Wichita Falls Motor Company, 1911 - 1932
TTM is grateful for the generous assistance of the WICHITA FALLS PUBLIC LIBRARY and the MUSEUM OF NORTH TEXAS HISTORY, located in Wichita Falls. Information on this page came from a variety of sources, including the WICHITA COUNTY ARCHIVES, located at the museum and also the WICHITA HERITAGE MAGAZINE.
The Wichita Falls Motor Company, created in Wichita Falls in 1911, was the most successful motor vehicle manufacturing business ever established in Texas. Unlike the other thirty or so manufacturers created within the state, the Wichita Falls Motor Company concentrated on building heavy duty trucks for a number of specific industries. Most notably the provided heavy duty, off road vehicles, such as tankers, for the oil industry and also a successful line of trucks built for the logging industry. Known for their strength and durability, Wichita trucks were also adopted by the army and many fire departments.
Wichita Motor Company Employees
1916 Wichita truck with chain drive
A Wichita truck in Wichita Falls, 1916
The company was founded by Joseph Kemp, a noted Wichita Falls entrepreneur who was largely responsible for bringing the railroad to the then small town. Kemp made his first fortune as a trader and then a wholesale retailer of dry goods and groceries before moving into banking. Following the establishment of the railroad, Wichita Falls began to grow as a manufacturing center. Kemp served as president of several locally built rail companies, which he sold to the Missouri, Kansas & Texas railroad company. He then moved into the oil business. If this wasn't enough he also owned both glass and bottle making companies. He also served as county treasurer, set up a model dairy farm and helped create several local reservoirs that not only created stable water supplies but also helped create a local tourism industry.
Wichita oil tanker truck belonging to the Magnolia Petroleum Company
Early Wichita Coke delivery truck. It's hard to imagine a more basic vehicle
Row of Wichita trucks of the Magnolia Oil Company. Note heavy duty oil coolers in front of radiators
Kemp was by no means the sole investor. In fact, of the initial 1,600 $1,000 shares issued, 800 were owned by Charles McKiernan, and there were five other shareholders as well. Demand for the companies trucks grew quickly. Finding reliable heavy duty trucks with good off road characteristics was no easy task. Wichita trucks were assembled using parts, such as Waukesha engines, made by a large number of other manufacturers. It is likely that many were made to the Wichita Falls Motor Company's own specifications. As such the company gained a reputation for building strong and durable equipment. Sales extended around the globe, to as many as 86 foreign countries. The company adopted the slogan, "The sun never sets on a Wichita truck." The company's relationship with the US and other allied governments blossomed during World War One, when demand for large, tough trucks reached a tremendous peak The French army alone ordered 3,500 vehicles. 400 were sent to Russia.
Early Wichita truck. Note kerosene lamps
1957 newspaper image of a Wichita "Road Maker DeLuxe" in Costa Rica
Heavily laden Wichita truck. Note chain drive and solid tire wheels
The end of the Great War caused its own problems as orders were canceled. To make matters worse a flood of ex-military trucks was dumped onto the market causing problems across the supply industry. Aircraft manufacturers were similarly hit hard. However, the Wichita Falls Motor Company was able to survive because of its diverse range of products catering to specific needs. The company also briefly made the "Wichita Combination Car," a light duty vehicle, from 1920 to 1921, but it was not a success. Much more successful was its road building equipment, such as dump trucks as first local then state and finally the federal government began huge road building programs. Unfortunately the Great Depression suppressed demand once again. Even giants like General Motors and Ford suffered huge annual losses. Many smaller companies were forced out of business. Regrettably the Wichita Falls Motor Company also fell victim to these tough economic circumstances.
Relatively recent newspaper image of a restored early Wichita bus preparing for a parade.
Note lack of wind shield and chain drive. Apologies for image quality.
Another poor quality image of the same restored early Wichita bus.
It is estimated that over 10,000 Wichita trucks of all types were built. They were exported around the world and could be found in Belgium, Burma, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, England, France, Gold Coast, Greece, Holland, India, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Panama, Persia (Iran), Russia, Spain and Thailand among other places. The first truck was delivered to a Wichita Falls company in December 1911. In 1912, the company received the nation's largest ever truck order, 150 vehicles, intended for Colorado. The plant employed 100 men at its peak, which was during the first world war, during which time security concerns required armed guards at the plant, to prevent sabotage. At this time it was capable of producing two vehicles a day. The company introduced a road building truck in 1915 and a bus capable of seating 20 passengers soon after. In 1922 an order for 100 buses was received from New Orleans. A smaller order for buses was received from the San Antonio Uvalde & Gulf Railroad around the same time. One of its last innovations was the introduction of a concrete mixer truck in 1930.
1979 image of the remains of a Wichita oil truck
Newspaper image of the remains of a Wichita oil drilling truck
Examples of the information provided by the staff of the Museum of North Texas History
The Great Depression killed off many small vehicle manufacturing concerns. It was impossible to compete with General Motors and Ford who moved into the heavy truck business as a way of keeping their massive production facilities going as the market for passenger vehicles dried up. A San Antonio business man, Frank Winerick, of the Woodward Carriage Company had become a director as early as 1912 when he purchased a large block of shares. In 1922 the company was approached by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce with an offer to relocate to the Alamo City but it was never seriously considered. The company folded in 1932 at the very depths of the depression. Attempts were made to revive it but the era of independent vehicle manufacturing had come to a close. A few examples of Wichita trucks still exist. Not all are in good shape. The premises of the Wichita Falls Motor Company on Arthur Street still stand, occupied now by the Wichita Energy Company. It is quite fitting that they own and maintain the best known example of Wichita trucks, the second vehicle built by the original occupants of the building.