Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Studebaker Military Ambulances

Among early vehicle enthusiasts, there’s no shortage of discussions related to period military Escort Wagons as well as 6-Mule or even 4-Mule Army Wagons.  Less talked about, though, are the dozens of other early military transports such as Lance, Lumber, Battery, Balloon, Abutment, Telegraph, Trestle, Forge, Tool Wagons and more.  Another seldom-covered essential vehicle dating to America’s horse-drawn military era is the Ambulance.  With origins in a multiplicity of uses, including as a stage and officer’s wagon, there is still a lot to be uncovered about this particular design.

1968 Evan Ambulance

This rare illustration dates to 1868 and shows one view of an ambulance designed by Thomas Evans.  It’s from an original promotional booklet in our collection and held in the Wheels That Won The West® Archives.

It’s been close to a century since the legendary Studebaker Bros. Company sent horse-drawn military vehicles into the field.  From heavy army wagons to light carts and artillery pieces, the company created a host of vehicle types for use by the military.  To that point, not long ago, I ran across an 1898 article referencing “Rucker” ambulances that Studebaker was building for the Spanish-American War.  Originally designed by Brigadier General D.H. Rucker, the layout came into use during the latter part of the Civil War.  This week, I thought I’d pass along a part of that story from the well-known, early trade publication called, “The Hub.” 

“The half-tone illustration herewith represents one of six train loads of United States Government ambulances, built by Studebaker Bros. Manufacturing Co., South Bend, Ind.  This company has received orders for 500 of these ambulances since the outbreak of hostilities with Spain, and up to the present time they have shipped 316;  50 are to be delivered weekly until the order is filled.  These are known as the Rucker ambulance.  The sides are composed of three white duck curtains which may be rolled up if desired.  Under the front end of the wagon and extending the full width of it is a water tank 16 x 9 inches.  The inside of the body is fitted out to accommodate six persons.  Two adjustable partitions are made to fit in the bottom, which may be taken out when not in use.  Each of these partitions is capable of accommodating one person.  Two swings are suspended from the top, leaving room for two bodies to be placed above the lower partitions.  The wagons will be finished in natural wood.  In addition to the ambulances, the Studebaker Co. received orders for 1,000 army wagons, 500 of which have been delivered and the remaining 500 are underway…”  

Studebaker Ambulances

This late-1890’s photo shows dozens of Rucker-style ambulances leaving the Studebaker factory in South Bend. 

Rucker Ambulance

The Rucker ambulance design was used for decades by the U.S. Army.

As with virtually every aspect of America’s first transportation industry, the subject of early ambulances is more complex than many realize.  Ambulance styles were varied and included numerous designs like the Rucker, Wheeling, Coolidge, Moses, and Tripler patterns as well as others, such as Thomas Evan’s 1868 concept shown in the first image above.  Some designs received additional credentials as found in the 1865 patent awarded to Benjamin Howard.  While certain layouts might be similar, others differed by a host of considerations including interior features, body size, weight, spring configurations, and overall functionality concerns – such as the ability of the front wheels to turn under the body of the vehicle. 

If this week’s blog has whetted your appetite for more information, you’re in luck.  In 2004, the Carriage Museum of America published a detailed book on the subject of horse-drawn military, civilian, and veterinary ambulances.  If it’s not part of your library, I’d recommend it.  It’s full of information and you can still find it on-line from a number of sources. 

Please Note:  As with each of our blog writings, all imagery and text is copyrighted with All Rights Reserved.  The material may not be broadcast, published, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written permission from David E. Sneed, Wheels That Won The West® Archives.