March '20

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30 THE SHOP MARCH 2020 T oday, the pages of THE SHOP maga- zine feature many different types of four-wheel drive vehicles, from short-wheelbase Jeeps to long, long Ford F-350 Crew Cabs loaded with just about every option known to man. But there was a time when only one American company made vehicles that had power going to four wheels. It wasn't Chevrolet, Dodge-Ram, Ford or GMC— but a small firm organized in 1908 as the Badger Four Wheel Drive Auto Co. The invention of the first American four-wheel drive system actually began around 1905 when Clintonville, Wisconsin machinist Otto Zachow and his brother-in- law William Besserdich decided to branch out from repairing sawmills and threshing machines to selling and servicing automo- biles. The REO car had just won the New York Motor Club's national economy tour, so the two men decided to become REO agents. One day, Zachow drove his REO to the city of Appleton to see relatives. He care- lessly went over the rim of a ravine and the car rolled down the muddy hillside, stop- ping when the earth flattened out. Zachow turned the car around and tried to drive up the ravine, but instead of lifting the REO, the front wheels buried themselves in the hillside. He thought for a moment, then turned the car around. With the driven wheels lifting the weight upwards, rather than pushing into the hillside, he backed the car to the top. Zachow then began thinking of ways to develop a car that could have both drive and steering in the front. Modeling his invention after the tumbling rods on an old-fashioned threshing machine separator, he came up with a double-Y universal joint encased in a drop-forged brass ball and socket. The joint operated at the juncture of the front wheel and axle. This permitted the wheels to turn without interfering with the drive system. During the summer of 1907, patent appli- cations were filed, and the two men built their first car. By 1908, they tested a big touring car—later dubbed The Battleship— that had a steam engine. This became the first American-built four-wheel drive vehicle. The four-wheel drive arrangement worked well, but the engine was overly heavy and didn't stay in good operating condition for very long. The machinists eventually installed a gasoline engine in the car, which was then used as a test vehicle and demonstrator. Believe it or not, The Battleship and the original steam engine still survive. A second, gas-powered car was success- fully tested. Then, financing for a manu- facturing operation was arranged through local doctor W.H. Finney. Letters of incor- poration for the Badger Four Wheel Drive Co. were filed late in 1908. The First Overlanders Four Wheel Drive Auto Co. trucks turned wheels—and heads—in the early 1900s. By John Gunnell 30 THE SHOP MARCH 2020 A 1905 REO like the one Otto Zachow drove is displayed in the FWD Birthplace of Four Wheel Drive Museum.

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