Haven History: Local invention improves vehicles nationally

By Lou Bernard
Alumnus Writer

February 28, 2013

How many of you drive a car? Okay, now how many of you have four-wheel drive?

Now, how many of you knew that four-wheel drive was invented and perfected here in Clinton County?

Truth. Four-wheel drive was invented in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, just a few miles west of Lock Haven.

It was May 15, 1915 when the Beech Creek Truck and Auto Company was chartered. With an initial investment of a hundred thousand dollars, they applied for patents for their new design for steering and engines, and went into business making trucks. Not many trucks. They are believed to have only made two or three.

The first truck was created in the company’s building on Main Street in Beech Creek. It was used as a demonstration model, showing how much it could haul and what rough terrain it could cover. At one point, the inventors drove the truck up the courthouse steps in Lock Haven to prove it could be done. The gathered farmers said, essentially, “Yeah, cute trick, but we’ll stick with our horses.”

The trucks were said to weigh six thousand pounds and cost $3,850. One truck was sold to a dairy in Mansfield. Another one was sold to farmer James Smith of Blanchard, and used for several years until it broke down while delivering supplies to State College. It was abandoned at that point because parts were no longer available for it, a procedure used by auto companies to this day.

One old photo shows one of the trucks overturned along Sugar Run Road in Beech Creek, after a loose floorboard jammed under the brake pedal. This would make it one of Clinton County’s earliest auto accidents.

It was only five years before the Beech Creek Truck and Auto Company began to experience financial difficulties. They’d been approached by various businesses about manufacturing their trucks, but were never able to reach a satisfactory deal. In the meantime, taxes went unpaid and bills racked up, and it was spring of 1920 when the company filed for bankruptcy. The plant finally closed on March 1, 1920.

So there you have it. Clinton County could have been Detroit, churning out vehicles. Of course, we could have wound up with Detroit’s lousy economy and murder rate, too, so we dodged a bullet there.

Lou Bernard is the Adult Services Coordinator for Ross Library and can be contacted at ross13@rosslibrary.org

 
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