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Lawrie Wagon and Carriage Company — commercial truck bodies were advertised as their specialty
Mar 27, 2013

 

by Bruce Cherney (part 2)
A July 15, 1913, Manitoba Free Press article about the annual Winnipeg Industrial Exhibition noted that the Lawrie Wagon and Carriage Company display would surprise visitors with the variety of vehicles it manufactured.
“This company is manufacturing the Hudson’s Bay Co.’s delivery wagons for Winnipeg and Calgary. An example of one of them is on hand. It has a black body, yellow wheels and white tip, with a brass monogram plate of the company on the side. The wagon bears every evidence of careful workmanship, strength and endurance.
“They are also exhibiting the body of a Canada Bread wagon in the white (unfinished state) to show the details of construction and materials used.”
The same article mentioned an “unusual and interesting ... laundry wagon with aluminum panels built with solid mouldings.”
At the same exhibition, the company displayed a model of a “Consolidated School Van,” commissioned by the Manitoba government “in connection with their new scheme of centralizing and consolidating day school instruction in the rural districts.”
The vans were built along the lines of those used by hotels, although with more room for passengers. “They are fitted with top and side curtains, the latter of which can be raised or lowered, as required in different weather” (Free Press, July 19).
According to Jim Blanchard’s book, Winnipeg 1912, “Approximately 6,200 horses still clopped and jingled along the streets of the city, hauling freight and fire engines and delivering milk and beer and most other things.”
But that year also marked the steady decline of horse-drawn power, primarily as a result of the cost of purchasing and maintaining a horse team when compared to the price of a car or truck.
“A team of choice draught horses could be had for $700,” wrote Blanchard, “and, of course, one did not necessarily need top-of-the-line animals to deliver freight. A wagon cost $200 or $300 and a harness from Eaton’s catalogues was about $30. So, for about $1,000, a young man could go into business for himself. The original purchase of the horse, however, was only the first expense ... Feed is a cost whether the horse is working or not and accounts for about fifty per cent of the cost of maintaining a stable.”
And cleaning the city’s streets of tonnes of manure left behind by horses and having it burned was an expense borne by all Winnipeg taxpayers. The city paid for men to patrol the downtown area with two-wheeled bins and pick up the manure using brooms and shovels.
Blanchard wrote that “cost and convenience made the onslaught of the motor vehicle unstoppable.”
The McLaughlin Carriage Co., Limited, 204 Princess St., advertised a 1914 model light delivery truck to “cut down delivery costs.” According to the September 13, 1913, ad in local newspapers: “Horses delivery isn’t what it used to be. It costs a great deal more to-day to operate a horse-and-wagon system than, say ten years ago.”
The ad went on to say that few horse owners know the actual cost. “But there is one thing that every horse owners knows — that it’s mighty hard to-day to buy a good horse for $250. And even at tbest the horse’s span of usefulness is brief and is continually growing less. Those that reach five years in the city streets do unusually well.”
The ad pointed out that city life was not suited to horses, since they’re “too remote from nature. Cobblestones, burning or icy pavements, noise, excitement and lengthening routes prove too much” for them.
In a few years, a horse would be discarded, “with the original purchase price, veterinaries’ fees, and high feed costs chalked up against him.”
The answer to cutting those costs, according to the ad, was purchasing for $1,500, f.o.b. (free on board) Winnipeg (that is, the seller has an obligation to pay the cost of shipment to the city), a McLaughlin-Buick truck, “built to deliver the goods.”
Such a truck, unlike a horse, could operate in the heat and cold, and it didn’t have to rest for one day in five “like a hard-working horse.”
The Dominion Motor Car Company, Ford dealers at 346 Donald St., was following a growing trend when it offered a “Smith Form-a-Truck” for $465, f.o.b. Winnipeg. The “form-a-truck” consisted of a chassis, wheels and motor that “can be quickly attached to any Ford car.” The March 24, 1917, advertisement in the Free Press, promised to save buyers “75 cents out of every dollar you are now spending on delivery with horses.”
Since most delivery vans were created by using car chassis and engines, a common term for the vehicles was “commercial cars” rather than identifying them as trucks. Actually, the two terms seem to have been interchangeable, since an pictorial feature entitled Commercial Cars, which appeared in the December 1910 Gas Power Age magazine, also referred to the “motor delivery truck.” The feature gave credit “to the enterprise of Winnipeg’s leading merchants who first installed motor trucks in their delivery service.”
The feature contained several photographs of different style of vehicles for different purposes: a truck with a coal dump, a light delivery truck for dry goods, a heavy-type general truck, a heavy type brewery and transfer truck, and a light truck for grocery deliveries.
It should also be noted that the word “car” is simply an abbreviated form of “carriage” that was first used to describe the carriages (cars), towed by train engines. When the Motor Age emerged, the word “car,” a carry-over from the carriage-making industry, became synonymous with an automobile that carried people.
Truck chassis and motors set-ups were often purchased by individuals or companies and then sent to the Lawrie plant on Wall Street to have a body built and mounted. A Lawrie Wagon & Carriage Co., Ltd., advertisement on the same page as the Dominion ad, was headed “Commercial automobile bodies our specialty,” showed examples of two truck bodies the company had built, and informed potential customers, “We carry a complete line of Ford Delivery Bodies in stock and can fit out any job complete.”
The Free Press reported on March 18, 1917, that commercial vehicles were in big demand, with local dealers straining their resources to meet the demand. 
“The general idea appears to be that the best way is to bring in, the bare chassis and then have a body built by a form of local carriage builders so as to the style desired by the purchaser.”
In the March 24, 1917, Free Press, a picture appeared of the “new city ambulance,” with a body built by Lawrie Wagon and Carriage, and mounted on a GMC chassis supplied by Breen Motor Co., corner of Sherbrook and Broadway.
A 12-passenger bus restored by the Manitoba Classics Antique Automobile Club had originally started out as a Ford Model T engine and chassis with a body built by the Lawrie company (Winnipeg Real Estate News, February 14, 1997). The top was made entirely of wood and the original bus wheels had iron rims with wooden spokes and solid rubber tires. 
“Canvass curtains provide a primitive means of shelter, but other than that it is open air,” said club member Ross Smith.
The bus was originally owned by George Davis and was driven until 1931 by his daughter, Mabel Davis, from the streetcar station in the outskirts of Lockport to the town of Lockport. Besides meeting the streetcar from Winnipeg, the bus took people to Lockport Falls to fish and picnic.
“Buy your motor truck bodies made-in-Winnipeg and made to order” was the message of a 1926 advertisement. In this ad, the Lawrie company pointed out it was located opposite the Ford assembly plant at the corner of Wall Street and Portage Avenue. The Ford Motor Company of Canada plant was at the time importing parts and components from Eastern Canada to assemble into complete vehicles, such as Model Ts.
Another 1922 ad promised to build a “glassed-in winter enclosure on any car for $85.” At the time, many Model Ts on Winnipeg streets and used in rural areas were older “open” — convertible — types. It was common for such vehicles to be stored for the winter and not brought out again until the spring. 
It wasn’t until 1910 that Cadillac became the first American manufacturer to offer closed bodies as standard equipment, but other auto makers, such as Ford with his “universal” Model T, were slow to take up the challenge presented by the new all-weather vehicles.
The Lawrie company’s glassed-in enclosure was made for the upper half of a car body, the portion in the “open” cars where drivers and passengers were normally exposed to the elements. 
The Lawrie company was engaged in a wide variety of body work for vehicles from ambulances to hearses to buses. In subsequent years, company ads highlighted “Body Builders,” and that its staff performed tasks such as painting, upholstering and fender repairs.
A 1915 ad said the company built “Jitney” buses. A jitney service was run by private individuals who operated buses — or cars — along fixed routes, but unlike the regular big-company transit services used a flexible schedule. The name jitney comes from a New Orleans slang term for that city’s original five-cent piece called a jeton. City council banned jitneys from Winnipeg’s streets in 1918, when the Winnipeg Electric Railway Company (WERC) instituted regular motor bus service along a route covering Portage, Lipton and Westminster.
The Lawrie company also built an “all-metal transit-type streamline” bus for the Winnipeg Electric Company (WEC, the new name for the WERC beginning in 1924), which was the privately-owned company that ran all transit services for the city, including electric streetcars, electric trolleys and buses. The city-operated Winnipeg Transit system didn’t come into being until 1953. 
The 21-passenger bus was designed by George A. Holmes, the superintendent of the bus and truck department of the Winnipeg Electric Company. It was the first all-metal bus  built in the city, using steel for the majority of the body with the exception of an aluminim top.
The 1934 bus was mounted on a Ford chassis and powered by a Ford V-8 motor assembled in the Winnipeg shops of the Ford Motor Company and purchased by the WEC from Dominion Motors Ltd. 
“Everything about the new bus tends to the comfort of the passengers,” according to a November 19, 1934, Free Press article, “even a new type of seat with rubber cushions ...
“The body of the new bus was completely constructed in the local shops of the Lawrie Wagon and Carriage Company, Limited, by the company’s own craftsmen. The new cushioning adopted is known as ‘Dunlopillo’ ... It is made of a cellular latex cushioning material, manufactured from the white milk of the rubber tree, exclusively in Canada by the Dunlop Company.”
A Lawrie ad about the new bus boasted that it was “built in Winnipeg by western labor,” and “completely constructed in our own shops by our own craftsmen.”
According to the article, a considerable saving was to be realized by building buses locally.
Lawrie went on to build other buses for the WEC, including four in 1935 that also used a Ford motor and chassis, In 1936, the company built a number of buses for the WEC, including two using the same Ford motor and chassis, two using a Dodge motor and chassis, two using a Chevrolet motor and chassis, and another two using an International motor and chassis (Winnipeg Transit). All the buses were designed by the WEC.
(Next week: part 3)