Low speed and limited range were no problems for electric vehicles in urban service in the early years of the 20th century. Fleets of electric cars provided quiet, odorless, simple transportation for ladies and gentlemen, and almost as many found commercial application as fire equipment, buses and in fleets of delivery trucks.
In addition to being quiet, their advantages in fleets were simple construction, straightforward maintenance, longevity and simple operation for drivers inexperienced with the complexities of internal combustion power. Range was not a problem and charging was simplified in fleet garages.
In 1922, Marshall Field operated a fleet of 276 electric delivery trucks in Chicago and they were equally popular in New York, Boston and other cities. One of the major manufacturers was the Walker Vehicle Co. in Chicago, a company that produced electric vehicles until the beginning of World War II, including a range of successful hybrid gas-electric delivery trucks long before the designers of the Prius, Tesla and Volt were even a gleam in their daddies' eyes.
This 1909 Model 15 Van is typical. It was reportedly part of the fleet operated by Hearn's Department Store in New York City when new and later was employed by the Holland Laundry.
Restored by noted collector James E. Cousens, it is finished in maroon while the interior is nicely done in black upholstery to the driver's seat and varnished wood inside the cab and cargo area. Riding on disc wheels embossed with a spoke pattern and solid rubber tires it has a load capacity of 1,500 pounds.
When powered by a full set of batteries it is reportedly capable of as much as 15 mph with a range between charges of up to 40 miles. Mechanically, the design is unique and successfully employed in all Walker electric vehicles, including the hybrid "Dynamotive", until WWII.
The 3 1/2hp electric motor is incorporated into the rear axle housing with an integral differential. Planetary gearsets within the rear wheel hubs reduce the rpm and step up the torque to driving speeds.
It will operate without load on as few as four industrial batteries and the body offers attractive opportunities for individual treatment with accent colors on the panel frames and abundant areas for stylish lettering and graphics to communicate its owner's business identity and carbon-consciousness.
It runs and drives as it should, a formidable relic of a time when electric vehicles were all about practicality and utility and had little connotations of political correctness.