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Hooves? No, Clydesdales had four wheels (and other things we learned reading McFarland books)


Photo by Larry Edsall
Photo by Larry Edsall

Think “Clydesdale” and the images that probably come to mind are those strong and majestic horses in the Budweiser beer commercials. But did you know that a couple of decades before the Anheuser-Busch brewery trotted out its now iconic horse-drawn wagons in 1933, the Clydesdale was the emblem of a car company?

Well, not exactly a car company, but the Clydesdale Motor Truck Company?

I’d never heard of Clydesdale trucks, let alone their “Driver Under the Hood” engine governor system or their pioneering work in diesel technology, until receiving notice of a new book, The Clydesdale Motor Truck Company An Illustrated History, 1917-1939, from what has become my favorite book publisher, and if you really like classic cars, should become yours as well: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Based in Jefferson, a small Blue Ridge town in northwestern North Carolina near the state’s borders with Tennessee and Virginia, McFarland was founded in 1979 by Robert McFarland Franklin to publish library-oriented reference books and “scholarly monographs on a variety of subjects,” according to the company’s website. McFarland publishes about 400 books a year, several of them on automotive history.

I’ve read more than two dozen of McFarland’s automotive books and have seven more on my “yet to read” stack (see photo).

Among those I’ve yet to read is one of McFarland’s newest, Tiffany Willey Middleton and James M. Semon’s book on Clydesdale.  Although, I have peeked into the book enough to learn that while the Clydesdale Motor Truck Co. used the big work horse as its emblem, the company’s name really traces to Clyde, Ohio, where it was founded and where Middleton was born.

Semon, whose specialty is the history of railroads, also is from Ohio.

McFarland books not only are well-written histories — often with appendices, vehicle specifications, chapter notes, bibliographies and complete indexes – but they are wonderfully illustrated histories as well, though by their nature most of the photographs are black and white.

I’ve also thumbed through American Automobiles of the Brass Era: Essential Specifications of 4,000+ Gasoline Powered Passenger Cars, 1906-1915, with a Statistical and Historical Overview, by Robert D. Dluhy. While short on words and pictures, it’s chock full of charts and statistical tables.

For example, a 1907 American Napier 18/20hp Nike Runabout sat two, had a four-cylinder engine with a 3.5-inch bore, 4-inch stroke, displaced 153.9 cubic inches, produced 18 horsepower, had a 90-inch wheelbase, was steered from the right-seat position, was priced at $2,250, rode on 32 x 3.5-inch tires, and weighed 1,500 pounds.

And there is similar information for more than 4,000 such vehicles from that period.

In that pile of books I’ve yet to read, you might notice Gold Thunder, Autobiography of a NASCAR Champion, by Rex White as told to Anne B. Jones. While I haven’t read it, I have read several other McFarland books on motorsports, including a couple of early accounts about NASCAR, a book on American sports car racing in the 1950s, a history of the auto races held in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park from 1908-1911, and the amazing biography of Joan Newton Cuneo, the Lyn St. James or Danica Patrick of her era, which was 1905-1915.

I also made mention of McFarland publishing scholarly books. The Corvette in Literature and Culture: Symbolic Dimensions of America’s Sports Car actually started out as author Jerry W. Passon’s Ph.D. dissertation at Southern Illinois University.

As I said before, if you’re into classic cars and their specifications and corporate histories, or into the early history of auto racing, McFarland probably should be your favorite publisher as well.

To learn more about McFarland and its books, visit the www.mcfarlandbooks.com website.


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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