The grandfather to modern pickups

Back in 1911, heavy hauling was mostly done with horsepower – as in the power of horse with a cart in tow. Pickup trucks like we know them today hadn’t officially got their start, but there were a handful of horseless carriages up for carrying more than just passengers. This one is particular is the Model H Power Wagon from the Reo Motor Car Company.

Reo got off the ground in 1905 after its founder, Ransom E. Olds, sold his remaining shared in a company he founded in 1897, the Olds Motor Works, which would later become Oldsmobile. With new money in his pocket, Olds formed his new company that took his initials. Business turned extremely profitable rather quickly as Reo did $4.5 million in sales in 1907 – roughly $110 million in 2016 money. Reo built several models of passenger cars, including the Model H Power Wagon.

The Power Wagon came built on a heavy duty frame with a three-quarter ton capacity. Its cab-forward design gave it a long cargo bed and good maneuverability around tight city streets. A removable canvas top kept the driver and single passenger a little dryer than without it, though the open sides of the cab left little in the way of protection from the elements.

This particular example recently went under the gavel at the 2016 Mecum Monterey car auction. Though it sold, the selling price is undisclosed. Mecum, however, estimated the value between $25,000 and $35,000.

And on a pop culture note, Reo also built a truck line starting in 1915 called the Speed Wagon. Yep, the Reo Speed Wagon; and that’s exactly where the iconic rock band got its name. What’s more, in Reo’s later years, it merged with Diamond T Trucks, creating Diamond-Reo Trucks Inc. Though spelled differently, that’s where the country music band Diamond Rio got its name. The company finally closed its doors in 1975 after filing for bankruptcy. Interesting stuff.

Let’s get a closer look at this grandfather to the modern pickup.

Continue reading to learn more about the Reo Model H Power Wagon.

  • 1911 Reo Model H Power Wagon
  • Year:
  • Engine:
    Single Cylinder
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
  • Top Speed:
    25 mph (Est.)
  • car segment:
  • body style:


1911 Reo Model H Power Wagon High Resolution Exterior
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1911 Reo Model H Power Wagon High Resolution Exterior
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1911 Reo Model H Power Wagon High Resolution Exterior
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The Model H Power Wagon is all utility. There is very little in the way of passenger comfort or features designed to do anything other than help the Reo haul goods. Up front, the radiator housing creates the prominent “hood” just before the cab. The engine is located under the bench seat, allowing for maximum space savings. In fact, this design can still be seen in use today. Cab forward trucks like those from Chevrolet and Isuzu still use the cab-over-engine layout.

There is very little in the way of passenger comfort or features designed to do anything other than help the Reo haul goods.

The cargo bed features short walls with tilted rails up top. Payload capacity was rated at 1,500 pounds, making it a three-quarter ton truck. Towing wasn’t a big thing back then, so there’s no trace of a hitch. Large, wooden-spoke wheels with hard-rubber tires are bolted at either end of solid steel axle beams. A simple leaf spring suspension holds the axles in place while giving the truck its relatively impressive payload.

The wooden body panels are painted in a dark green and feature hand-done pin striping in white. Small oil lanterns at the front act as headlights. Modern LED headlights with active directional beams have indeed come a way.


1911 Reo Model H Power Wagon High Resolution Interior
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1911 Reo Model H Power Wagon High Resolution Interior
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1911 Reo Model H Power Wagon High Resolution Interior
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There’s little to speak of in regards to passenger space. The Reo features a leather-covered bench seat for two passengers. The driver straddles the large steering column with engine controls coming off either side like modern day turn signal and windshield wiper stalks. Three pedals in the floor operate the drivetrain and a large lever is likely the handbrake. A plywood floor keeps the passengers’ feet off the frame rails.


1911 Reo Model H Power Wagon High Resolution Drivetrain
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Under the bench seat lies a single cylinder horizontal engine. With a 4.75-inch bore and a six-inch stroke, this gasoline-fed, water-cooled mill produces all of nine horsepower. Nine. It is bolted to a two-speed planetary gear set transmission with a multi-disc clutch that powers the rear axle via a three-piece chain drive system.

The first chain runs from the transmission to a center-mounted differential just aft of the engine and transmission. The differential then splits power to separate shafts with sprockets on the ends. The shafts then each have their own chains that rout power to each rear wheel hub. Braking is also done at the rear wheels via a mechanical braking system. Starting the truck requires a hand crank on the passenger side.


1911 Reo Model H Power Wagon High Resolution Exterior
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The Reo Model H Power Wagon carried a price of $1,250 back in 1911. This example came with the optional Black Panasote folding top, which added $50 to the price. Today, Mecum estimates the trucks’ value between $25,000 and $35,000. It underwent a full restoration several decades ago and its mechanicals were rebuilt in 2006. The winning bid for its recent sale at the 2016 Monterey auction isn’t published. Regardless, the new owner now has a part of automotive and pop-culture history.


1911 Reo Model H Power Wagon High Resolution Exterior
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The Reo Model H Power Wagon is one of a handful of early pickup designs that defined what pickups would become. Its cab-forward design can still be seen in medium- and heavy-duty trucks today, while its three-quarter ton payload capacity is still a defining class for heavy-duty pickups. Even 105 years later, this truck’s legacy is living on in the modern automotive industry.

  • Leave it
    • More of a museum piece
    • Only nine horsepower

Source: Mecum

Mecum Description

In January 1904, Ransom Olds put an end to years of conflict with his principal investor, Samuel L. Smith, when he sold his shares in the company he had founded in 1897 that eventually became known as the Olds Motor Works. Newly wealthy and nationally famous for the success of the Olds Curved Dash runabout, Olds hit the ground running, once again building a new factory in Lansing, Michigan, this time to found the REO Motor Car Company, using his initials to form the name. REO quickly prospered, reaching sales of $4.5 million in 1907 and becoming one of the four wealthiest American automobile manufacturers, but competition from Ford and GM began to affect the company’s fortunes. In 1910 REO built a plant in St. Catharines, Ontario, and expanded into truck production. After ceasing auto production in 1936, REO would continue building trucks until closing its doors in 1975. Chassis number 900, this 1911 REO Model H Power Wagon typifies the early REO line of trucks, its green painted-wood body and bed decorated with white pinstriping that also appears on the red-painted chassis, wheels and running gear. For $1,250, the ¾-ton Model H Power Wagon was equipped standard with a horizontally mounted 9 HP single-cylinder engine mated to a 2-speed planetary transmission through a multi-disc clutch, and water-cooled by a tubular radiator. Built on a 90-inch wheelbase ladder frame with semi-elliptic front and full-elliptic rear suspension and mechanical brakes, the Model H also featured jump spark ignition, dry cell batteries and double chain drive. This example’s Black Panasote folding top added $50 to the price tag in 1911. An older restoration mechanically refreshed in 2006, this well-preserved century-old REO Power Wagon is an icon of early 20th century American truck production.

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