The Big Four

The other day, Museum volunteer Gersh Rosen walked into the library talking about the Big Four. The Big Four who entered my mind were major Allied leaders at the Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I: U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, British prime minister David Lloyd George, Premier Georges Clemenceau of France, and Italian premier Vittorio Orlando. But soon I discovered that Gersh actually had something else in mind.

The Big Four was a brand of truck made in Sacramento. According to Albert Mroz in the Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks (Iola, Wisconsin: Krause, 1996), it was born in 1922, had a four-ton capacity, and got its name in part from a unique four-wheel drive system patented by Edward S. Robinson of Oroville, California. An earlier version of the truck, which also featured four-wheel steering, had emerged in 1913 as a product of the Golden West Motors Company.

Golden West and the Big Four had short lives. According to Mroz, “The company was started with much local fanfare….” Publicity in 1915 included an “organized game of truck polo in downtown Sacramento” that attracted “a large crowd and notices by the press” (176). Despite such promising beginnings, the company never attracted enough capital and folded early in the 1920s.

The Big Four can be seen as an interesting local curiosity. The San Joaquin County Historical Museum Society has the distinction of holding what may be the only one of its kind currently in existence. Ours (at left) arrived in 1998, courtesy of a resident from Escalon, California, who bought it new in 1922 for ten thousand dollars.

My own interest in the Museum’s Big Four reaches beyond one-of-a-kind issues. When I stand in front of our Big Four, I catch glimpses of early twentieth-century California, when agricultural riches drove technological innovation and scores of inventors set out to make fortunes and live the American dream. In my imagination, I also see Caterpillars, Harris harvesters, and LeTourneau scrapers—and I sense many of the same entrepreneurial forces that eventually gave rise to California’s Silicon Valley.

The Museum’s Big Four—along with other examples of local agricultural technology—can be viewed during regular visiting hours, which are listed on the front page of the Museum’s Web site.

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