Historic Truck Brands
Federal trucks began with a Detroit prototype developed by the Bailey Motor Truck Company in 1910. Three years later, the renamed Federal brand had produced its 100th truck.
The Federal Truck was developed from a prototype of the Bailey Motor Truck Company which had been started by Martin Pulcher in Michigan in 1910. Pulcher had started his venture with experience having previously worked with the Oakland Motor Car Company in Pontiac.
The first Federals were chain driven, bonneted trucks of one and two ton capacity, powered by four cylinder Continental petrol engines, with three speed transmissions and chain rear axle drive.
Federal was more of an assembler than a manufacturer but, the process was successful and was well received by customers.
Shortly after the company’s inception, a Federal truck was entered in a 1911 event, called the Chicago Reliability Run. Twenty-eight trucks competed in the 937-mile (1508-km) ‘race’ from Chicago to Detroit and return. Other companies entered multiple trucks, but Federal entered only a single one-ton truck
The event took nine days to complete and it rained for four of those days, which made many of the roads nearly impassable. One 26-mile (41-km) stretch in Michigan ended the race for many of the trucks.
However, the Federal powered on through, taking 7.5 hours to complete that section.
The sole Federal won, carrying a load of 2650 pounds, an overload of 650 pounds above its rated capacity (A US ton is 2000lb.) It also made the entire trip under its own power; the only truck in its class to do so.
Some models were sold under the name Whiting for the US domestic market. This may be associated with the acquisition of designs or plans from the short-lived Whiting Motor Car Company (1910 to 1912) or parts sourced from Whiting Foundry that had no connection with the Whiting car business. History is very sketchy in this area, so we’re not sure of the Whiting involvement with Federal.
In 1914, the company finally got an assembly line in place and production increased greatly.
By 1916 Federal’s chain drive had given way to Timken worm gear and five- and seven-tonners were released in 1917/8.
The company referred to its larger, heavier models as ‘locomotive sized’ and at one stage used the catchcry: “Federals have won by costing less to run”.
Federal provided trucks for the US Army during World War One: mainly 1.5-tonners.
In 1918, the wooden-spoked rear wheels of some models were replaced by solid metal, which allowed the trucks to bear a heavier load than before. Federal took the middle-class road, and did very well for a long time.
In the 1920s Federal offered seven truck models and two passenger vehicles. Engines were Continental, Federal-Knight and Waukesha. In 1924 there was also a Federal-Knight light truck released, powered by a sleeve-valve Willys-Knight petrol engine.
In 1929 Federal offered prime mover versions and all models had four-wheel braking.
The early 1930s were bad for everyone and Federal kept its head above water until business conditions improved. Hercules engines were added to the powerplant list in the mid-1930s. Heavier-model Federals had a diff-mounted emergency drum brake that caused axle-provider Timken some concerns.
Federal’s main product for World War Two service was the Q9 2.5-ton, 4×4 truck. It was built to survive, using 10-inch-deep chassis rails and was powered by a six-cylinder Waukesha engine, a Brown-Lipe four-speed main box and Timken transfer case and drive axles.
Other wartime trucks were 6×6 wreckers with Hercules power and 6×4 prime movers.
After the heady years of wartime production the post-War scene was good at first, but curtailed severely in the 1950s, by currency and protectionist issues that reduced Federal’s lucrative export business.
In the late 1940s Federal was selling around 6000 trucks every year in the USA and exporting around 600 to Central America, 300 to Australia and many other vehicles to Europe and the Middle East.
At that time, it was reported there were some 50,000 Federal trucks in use worldwide and 300 franchised dealers.
Many Australian Federals were CM80 four-ton and CM90 4.5-ton trucks, powered by Hercules engines with Warner four-speed boxes and single or two-speed drive axles.
Even the launch of the well styled and specified Style Liner models in 1950 was blighted by the beginning of the Korean War. Also, the pre-Word War Two COE model didn’t make an appearance after 1945, except for a brief effort in the 1950s.
The Style Liner range topped with the 145hp 20-ton GCM 4×2 prime mover and there were nine smaller variants.
When the slump came in 1952 Federal fell into the hands of the Fawick Airflex Company, a Cleveland-based factory that produced the Fawick air-operated clutch. Plans to use that clutch system in Federals didn’t work out, so Federal was moved on again, to an off-road equipment supplier, Northwestern Auto Parts Co (NAPCO) Industries, in 1954.
With Federal’s export markets demanding increasingly higher amounts of local content Napco couldn’t do any better. It shut down the Detroit assembly line and moved Federal production to its base in Minneapolis, but the new enterprise soon wilted.
Not helping Federal was increased competition from the majors: Ford, GM and Chrysler. Federal’s mainstay was special vehicles, such as 4×4 tippers for the US Air Force.
Even the new Federal Golden Eagle series with fashionable wrap-around windscreens weren’t enough to save Federal, which ceased production in 1959.