeds just three years ago the property on Sunday looked like a pristine national park.

With so much being sold, stolen or scrapped I was able to focus on some of the items I skipped over during my last visit. The buses! Certainly there were more many more back in the spring of 2013. Gone were the Oneida bodied buses and so many other unique nameplates but many classics could still be found.

Namely, this 1958 International R-185 with Carpenter body. I did see this truck the last time I was at Dobbins but it was thoroughly buried in the weeds with birch trees growing all around it. In time for the auction someone pulled it from its resting spot breaking the tie rods in the process but also providing an unobstructed view.

International R-185 school bus

This bus was one of the most intact models from what I would consider the classic era of buses at Dobbins. The front sheetmetal was remarkably intact and aside from the busted out windshield this bus probably doesn’t look much different from the day it was hauled into the yard.

Carpenter Bus Body

Now filled with corrugated sheet metal this tin can once hauled a family across the country. I could barely make out the last name painted on the side but could see the names of Ma and Pa along with their kids. Travel stickers on the bus doors indicated stops made with a variety of locations from across the country. This R-185 was gas powered with a five speed gearbox. Oh the stories this bus could tell.

Of course, there were many other buses to be found with more than enough S-Series Internationals with BlueBird bodies to go around. There were a few interesting rigs left including what appeared to be two V series Internationals with unknown bodies.

The living color video.

In the next day or so we’ll take a look a few new items not seen the last time as well as touch base with that old DC75-T wrecker. Prepare yourself now. The past three years have not been kind.

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2016 Brockway Huskie Drive

The 2016 National Brockway Truck show was a great success. The four day long event was filled with numerous activities all centered around the trucks that once earned the City of Cortland the nickname of Huskie Town USA. On Friday a group of truck set off from the Brockway Museum for scenic cruise through the hills of the neighboring countryside of Cortland and Onondaga Counties. Passing through lush farm lands along twisting country roads the Brockway convoy eventually arrived at The View, a local restaurant and bar with terrific…..views. The muggy August weather and the original condition of these trucks (No Air Conditioning) meant that both man and machine were ready for a cool down. An ample selection of cold drinks were ready and waiting along with excellent food.

Brockway Huskie Drive

Not part of the convoy this 359 model happened to be doing farm work nearby and stopped by to join in on the fun. A sure sign that Central New York is Brockway country.

Working Brockway

Now for a teaching moment. If you hang around Brockways long enough you’ll eventually see a truck wearing a Huskidrive emblem. You might even see a truck sporting to Huskies side by side on the hood. These two items are more than just extra bling by people looking for attention, they represent a technology Brockway introduced in 1968 to merge low end axle ratios (necessary at the time for pulling power) with higher end speeds desired by both truckers and the general public. Essentially Huskidrive meshed a low speed axle for pulling with a high speed axle for cruising without the need for the typical large gearing found in a classic overdrive system. Similar to a two speed rear end I’ve heard there was a button on the dash to engage the Huskidrive while other claim there was level on the shifter. This is my layman’s take on the matter and perhaps oversimplified. If you know…let the rest of us know.

And now you know where the Friday cruise found its name. Below, the rolling video.

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Autocar Mondays – John’s Towing

John’s Towing of Tonawanda, NY is one of the premier towing and recovery specialist of the region with over 37 years of experience. Founded by William H. Grunzweig Sr. and his three sons the company has thrived by offering unmatched customer service through a well trained staff and expertly maintained equipment. While a strong work ethic proves to be the backbone of the company the muscle continues to come from this beastmode Autocar.

Autocar Tow Truck

Capable of pulling the heaviest truck or trailer or crane this truck helps keep John’s towing at the forefront of the Western New York tow scene. Oh, by the way, Buffalo receives its fair share of snow but it doesn’t look like this right now. This great shot comes from the Flickr album of DiamondReo90, scroll through the pages and marvel at the wonders that reside in Buffalo, NY and beyond. Some great stuff! Also swing by John’s Towing and Storage to view more of their fleet and learn more about the company.

Have any Autocar you would like to share? Email with photos and information!

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