It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

The Powell Sport Wagon was but one manifestation of the Powell brothers innovative company.

It was an unusual idea; build a light duty pick up truck, and wagon, that looked like a car, that drove like a car, that could easily be maintained, and that could be sold, profitably, and for much less than a truck produced by a major manufacturer. To accomplish this Hayward and Channing Powell planned on resurrecting chassis from passenger cars acquired from salvage yards!

The Powell trucks and sport wagons introduced in 1952 were unique. There was nothing like them on the road, at least in appearance. Much like the motorized scooter and optional sidecar that Hayward and Channing Powell had manufactured since 1926, they were conceived as a product to meet the need of a limited and narrow market. Many businesses in the Los Angeles area that had need of a light delivery vehicle chose the locally manufactured Powell scooters as they had a reputation for durability. The Powell brothers were hoping to capitalize on that reputation as well as customer loyalty.

The first sport wagon utilized a Chevrolet passenger car chassis that was rebuilt from stem to stern, and boxy body of Powell design and manufacture. As the company geared up for limited production, the brothers decided to exclusively use 1941 to 1947 six cylinder Plymouth cars as the foundation. These chassis were selected because of wide availability, interchangeability of parts between Chrysler lines, an open drive shaft, and a superior brake system. By the time production commenced in 1954, the company was using Chrysler industrial engines as well as those from Plymouth, Dodge, and DeSoto cars. At the time all of this must have seemed like a good idea.

To Milton O. Reeves it seemed like a good idea at the time

The wagons and trucks both had a few very unique features. As an example there was a concealed tube built into the right rear fender that ran lengthwise. An option was a tube in the the left side as well. Advertisement noted that this was ideally suited for the carrying of fishing poles or rolls of blueprints. Gimmicks and the cutting of costs by using fiberglass front grille, wooden bumpers, sliding rather than rolling windows, and lift off tailgate simply weren’t enough to appeal to customers. Production commenced in October 1954, and ended by the summer of 1956. Eight hundred were produced. Try finding one of these today.

The history of the American auto industry is littered with similar stories that seemed like a good idea at the time. Case in point, the Octoauto and Sextoauto conceived by Milton O. Reeves, owner of the Reeves Pulley Company in Columbus, Indiana. His company had been modestly successful before he invented a variable speed transmission system (VST) and then it soared. As with many businessmen in the closing years of the 19th century, Reeves wanted to become a manufacturer of automobiles.

His first attempt was a “motocycle” in 1896 that he built as a means of showcasing his VST. The vehicle terrified neighbors, and this led Reeves to try two more good ideas. First, a muffler, perhaps the first automotive application of such a device. Second, in the hope that his vehicle wouldn’t terrorize horses, he bought a papier-mache horse that served as an advertisement for a blacksmith shop, and and applied the head to the car. In the years that followed Reeves developed a variety of interesting, albeit odd, automobiles.

Topping the list has to be the Sextoauto, a six wheeled beast built on a modified Stutz chassis. The Octoauto used an Overland but as Reeves quickly learned, even if there was a promise of improved ride and greater tire longevity, there simply was no market for a car with a 180-inch wheelbase, and a 248-inch overall length! For Reeves it had seemed like a good idea.

Over the years I too have had what seemed like a good idea at the time. At the time it seemed like a good idea to write a book about the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company. At the time it seemed like a good idea to drive the ’88 Ford Crown Victoria LTD Country Squire to Michigan (story for another day). At the time it seemed like a good idea to go to work for Juniper Mines (another story for another day). I bet you have a story or two to tell about what seemed like a good idea at the time.

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jimhinckleysamerica

Jim Hinckley's America is a grand adventure on the back roads and two lane highways. It is an odyssey seasoned with fascinating people, and memory making discoveries. As made evident by the publication of fourteen books on subjects as diverse as diverse as Ghost Towns of the Southwest, The Illustrated History of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company, Travel Route 66, Backroads of Arizona, and The Route 66 Encyclopedia, I enjoy sharing adventures and helping people plan for their own memory making journeys.

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