Early Checker Cab Wood Shop circa 1925

The automobile would never have been possible without the invention of both the internal combustion and the metal chassis that holds the essential components of a motor-driven vehicle together. Both were developed more or less from scratch by early inventors and experimenters. Early auto body makers, on the other hand, had centuries of experience and knowledge to draw from in the long-honored tradition of carriage making. Long before the first gas-powered engines were built, horse-drawn coaches carried passengers not only around their local communities but across the country. So it makes sense that the first automobiles were made with wooden bodies. It was a proven approach that had worked beautifully for centuries. Cars built prior to 1900 were limited in design by the peculiarities of most species of wood, which can only be bent into simple shapes by applying steam and pressure. Thus, most autos were simple, boxy shapes, not unlike the stage-coaches and farm wagons they were destined to replace.

Wood Bodied 1931 Model M

This was no different with early Checker Cabs, first introduced as the Commonwealth Mogul Checker in 1919, the taxicabs bodies were produced by the Lomberg Auto Body Company in Jolliet, Illinois.

The Lomberg Auto Body Manufacturing Co. was organized in the late-teens by a Russian immigrant named Abe Lomberg to manufacture automobile bodies for the region’s numerous automobile manufacturers. In order to produce the number of bodies needed by Commonwealth for their new Mogul taxi, Lomberg was forced to seek additional capital, which was supplied by another Russian immigrant named Morris Markin.

The cab bodies produced by Lomberg were wood based. Steel sheeting was place over the wood framed cabs. The bodies were then mated to a steel chassis and a steel front clip (hood and fenders).

Markin would ultimately take over both Lomberg and Commonwealth to form Checker Cab Manufacturing. His immediate action was to set up a company, but soon after the company was established, the company would be moved the Chicagoland area to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Markin enlisted the help of Leyland Goodspeed to set up operations in Kalamazoo.

Premier Taxicab wood body by Millspaugh & Irish

Given the complexities of shutting down operations in Chicagoland and starting up operations is Kalamazoo,  some creative logistics were required. During this period Checker would seek the help of Millspaugh & Irish.

Millspaugh & Irish most famous for building the Duesenberg Model A’s “in-house” production body builder. They started in business as an aftermarket Model T body supplier, eventually supplying production bodies to Anderson, Barley, Duesenberg, Hanson, Kelsey, Lexington, Maibohm, Monroe, Moon, Premier and Stutz. They also furnished taxicab bodies to Barley, Checker Cab, Dodge, Kelsey, Pennant and Premier.

The wood bodies produced by Millspaugh and Irish were built to Checker specs. By 1924 Checker was fully online in Kalamazoo building their own wood bodies again. A full wood shop was set up for body fabrication and third party participation was no longer needed.

Wood body fabrication began to change early in the 20th century, with the development of metal fabrication technologies that allowed steel and aluminum to be made in sheets that could be molded into virtually any shape imaginable. In 1916, Dodge was the first automaker to offer a vehicle with an all-steel body. Given this,  Checker was clearly behind the industry technology curve.

Steel Bodies of the 1949 Model A4

These advances were followed by drop- and power-hammering in the century’s first decade, and then by drawing and stamping, which came along by the mid-30s. All of these new ways of forging metal made auto bodies stronger and more durable than ever, in turn making all-steel car bodies the standard by the end of the 1930s. But not for Checker.

All Checker Cab automobile production from 1922 till 1941 still utilized wood frame construction as noted in the header photo of this blog. Despite the compound curves in the body, that looks similar to all late thirties American autos, the Checker still used wood construction.

All steel A8 bodies moving down the line

Checker was slow to market in the post war period, introducing an all steel body in 1947. Ironically, we have seen photographic evidence of 1940 Checker Model A’s still trolling the streets of New York as late as 1950’s, it amazing that wood bodied taxicab were still being operated so late in the American automobiles evolution.  Its interesting to note, that the header photo appears to depict metal weld of stamped steel onto a wood frame.  In essence the Model A appears to be a hybrid of both steel and wood.

The Checker would be totally revamped for 1956 and again would use an all steel body. So in essence, the majority of Checker produced were wood based. The only two Checkers that utilized all steel were the Model A2-7 produced from 1947 thru 1954 and the A8-12 produced from 1956-1982.

In a bit of irony, Checker would transform into significant steel stamping concern. Throughout the fifties and well into the twenty-first century Checker was a pioneer in new steel stamping techniques. The video below demonstrates Checker’s new technology in 2008. Note time stamp 6:33.

Source Coachbuilt.com & Motor1.com

Wood body 1925 Model E Taxicab rear view