Diamond T

The Diamond T logo is a diamond with the letter ‘T’ in the Centre. The T is for Charles Tilt who started the company. The logo is based on the logo used by Tilt’s father who was a shoemaker. The diamond, and its initial gold outline were meant to represent long lasting and quality in the product.

Charles A Tilt formed the Diamond T Motor Car Company of Chicago in 1905. Tilt had spent the first ten years of his working life in his father’s shoe factory working his way up from the floor to Acting Supervisor before he left to work for Charles W Knight, inventor of the famous Silent Knight Motor, whose business was operated next door to the Tilt shoe factory. When Tilt started his own business it started out as a small machine shop in the corner of the shoe factory. There are many theories as to how Charles Tilt financed his business from this to a car manufacturing operation. Some say his mother financed him against his fathers will and others suggest it was from Tilt’s own savings and yet others suggest financial backing came from  Montgomery Wards or more popularly, the Theurer brothers of the Schoenhofen Brewing Company (Edelweis). 

During Diamond T’s first six years small custom built passenger cars were manufactured by hand in the rear of a small one story garage until one day a customer requested a truck. The rest they say is history. The customer was Wolff Manufacturing who operated a plumbing business. Referred to in later years as “Old No#1” this original truck was a chain drive powered by a four cylinder Continental engine and was fitted with Timken axles and Brown Lipe transmission. Tilt was very enthusiastic about producing a Diamond T commercial vehicle and almost overnight switched exclusively to building trucks. From 1911 no further passenger vehicles were built. Tilt’s truck was an outstanding success and by 1915 Diamond T dealers were all over the United States as well as in Latin America and several European countries.

During WWI the Government appointed Diamond T the responsibility of building 1500 three to five ton ‘Liberty’ trucks in an 18 month time span. Tilt met the challenge with ease and by the 1920s Diamond T was on a roll with both military and civilian customers lined up for the product. In the late 1920s, due to consumer demand for increased truck speeds, Tilt started streamlining his trucks and repowered with the faster six cylinder engines and used air cushioned pneumatic tires. Chrome was used on headlights, parking lights and on the running boards all of which tended to make the competition look pretty basic by comparison. “A truck doesn’t have to be homely” Charles Tilt is reported to have said. When an integrated sleeping cabin was added in the 1930s Tilt is said to have added “but it can feel like home”. The new cab was welcomed by long distance operators. Some later models included an electric clock and a jeweled cigarette lighter. With their fancy streamlined fenders, macho grilles and chrome accessories it was hard not to spot a Diamond T or Reo on the road. From the beginning Tilt has marketed his trucks as “the Nations Freight Car” but with styling and looks becoming such a significant selling point of his new range catch cry became “The handsomest truck in America”. 

The 1930s saw the introduction of the more sophisticated trucks into Australia and these included Diamond Ts and Internationals. With a carrying capacity of up to 20 cattle they could average 20 mph. Trucks in Australia were making inroads deeper and deeper into Australia’s vast inland and they needed as much power, carrying capacity and reliability as they could get. The American marques provided this and the Diamond T was no exception. The earlier English trucks travelled much slower, especially if they were climbing steep grades and while fully laden. 

Tilt always looked at the big picture. He marketed nation wide and later world wide through a dealership distributing organisation that was considered very innovative for the period. The 1940s delivered even more success and subsequent changes withing the Diamond T organisation. The company produced more than 50,000 heavy duty military vehicles of various sizes for the Military during WWII and was responsible for many advances in truck design. These include the fin and tube radiator, the adoption of  seven bearing six cylinder truck engines, four wheel hydraulic brakes, fully enclosed deluxe cabs and hydraulic shock absorbers. These became standard equipment for heavy duty trucks. 

One of the trucks Diamond T produced during WWII was the classic heavy duty 980/981 prime mover which began production in 1941. By 1945 some 6000 had been produced for the war effort. It was used as a tank transporter / retrieval tractor by the US Quartmaster Corps, the British Army in Europe and North Africa and came to Australia with the Allied forces. Coupled with a Rogers trailer it gave and its power and rugged construction it soon gained a reputation for reliability and dependability. The 980 was a twelve ton hard-cab 6x4 powered by an 895cubic inch Hercules DXFE OHV inline six diesel engine developing 185bhp (138 kW) or a 1,090 cubic inch Hall-Scott 240bhp 440 OHV inline-six gasoline engine which was the largest gasoline engine available in any WWII military truck at the time. With its low gearing the 980/81 could pull a trailer load of up to 120,000 lb (54,000 kg) proving capable of moving even the heaviest tanks. It had a four-speed manual constant-mesh transmission with a similar three speed auxiliary gearbox giving it. The 980 particularly found much favour with post war transport operators in Australia where it went on to be used in a multitude of outback roadtrain applications and made famous by the likes of Kurt Johannsen and Dave Baldock. 

The Hercules Engine Company had been founded in 1915 to produce industrial type heavy duty engines required for the rapidly expanding trucking industry and was ideally suited to the type of trucks Diamond T built. During its 85 year history Hercules gained a solid reputation for producing high quality, dependable, heavy duty gasoline and diesel engines. During World War Two the company manufactured engines for the military non-stop 24 hours per day.  By the end of the war it had supplied nearly 1,000,000 engines to the U.S. military and allied armed forces for use in everything from jeeps, 2-1/2 and 5 ton trucks, generator sets, PT boats, and the heavy duty Diamond T 980/981 Tank Retrieval Tractors. 

Charles Tilt retired in 1946 after 40 years of building his truck company and management was taken over by his younger brother Ned. . It didn’t deter Diamond T’s growth rate and by 1947 the company had phased out its small models to concentrate on the big end of the market. In 1951 the release of a new semi-wrap around one piece windscreen with a rounded roof was so well received it was quickly followed by several other manufacturers including International, Hendrickson, Oshkosh and FWD of Clintonville. In the 1950s the 923C, the 950 and 951 were popular with truck operators. 

In 1958 the Diamond T company was purchased by White Motor Corporation. A year earlier White had purchased the Reo Motor Car Company. Reo dated back to 1904 when Ransom E. Olds, founder of Oldsmobile, began building motor cars. Diamond T production was moved to Lansing, Michigan where for a time Diamond T, REOs and some White truck models all rolled off the same production line. The last true Diamond T rolled off the production line in 1966. Approximately 250,000 Diamond T trucks had been built in the previous 56 years. In May 1967 the name of the company, and that of the trucks it produced, changed to Diamond Reo Trucks. It continued with this name until 1975 when hard times forced it into bankruptcy and the plant closed. From 1971 Diamond Reo was owned by Francis Cappaert in Alabama. This was the time the Diamond Reo C-116 series was introduced featuring Cummins NTC-335, NTC-350, NTA-370 or the Detroit Diesel 12V-71N engines. Unfortunately, despite the release of these new models Diamond Reo was forced into bankruptcy on December 6, 1974.

Two years later Osterlund Incorporated from Pennsylvania purchased the rights to use the name Diamond Reo and build the trucks. Osterlund had previously been a dealer for the Diamond T/Reo product and was very committed to the marque’s resurrection. He released a single model called the C-116 ‘Giant’ (fitted with Cummins NTC-290 diesel engine) which was sold up until the mid 1990s. When Osterlund sold the company in 1993 the New Diamond T Company was formed producing vehicles solely for the export market. After several several stops and starts and corporate re-organisations this company is now known as Diamond Vehicle Solutions LLC. Their trucks are marketed as T-Line Trucks and promoted as having a blend of “vintage Diamond T heritage and modern engineering. The green diamond, as used by Charles Tilt’s father in his shoemaking business in the late 1800s, is still used as the company’s logo albeit in a modern stylized version. 

The Diamond T, by this time, was a very common sight on Australian roads. Having first appeared in Victoria in 1934, the Diamond T truck was first available in two sizes, the 30 cwt with a wheel base of 135 inches and the two-tonner with a wheel base of 158 inches. Powered by 27-hp, six-cylinder Hercules engines and offering a chassis of “exceptional strength”, the Diamond T was favoured by many operators, particularly those who worked in less than perfect conditions. in the 1930s and 40s the Diamond T was considered to be the best looking truck on the road, and if you drove one you were considered to offer a better service. The Diamond T not only looked good, it functioned effectively.

The arrival of the American military in early 1942 brought the heavier trucks, the NR 6x4 Macks and the Diamond T tank transporters as well as the US Army truck of the day, a standard GMC 2l,2 powered by powerful GMC 270 cubic inch engines. The GMC 270 was one of the best engines of the day, capable of developing 106 gross hp at 3000 rpm and 222 lb/ft torque at 1000. Thousands of such vehicles were purchased by civilian operators at war’s end. At the same time the Transport Branch of the Munitions Department operated a fleet of 60 Brockway LHD’s and likewise, many of these found their way into civilian life after the war. Maple leafs, Ford and Chevrolet Blitzes and GMCs worked in the more populous areas and the heavier Internationals, Federals, Diamond Ts and NR Macks settled into rugged outback applications. If nothing else, these ex Army vehicles taught Australian operators something about heavier and bigger trucks than they had ever operated before.

Jim and Harry McConville led the company through the 1950s and 60s with a new direction. They retired the Diamond Ts, as was the trend Australia wide, and turned their focus to British trucks. From a single three-ton Ford truck in 1937, and a post-war period with the mighty Federal and Diamond T roadtrains the Baldock fleet now consisted of Leyland Buffaloes, Hippos and Super Hippos and an assortment of 20 trailers. In the 12 years to 1950 the Baldock trucks hauled just under 40,000 tons. This increased to 120,000 tons over the next 12 years. It was a period of exceptional growth for the Northern Territory.

Due to ill health and back problems, the result of many years of hard truck driving, Dave left the Territory in 1955, although he retained his partnership in D.R Baldock & Co until it was sold in 1966 to Fleet Owners. It operated for a time as a separate entity but was slowly absorbed into the mainstream company and the name of Dave Baldock disappeared from the road transport scene in the Northern Territory. His name, however, is well remembered among modem operators who can only imagine the conditions of the day.

The Baldock roadtrains were, in their day, the biggest in the world. Carrying payloads over the 100 ton mark he was able to ensure that the mining community of Tennant Creek was well serviced by an efficient and reliable road transport operation. The huge Diamond T roadtrains he made famous were tough trucks working in tough times and it took tough men to operate them. Dave Baldock was one such man. There is no doubt he is a legend, albeit a reluctant one, in his own life-time.

The Adelaide based company of Commercial Motor Vehicles (known today as CMV) was founded in March 1934 by the late Sidney Crawford following a 12-year involvement in motor retailing after establishing, in 1922, the All British Motor House distributing Austin and Fiat cars, Caterpillar tractors and Leyland trucks. The trucking industry was still very much in its fledgling stages and the sale of commercial type vehicles in its infancy. By the end of the 1930s the CMV organisation had attained distributor ship for Diamond T trucks, Case farm tractors and Commer and Karrier trucks.

Son, Jim, took over the role of managing director of the company when Sidney died in 1968. From here the business obtained South Australian distribution rights for both Kenworth and Volvo and also held distribution rights for Toyota for 26 years until Toyota decided to appoint dealers on a direct basis. The 1970s saw Jim introduce Mitsubishi and Hino trucks to its already impressive range. Jim retired in 1988 and today his two sons, Michael and Paul are joint managing directors of the huge CMV organisation controlling several companies throughout South Australia, NSW and Victoria, including CMI Toyota, CMI Hino, CMV Truck Sales and Service, Voltruck CMV and stand alone dealerships for Jeep, Volvo, Hino and Kenworth. Today, the company employs nearly 400 people throughout its many operations.

It is understandable that Jim Crawford, the man who sold and serviced more Diamond Ts than any other dealership in the country, should wish to continue his long association with the marque. Jim’s love of the Diamond T has been extended into his retirement years and he now dedicates his leisure time to restoring these classic trucks of Australia’s past. His magnificent collection of heritage vehicles includes some 16 Diamond Ts dating from 1934 up until 1963 as well as a number of Commers, Toyotas and a Dodges.

Road transport pioneers, Kurt Johannsen and Dave Baldock were both to make an incredible impression on Australian road transport when, immediately following WW2, they used their inventiveness and bush engineering skills to build the world’s first commercially operated roadtrains. They modified massive ex-US Army Diamond T prime-movers and used them to haul up to seven non-braked trailers at a time. Johannsen hauled mainly cattle in the initial stages of his operation and Dave Baldock hauled supplies to Tennant Creek. The trailers were adapted from ex-US Army bren gun carriers and the roadtrains were capable of carrying loads upwards of 100 tons.