The Proving Ground: Ward La France and Kenworth M1 and M1A1 Wreckers

By David Doyle

The origin of the Heavy Wrecking Truck can be traced back to three vehicles built by the Corbitt Truck Company prior to 1939. These vehicles in turn had been derived from a similar vehicle built by Marmon-Herrington. With these vehicles evaluated, in 1940 an invitation for bids was sent to the major American truck manufacturers. The Ward LaFrance Truck Company of Elmira, New York was the successful bidder, and in 1941 began deliveries of the Truck, Wrecking, Heavy, M1, known to Ward La France as the Model 1000.

The M1 was designed to be capable of recovery and maintenance of Ordnance equipment. It was equipped with a pto-driven winch mounted behind the front bumper, and single-boom heavy duty crane mounted behind the cab. A plethora of tools, repair and recovery equipment was carried on each vehicle.

To augment Ward LaFrance’s production capacity, an additional contract was awarded to Kenworth. The contract specified that the Kenworth vehicles were to use identical essential serviceable parts, although the sheet metal work of the cab was different, as were the tool boxes and other minor components. Through the course of the vehicles’ production, no less than eight major versions were built, resulting in a series of trucks with sometimes subtle, and sometimes dramatic, differences.

A Continental Model 22R engine powered the trucks by both builders, with the earliest production having the dual ignition system (two spark plugs per cylinder) characteristic of fire apparatus, Ward La France’s primary business. Kenworth delivered their first M1 wrecker mid 1942. The G-116 series were to be the standard Heavy Wrecker of the US military throughout WWII and into the 1950s.

Regardless of who built the chassis, the recovery equipment was built by Gar Wood Industries, and included a crane with 180 degree traverse. In their final form, the Series 5 Ward La France and the model 573 Kenworth, parts were completely interchangeable.

The M1 and M1A1 known at various points in their careers as 6 ton or ten ton wreckers, were the Army’s standard wrecker until the 1950s when the adoption of the M62 caused these to be reclassified as limited standard, before finally being phased out of service.

The boom of the M1 wreckers could be swung to the side
 for lifting and recovery operations. The wooden sideboards
 of the bed are plainly visible here, as is the M1s lack of
 a rear drag winch. The two oxygen bottles, which along
 with a single acetylene bottle, were carried as part of the
 welding/cutting outfit can also be seen, along with the pair
of spare tires. The pulley in the socket in the bed rear could be
 positioned in a variety of ways. Note the
absence of a rear drag winch.

 The lack of such a winch is a ready identifier
of the Series One vehicles. (U.S. Army
)

This side view of the Ward LaFrance M1 lets us see
 the relatively clean, uncluttered look
 of the trucks initial design. Notice the
 siren mounted on the left front
 fender and the hand wheels for raising,
owering and rotating the boom mounted on the
crane support. (U.S. Army)

The Series Two wreckers incorporated a much-needed
 drag winch on the rear of the truck as can
 be seen in this April 1942 photo. In addition
 to the outriggers on the rear of the chassis
 to stabilize the truck, these wreckers
 had boom jacks, shown in place here,
 to support the outer end of the boom
during heavy lifting operations.
(National Archives and Records Administration)

Beginning with the Series Two wreckers, the spare
 tires were relocated, with one behind the cab
 and the second on the crane tower. Ward LaFrance
 would retain this placement for the tires until
 the introduction of the Series Five wreckers.
 The long passenger’s side toolbox can also be
seen in this February 1942 view.
(National Archives and Records Administration
)

The Series Three lacked the front and rear trailer connections
 found on the earlier models, and the entire run of 365
 was supplied to the British as Lend-Lease items. These trucks
 also had the British style lighting, including the spotlight
illuminating the white-painted rear differential cover, creating a blackout tail light.

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