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Lucky '13: The Little Giant

The Little Giant was one of 40 truck brands manufactured in Chicago between 1911 and 1920.

Photos by Jim Haklar

The Little Giant’s lack of a front hood can be startling to passengers who are not used to riding so forward on a vehicle

The Little Giant’s lack of a front hood can be startling to passengers who are not used to riding so forward on a vehicle

Thirteen is a lucky number for David Alt, Jr., of Finksburg, Md. He owns 13 mint cars and trucks from 1903 to 1918. One of them is a Little Giant from, you guessed it — ’13. The Little Giant was one of 40 truck brands manufactured in Chicago between 1911 and 1920.

From horse to truck

During the first two decades of the 20th Century, trucks were competing against horses. The flesh-and-blood horse came with fleas, disease, smells and manure. At best, a work horse could haul 25 miles in a day. A commercial truck could go a lot farther, faster and carry more. A horse needed to eat and have a stable. In short, the cost of a horse was becoming unsupportable.

The teen years of the new century marked a movement of reform where cars and trucks were looked upon as new technology, much like the internet of the early 21st Century. Businesses then, as now, wanted to be considered part of the new movement, and in the early 20th Century, that meant going from a horse to a motor truck.

The early 20th Century is sometimes referred to as “the experimental age of the truck,” because there was no preconceived notion of what a truck should look like. An initial problem with these horseless buggy trucks of the period was that they were generally based upon platforms without any provision for protection, so barrels, crates and other payloads could fall off them. Soon, the trucking industry found ways to efficiently hold payloads on vehicles.

Right-hand steering wheel was typical of vehicles built before 1915.

Right-hand steering wheel was typical of vehicles built before 1915.

An oxymoron of a truck

The Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co., which is still in business, produced several truck brands, including David Alt’s Little Giant. This firm was founded by John Duntley, who also produced labor-saving tools for construction and mining including air compressors and pneumatic and electric tools. Duntley teamed up with steel magnate Charles Schwab and the company grew to include stationary engines and oil-drilling equipment. Between 1910 and 1923, the firm also made mid-sized utility trucks under a few different names.

The Duntley was produced by Chicago Pneumatic Tool from 1910 to 1912. The C.P.T. (named after the firm’s initials), was built only in 1912 and sold in England. The Duntley became the Little Giant from 1912 to 1918, and when “Little” was dropped from the name between 1918 to 1923, the truck lost its oxymoron of a name and was simply known as the Giant. Truck production closed down during the post-World War I recession.

Chicago Pneumatic Tool contracted with outside coachbuilders to fabricate several “factory” bodies that included the stake-bed, panel, bus, canopied-delivery and flareboard Little Giant models. The flareboard is the truck model that David Alt, Jr., owns today. His Little Giant’s flareboard body has slanting extensions on each side of an open cargo box to increase the bed’s capacity.

Little Giant trucks were advertised as “strong, simple, reliable, and efficient.” Chicago Pneumatic Tool had an enviable reputation, and thanks to its established tool business, people saw Chicago Pneumatic Tool’s trucks as utilitarian, sturdy, rugged and with rough-road durability.

Alt’s Little Giant has a one-ton chassis with a flat, two-cylinder, 20-hp engine with double-chain drive via a planetary transmission. The planetary transmission is made up of three types of gears: a sun gear, planet gears and a ring gear. The sun gear is located in the center and transmits torque to the planet gears. The planet gears are mounted on a movable carrier around the sun gear and interlock with the outer ring gear. The ring or sprocket gear’s teeth mesh with the holes in the chain’s links. Power is transferred to the rear axle via the chains.

The Little Giant’s flareboard body has slanting extensions to provide for additional cargo.

The Little Giant’s flareboard body has slanting extensions to provide for additional cargo.

Compared to his 1911 Reo H truck with one cylinder and 9 hp, Alt says his Little Giant has more pull and power.

For a novice driver or a first-time passenger, it can be a starling experience to ride in a vehicle with nothing in front of but the road.

“The seat is made into the frame of the truck,” Alt also remarked of his Little Giant. “Even so, there is plenty of legroom. There are no dials or gauges.” He added that the truck is easy to steer.

Alt bought his Little Giant in 2012 from Chris Paulsen, who is a professor teaching auto restoration at McPherson College.

“It was restored, but not running,” Paulsen said. “We got it running, and driving it took a fair bit of adjusting, but no major work. We added a more correct horn assembly.”

Paulsen had documents from the first owner, who was Otis Catterson, of Honesdale, Pa. These included registrations from 1914 to 1917, as well as hand-written mileage and maintenance records. Alt’s work on the truck addressed the radiator, headlamps, taillamps and wiring, as well as replacing a coil, battery and the leather seat.

Many old trucks were used until there was little left of them, but thanks to this Little Giant’s past and present owners, this old workhorse was saved, restored and cherished. Alt’s 1913 Little Giant is not the only survivor of this rare truck brand, however. He did some investigating and found that there are three Little Giants in museums and five belonging to individuals, such as himself.

Alt’s product of a bygone era now lives a life on the show circuit and of leisurely excursions. None of his vintage vehicles are knickknacks. Although too primitive to use as regular transportation any longer, Alt noted, “In my county, I have drove the truck 13 miles in one day. It is very easy to drive. Everyone wants to take a ride in it.” 

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