The Arizona Connection
Hundreds of soldiers traveling in Velie Trucks created quite a stir in Florence Arizonia.
The Gila River, Velie Trucks and the United States Army
A Florence Story , H. Christine Reid
Pinal County Historical Society
The 35th Infantry of the Regular United States Army was begun on July 1916 and was organized in Douglas AZ with personnel from the 11th, 18th, and 22nd Infantry. Its mission was to protect the boundary with Mexico after a skirmish resulting in casualties in Nogales in 1915 made the government aware of the need to monitor the border more closely. The need had been further reinforced when Pancho Villa raided Columbus , New Mexico in March of 1916.
The United States Army had been exploring the use of trucks since 1904 primarily as arsenals or depots. The Quartermaster Corps bought 544 trucks from 8 different manufacturers. In September 1916, a troop of 500 soldiers from the 14th and 18th
Regiment of the 35th Infantry at Douglas arrived in Florence , AZ along with 30 Velie trucks being tested for army use as personnel transport on a twelve day trip from Douglas to Roosevelt . The soldiers camped overnight in a vacant lot across from the C.G. Powell home on Main Street . The site created quite a stir among the townsfolk.
According the Arizona Blade Tribune, “The presence of 500 American soldiers in Florence was an interesting sight to many of our citizens few of whom had ever seen more than a half a dozen militiamen in uniform at one time. Soldiers traveling on motor trucks was a novelty that none of our citizens except those who made trips to the border recently had ever seen. This mode of moving troops is destined to become common in the near future and the trip now underway is for the purpose of giving the Velie motortruck a tryout in comparison with other trucks in use and a better route could not have been selected for that purpose at this time… Trucks were manned by drivers and mechanicians from the factory and besides the drivers each truck carried sixteen men and their equipment".
1500 LB Delivery Wagon
The next morning the contingent prepared to continue on by crossing the nearby Gila River . Weeks before the Gila River bridge had washed out and this was an opportunity to test the trucks’ ability to negotiate rugged conditions. In fact, just weeks before Governor Hunt had to get his feet wet in the Gila when his car got stuck crossing the Gila and he had to wade across.
According to Arizona Blade Tribune account, the County Engineer Stafford conferred with Colonel Glenn and assured him that with a team of mules pulling the trucks, the crossing could be achieved successfully. The order to proceed was given.
The large expanse of soft sand leading to the river provided a good test for the pulling power of the trucks and tires. But hardly one was able to cross the sand without the aid of men pushing and pulling.
The first truck to enter the river on its own power was immediately stopped in its tracks when the carburetor became flooded. A span of mules proceeded to pull it out. The other heavily loaded trucks ground down deeper into the riverbed and it was clear that one team of mules would not be able to pull them out. The soldiers unloaded and a team of 200 men with a chain pulled the trucks across the river.
Each time they made it to the north bank the men crossed back over to pull the next truck across. The other soldiers and hundreds of local citizens on hand to see the site cheered as they made it across. Between two mule teams and the soldiers, all the trucks reached the north bank by noon. The newspaper photograph the next week reports instead that it was horse teams that helped in the crossing.
Continuing on to the train depot, the men then rested and looked forward to a swim at Lake Roosevelt down the road. Col. Glenn emerged from the telegraph office at the depot to announce that he had just received orders for them to return to Douglas immediately and prepare to entrain to Yuma . They had no choice but to turn around and re-cross the river and head back to Douglas . They expected to reach Tucson by eight that evening where they would camp and start for Douglas the next morning.
The second battalion of the 18th camped in Florence a few days later on their way back from Roosevelt . They crossed the river under their own power without the help of teams or men pulling. The Arizona Blade Tribune further stated “The test was extraordinary and the trucks seemed to be giving satisfaction thus far”. The Gila River Bridge was eventually replaced.
Velie motor company was started by Willard Velie, a grandson of John Deere. The company started in Moline IL and the company was quite successful in creating a high quality low priced car from 1908 to 1928. The trucks were an outgrowth of the car line and eventually during World War I Velie also produced a military airplane utilizing the best features of the automobile for aircraft.
Doug Fisher /Truck Histornian , Chuck Hoaglund /Velie Director-Editor
Randy Robertson/Velie Director-Webmaster , Colloborators with Chris Reid
Florence Az. newspaper article On May 20, 2009
Story From The
Velie Newsletter #103