Re-writing the Doodlebug history – Update # 47

Rich Harner discovered that more than six Doodlebugs were produced. And he found evidence that two different versions of the unique tanker were built between 1933 and 1934.


Rich’s Research

I have already mentioned in previous posts that Steve and I believe Rich was the leading historian of the Texaco Doodlebug worldwide.

His quest to discover evidence relating to the streamlined Texaco tanker saw him wade through the entire ATHS (American Truck Historical Society) library material. More than ten years ago, he researched the 1930’s Heil tanks, and contacted staff at the Heil Corporate Office to request any information, photos or details that they may have held on file. Rich reached out to the team at the Texaco archives (now the Chevron Corporate Archives) for any assistance they could give as he began to collate photos and record data relating to the Doodlebug. And, of course, he discussed aspects of the construction with his ‘Diamond T family’. These friends included Steve Rutledge, Dave Kellerman, Ken Ochenkowski, Lee Snyder, Bill Wielinski, Tom Warren and others, who all share a vast knowledge of the various models produced and the specific componentry that Diamond T used in their builds.

Rich’s exhaustive search resulted in the discovery of a number of articles written about the Doodlebug in 1933 and 1935. It is these articles from that era that gave Rich the factual information he was after, and it is my plan to publish them all in full in the upcoming book.

One of these articles also uncovered a direct link to, and explanation of, the Howard W. Kizer photo album detailed in the last update.

https://texacotankerproject.com/howard-w-kizer-photos/

Chicago Nov 2

“A streamlined gasoline tank truck with storage tanks in the center has been developed by The Texas Co., and is on exhibition now at the company’s display at the World’s Fair in Chicago prior to a tour of metropolitan centers.”

The Chicago to Florida trip made by Kizer was a planned promotional tour to introduce the Doodlebug to a number of the Midwest, Southwest and Southeast states of America.

By the end of his research, Rich had amassed a comprehensive file on the Doodlebug that included 1930’s write-ups, patent drawings, details of the equipment used by Diamond T between 1933-1934, other historical material and photographic evidence.


Behind The Nickname

The word ‘Doodlebug’ is a nickname for a variety of things. It describes someone who draws incessantly, it is a pet name for antlions, pill bugs and other beetles, and in the 1940’s it referred to a device that supposedly detected oil deposits. It was also the nickname for the Nazi V-1 flying bombs, single self-propelled train cars and homemade tractors!

At some point in the 20th century, the popular nickname was also given to the 1930’s bread loaf shaped Texaco tankers. I was curious as to what these trucks were called back in the day, and discussed this with Rich. It seems that the truck was referred to as the ‘Diamond T Texaco Special’ back in 1933.

The Heil Co used their well known promotional photo to advertise the Doodlebug in 1933 with the following description:

“Diamond T Texaco Special, Rear-Mounted Engine. Wheelbase 140″, Tank Capacity 1500 Gallons, all Controls Air Operated. Design Reserved to Texas Co. for Oil and Gasoline. Available for Milk, Beer or Liquid Chemicals.”

The Diamond T Texaco Special

(I should note that Rich never found evidence that any other industries commissioned these trucks for tank deliveries of other types of liquids.)

Surprisingly, the only other reference to the Diamond T Texaco Special that we could find was a brochure that announced the potential release of different Texaco models. Although we couldn’t find a date, we felt it would probably have been printed and distributed in the 1980’s or early 1990’s.

The Diamond T Texaco Special (bottom left) is illustrated as a potential limited edition model.

And if anyone is wondering about the terminology used in Howard W. Kizer’s photo album, he simply referred to the vehicle as ‘the truck’.


The True Production Number

It is well documented that the Doodlebug made its debut at the Chicago World’s Fair in November 1933. It was described in an article as “the center of attention at the Travel & Transport Building  during the closing days of A Century of Progress”.

The World’s Fair ran until November 12th 1933, and the Doodlebug was only on display for the final three weeks. By the time the November 1933 article was published, the streamlined tank truck was already in “regular service delivering Texaco products”.

The next reference to the production of the Doodlebugs was in the March – April 1935 issue of The Texaco Star magazine. The following two photos were published in the article.

The only two images known to exist of the fleet of six trucks together.

Articles written about the Doodlebug over the past thirty years have often stated that it is thought that only six were ever built. It is the 1935 Texaco Star article mentioned above, I believe, that led to this assumption. But as is the case so often, it is all in the detail.

Rich searched through all the literature and never found any suggestion or proof that more trucks of this design were built after that time. Furthermore, in 1934, Texaco was already looking at Dodge’s new design, which was put into production that year. The Dodge Airflow truck was commissioned by Texaco and in 1935 was used as their next generation fleet of tankers. These two factors support Rich’s belief that the fleet of six promoted in the 1935 Texaco article was indeed the last ever built.

But Rich found proof that more than six Texaco Doodlebugs were produced, and the true number was actually seven. This is because the truck displayed at the World’s Fair in Chicago was built prior, and in addition, to the fleet of six.  There are two pieces of evidence that corroborate Rich’s findings.

The first is a single sentence in the March – April 1935 Texaco Star article that reads:

“A vehicle was built and proved so successful in actual operation that this fleet of six now takes to the road.”

The second is that Rich noticed differences between the vehicles in photos posted online, and realised that two variations of the truck had been built – the first being the tanker that was displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair, and the second being the fleet of six built during 1934. The clear distinction between the two models is detailed in the next section.

Before moving on though, I have added two photos to highlight the stark contrast between the Dodge Airflow and the Doodlebug, given that both were in production in the same year.

1934 Doodlebug

1935 Dodge Airflow

An un-restored example of the 1935 Dodge Airflow is at the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum in Walcott, Iowa. The founder of the museum, Bill Moon, got in touch with us back in 2018 and shared the photo above. When you start to consider how impractical the Doodlebug really was, it is totally understandable that Texaco wanted to move back to a more conventional truck design.

I understand the restoration of the Dodge Airflow has now begun at the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum, so we look forward to following progress on that and wish the team all the very best. It will be wonderful to see another truck join the restored Texaco fleet!


Comparing The Models

Rich discovered a number of variations between the two Doodlebug models. Although the first version might be considered by some as only a prototype, the tanker was an actual working truck, and the first of the Texaco fleet to be put into service.

That first truck was completed by October 1933. It is documented in several articles later that year that Howard W. Kizer and C.A.Pierce, Chief Engineer for Diamond T, had worked together on the design and construction details of this truck.

The production of the fleet of six, I believe, would have begun some time after Kizer returned from his trip to Florida in January 1934. The completion of the fleet was noted in a March 1935 article. “Streamline efficiency to the ultimate degree has been achieved in the fleet of six trucks which were completed last month for The Texas Company in the Chicago factory of the Diamond T Motor Car Company.”

The production window, therefore, for the fleet of six was between February 1934 and February 1935.


The Engine

The engine specifications of the first truck were described on November 2nd 1933. “The truck’s power plant is a six-cylinder engine, with displacement of 501 cubic inches, water cooled, mounted longitudinally in the rear compartment, and with helical gears in the transmission and transfer case.”

A further article in December 1933 added more detail about the engine. “The heavy-duty six cylinder (4 1/2 in. x 5 1/4 in.) engine, developing 110 h.p. at 2200 r.p.m., is mounted longitudinally in the rear tail compartment and is water cooled with a large capacity radiator transversely mounted behind the storage tanks, air being led upward and through it.”

The horsepower in the second version of trucks was increased to 125 h.p. as detailed in a March 1935 article. “The 125 h.p. motor is in the rear and the driver’s cab is rounded and glass-enclosed.”

Rich had a theory about the seven Doodlebugs. He had searched through the Branham Automobile Reference Book looking at the models of Diamond Ts produced in 1934. Prior to May 1st 1934, Diamond T had produced only 17 trucks as detailed in the following list at the top:

The 740 model shared the same engine specs as the first truck – 4 1/2 in. x 5 1/4 in. Rich thought it was possible that either the first truck, or all seven, had been custom built using this model’s serial numbers.

With the increase in horsepower noted in the fleet of six, he even wondered if the engine had been changed to 4 5/8 x 5 1/4 to coincide with the six Model 750’s that were produced with those engine specs. Rich was unable to find anything to substantiate his theory, but just maybe those serial numbers 94285 to 94290 belonged to six very special Diamond T tankers…..


The Sill Height

One of the most obvious differences between the two trucks was the sill height below the tank and locker doors.

Rich scaled some photos and estimated the sill on the first truck was approximately 2″ high.

The next version was built with a wider sill that Rich calculated to be around 6.8″ high. The increase in the sill height naturally resulted in a reduced height of the locker doors.

This visual difference is by far the easiest way to identify which of the two models of these trucks you are looking at.


The Vents

The primary means of ventilation in the Doodlebug cabs came from a very surprising source.

The iconic Diamond T logo that sat proudly at the front of the tanker discretely housed a screen at the back that enabled some airflow into the cab. The ventilation was described in an article on December 2nd 1933.

“Cab ventilation is effected through a screened port back of the monogram on the front of the car, and the driver enjoys practically unobstructed vision through a range of 180 deg.”

Kizer and Pierce designed an exceptionally small vent / hatch in the cab roof of the first truck. Given the non-opening windows in the doors, and the amount of glass surrounding the cab area, the truck must have been stifling to travel in, particularly during the warmer months.

 The first truck with a small roof vent above the cab.

Fortunately, some further modifications were made to the second model to allow a somewhat better airflow through the cab.

The first change was to the roof vent. The size of the hatch was increased to the same width as the five tank lids along the catwalk on top of the tanks.

The modified roof vent at the end of the catwalk.

Then, as an additional ventilation measure, side vents were installed on each side of the cab.

The open side vent on one of the second model of truck.

Even with these two improvements, the second model must still have been very uncomfortable to travel in. We will no doubt find out for ourselves once the build is complete!


The Marker Lights

The first truck was put into service with no marker lights on the streamlined body whatsoever. Not the safest of ideas for a tanker carrying fuel!

The second version had three roof markers on the cab, and four beautiful, art deco side markers on the top of the narrow fenders.

The three roof markers.

The art deco style fender lights.

The inclusion of these ornate chrome side markers added a little more class to the Doodlebug, especially considering that these tank trucks had no chrome to speak of, other than the headlight surrounds, door handles, etc.

Thanks to Starry Malcolm’s help, we have sourced one so far!


The Louvres

The tail section of the Doodlebug had hand fabricated louvres on each side. Even this detail was changed between the two versions.

The first truck had a total of seven louvres in the tail section.

The second model of truck was modified to have only six louvres fabricated in the rear. The rear tail light mounted on the narrow bumper is also visible in this image.


The Service Areas

The first truck, I suspect, was left in service in the Midwest or the Southeast region visited during the January 1934 tour.

Rich believed, however, that the latter six trucks were possibly all sent to California. The following statement was made in a March 1935 article:

“The first of these tank trucks to reach the Pacific Coast was delivered recently for the inspection of R.T. Herndon, vice-president in charge of sales for The Texas Company of California.”

A publication is mentioned in Rich’s notes that I don’t have a copy of, so I will do some more research to see if I can find any evidence of the areas where these six trucks were actually put into service.


The Colour Debate

Michael Lamm made the following comment in an article in 2015, ‘The Story Behind Texaco’s Futuristic Streamlined Tank Trucks’:

“These were sometimes painted white to show their cleanliness, although all Texaco Doodlebugs seem to have been black.”

Thanks to Rich uncovering the articles from 1933 – 1935, I can confirm with absolute certainty that all seven trucks were painted in the stunning Texaco red shade.

The colour of the first truck was noted in several of the 1933 articles. One such article read “The truck is painted red, in keeping with the company’s color.”

And the fleet of six was described in The Texaco Star article in 1935 as “The body of the truck is painted in the distinctive Texaco red, with white raised lettering”.

The articles prove once and for all that the tankers were definitely painted red, and remove any doubt that still remains about the Doodlebug paint scheme.

A really informative and explanatory comment was left on this website when I touched on the Doodlebug history back in August 2018.

Paul Dunham wrote in November 2021:

“Hi Sue, interesting article. As for the red vs. black debate, orthochromatic film was still in wide use in the 1930’s. Orthochromatic film reacts mostly to blue light so that red, yellow, and orange objects will seem darker than they really are. I’ve seen a photo where one truck looks very dark and the other five look lighter, but I think that is because the darker truck is in the shade.”

Here is the Texaco Star photo again that Paul is referring to in his comments.

The six red Texaco Doodlebugs lined up in 1935.


Rich Harner

I would like to pay special tribute to Rich for unearthing and preserving all this fascinating information. It means so much to me to finally give Rich the acknowledgement and recognition that he so rightfully deserves for his research and documentation of this little-known automotive history. Rich made a difference, and left us all with that most precious gift………knowledge.

I have only touched on the production number and variations between the two models in this post but, as the build progresses, I will continue to share details of each component identified by Rich during his years of research.

Through his hard work and perseverance to discover everything he could about the Doodlebug, we now know so much more about the truck and are in the best position possible to bring it to life as a faithful and period correct build. Our heartfelt thanks to a wonderful, generous man and a special friend.


References:

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/what-the-hell-is-a-doodlebug

https://theoldmotor.com/?p=148721

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The Howard W. Kizer photos – Update # 46

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Starting again – Update # 48

22 Comments

  1. Steve Brettell

    Excellent “story” as always. Great history on these special tankers.

    • Sue Keys

      Thanks Steve. They really were fascinating trucks.

      • Simon Tippins

        Fantastic history lesson on the doodlebug bug , have you decided which one of the seven your going to make?

        • Sue Keys

          Thanks Simon. We’ve decided on the production model with the slightly better ventilation and the fender lights.

  2. John L Constenius

    I may have a couple of those streamlined fender lights. Get me a tip to tail point dimension and I’ll look for them. Exciting project. Having those big glass windows made will be costly!

    • Sue Keys

      We would really appreciate you checking if they are the same dimensions. We’ll find out and send the measurements to you. Thanks so much John.

  3. Pam G

    Your detailed and informative emails are amazing. Seeing some photos of the Doodlebug is really exciting. Seeing one in real life will be such a thrill.

  4. Ken Smith

    Looking forward to this continuing story!

  5. William E. Crockett

    If anything like the caliber of the last restoration, I can’t wait to follow the progress. 😎👍🏻

  6. Steve Medley

    I’m really happy to see you’re doing another restoration of a very rare truck.
    Have you posted any pictures of your Doodlebug yet?

    • Sue Keys

      Steve, there aren’t any Doodlebugs left. We are using a Diamond T chassis as a starting point, and will then build the body using all the research material and photos that Rich gifted us. It is going to be a challenge!

      • Steve Medley

        Yikes! That is quite a “challenge”.
        I’ll be looking forward to your updates as always.

        • Sue Keys

          It will be a challenge, and will definitely keep everyone on their toes! Thanks Steve.

  7. John King

    Thanks Sue! I look forward to following this build! Where in the world did you find this truck?

    • Sue Keys

      John, we will be modifying a Diamond T chassis to start the build, and will then fabricate the body using photographic and research material. Unfortunately, there are no Doodlebugs left.

  8. Buster West-Hill

    Fascinating stories. A great way to fill in an afternoon reading the marvelous research done by these people.

    My Uncle Sid had a 1936 Diamond T truck in the far North of New Zealand. His main cartage was stock, and road metal. When Kaitaia Transport was formed he became a shareholder and his Diamond T became part of the fleet. I do not know the mileage it did but I recall some time in the late 1950’s a driver ran over a rock in a paddock and holed the sump and ended up ruining an engine that had never been overhauled.

    • Sue Keys

      Thanks Buster. Great to hear some New Zealand stories about these fabulous Diamond T’s!

  9. Vinod Bhikha

    Thanks Sue, another excellent read. Every post sees a sharpening of your writing skills, and this bodes well for your book.
    Your projects are a great benefit to those of us who love to see a reinstatement of style and elegance in its many forms. Whether it’s the superb design element of the Doodlebug, or the Texaco Tanker, or just that back in the day they clearly took time to dress well in suits, ties, and hats. The quality of grace commands a presence and is an outward affirmation of celebrating life, one day at a time.

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