Back in the Roaring Twenties, nearly all household goods were delivered to your home. Fruits and vegetables, eggs and butter, milk, and coal all arrived at your door via delivery truck. Anyone who made deliveries was keen to do so more quickly. That’s how Speed Wagons from the Reo Motor Car Company (founded by Ransom E. Olds after he lost Oldsmobile) distinguished themselves. “The Reo was comparatively small, fast, and light,” recalls Matt Lee. “At a time when most trucks were making 40 hp, the Reo had 67 hp, which got you to 55 mph. If you were a melon farmer in, say, Howell, Michigan, you couldn’t make it [55 miles] to Eastern Market in Detroit in a day, so you had to consign your goods at the train station. But with a Reo, you could get there and back and cut out the middleman.”
Lee is only the third owner of this 1929 Speed Wagon, which he has had since 1974. Its 4.4-liter straight-six’s block is strengthened with chrome and nickel and is mated to a four-speed manual. “The Ford Model A only had a three-speed,” Lee notes. “The Reo was a high-end truck.”
Once inside this Model FA Reo’s Spartan cabin, turn the key and hit the floor-mounted starter button with your right foot. Then give the gas – which is also controlled by a button – a shove, slide the shifter into third (first and second are too low to bother with), and release the clutch. The Reo lurches forward, slowly building speed as the powertrain whines and whirrs. By about 25 mph, it’s time to shift. Engage the heavy clutch pedal, release the gas, and listen to the flywheel’s rotation slow. Then, bang! you bolt the gear lever down into fourth. There’s some grinding, but “you just have to get used to that, and don’t worry about it,” says Lee. Slowly, the truck gains speed, and the little white drum speedometer rotates all the way to . . . 45 mph. The double-nickel might be possible, but we’ve run out of road and there’s a stoplight looming. The melons will just have to wait.