Gary Michael’s Fort Cab

© 2018 Joe Fay.   Fort Leonard Wood is US military installation located in the Missouri. The post was created in December 1940 and became an engineering training post with the creation of the Engineer Replacement Training Center.   During World War II Italian and German POWs were interned at the fort.

In 1984, as part of the base realignment and closure process, most of the U.S. Army Engineer School’s operations were consolidated at Fort Leonard Wood. In 1999, again as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps and Military Police Corps schools were transferred to Fort Leonard Wood. In 2009, the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center was redesignated the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence (MSCoE). Fort Leonard Wood is clearly a very special place.

Fort Leonard Is a very special installation due to its significance in trainng, It also a very special place for Checker fans and historians. For many years the Fort Cab Company operated a large fleet of Checkers operated by Luther Thomas. The Fort Cab Company served the men and women of Fort Leonard on and off base. Back in the day, Fort Cab was the only cab service allowed on the military base.

The company’s large fleet was well maintained by a well-organized maintenance department. For this reason Fort Cab was able to operate many of their Checker A10 cabs well into the late 1990’s. The company even had their own in house team used  to hand paint lettering onto new cabs!.   It’s quite possible that a significant purchase was made by Fort Cab in 1982 and that many of these cabs were held in inventory to be put in service in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

ICTA Member Doug Klauck, paid a visit to Fort Cab in the early 1990’s, according to Doug ”

I met with Luther Thomas, the owner of Fort Cab. I don’t know what ever happened to Luther but he was quite ill at the time, functioning with a tank of oxygen by his side. None the less he was very willing to talk about his taxis that I had just spent several hours looking over. His lot was a sight to behold. All the cars were perfectly lined up. No weeds or junk around the cars on the huge paved surface just off the main road to Fort Leonard Wood. All seemed as clean as if on a used car dealers lot. This was several years before Coke bought many cars off the lot for their Surge campaign. Luther told me he had 2 different years I could choose from, plus he had an A12 with 14 miles on it in his shed. Wow, this was 13 plus years after the final A12 was manufactured.”

Ben Merkel and Pete Talanca with Fort Cab Diesel number 3

As most Checker fans are aware, real Checker A11 taxicab survival is very low, due to the severe service most taxis endure.Thankfully the good maintenance and management of the fleet has resulted in a large number of survivors. It appears the two primary factors resulted in the saving of Fort Cabs.  Ben Merkel and Coca Cola.

Checker collector Ben Merkel was in his peak state of Checker investing when many of the Fort Cab Checkers became available after fleet retirement. Typically Checkers would be recycled, but given the age of the full fleet, the cabs were not cannibalized to support a newer fleet, this was the end of the line.  Ben would make several trips to purchase various Checkers. Is some cases Ben had company as recently recounted by ICTA member Ray Tomkinson, Ray posted:

“I met up with Ben about 17 years ago. We visited Fort Cab. I purchased fleet no 1 a Marathon V8 Ben bought another cab and the diesel a few weeks later. We all drove in convoy back to Cleveland. No problems. I then shipped no1 back to England.”

Ultimately Ben would sell off all of his Fort Cabs, except for Fort Cab Number 3.  Cab 3 is a very rare diesel model,  in great condition and one of the many Fort Cab Checkers that survive. Here’s our great Checker friend Ben Merkel with his Checker A11 Diesel Taxicab in July of 2018 having a ball in Cleveland.

ICTA members Gary Michaels purchased Fort Cab 50 from Ben Merkel and ship out to the west coast.  ICTA member Emerson Zentz purchase a Fort Cab from Ben Merkel too, joining a fleet of vintage Checkers and buses.  Emerson’s Fort Cab is very unique in that it’s an Checker A11e Super Cab, essentially a long wheelbase limo sized Checker in the sturdy durable taxicab trim.

The other factor the saved many Fort Cabs was the early 90’s Coca Cola Surge Cab marketing campaign.  Many old cabs were saved from an uncertain fate through their advertising campaign to offer free Surge Checker Cabs via local contests across the country.  Many of the contest were held at state and county fairs, can you imagine going to the fare and coming home with a free Checker?

Coke purchased at least 40 Checkers from Fort Cab. Once acquired the Checkers were sent to Craftsmen Industries of St. Charles, Missouri to be refurbished, note that they were refurbished and not restored. Once refurbished the Checkers were distributed across the country to participating Coca Cola bottlers, who then use the Checker to promote the Surge lemon/lime drink.  Many of the Checker gifted via contest, still survive.

Beyond the two major transactions other transactions were executed that saved Fort Cabs.   Late Last year, we listed an auction on the ICTA web site, it read as follows:

SELLING WITHOUT RESERVE! This 1982 Checker Taxi Cab was once part of a fleet of over 100 Taxis owned by the Fort Cab Company. This particularly taxi was in use for many years at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. The Fort Cab Company was the only Cab Company allowed to be on the base. The overall condition is good. The odometer reads 19,882, but it could very well be 119,882 miles! It has standard back seat and a jump seat.

Peter Oliver’s Fort Cab

Ultimately the Checker sold for a very reasonable price of $8800.00  Thankfully ICTA member Peter Oliver was able to buy the most recently uncovered Fort Cab. Imported to the UK Peter has restored and converted to the Fort Cab to classic New York City livery.

In the end based on known ICTA members and Surge cab survivors, its highly likely that as many as 25 Fort Cabs have survived and are still being enjoyed by Checker fans. If anybody knows of another large fleet that has survive please share any info with the ICTA.


Emerson Zentz’s Long Wheelbase A12E Fort Cab


Ray Tomkinson’s Fort Cab Number 1


Additional photos by Doug Klauck.

For more information about the Fort Cabs converted for Coca Cola, check out this blog

The Famous Surge Checker Taxicabs by Will Brandum

This blog presents a recent classified ad for a Fort Cab/Surge car

Surge Checker Number 28 For Sale

Here’s the full Surge Cab story on the ICTA YouTube Channel