Coleman

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Coleman

In 1922, wealthy miners Alfred E. Coleman and his brother George bought 51% of the Plains Motor Corporation and Harleigh Holmes moved the plant back to Littleton. The Colemans also bought the creamery building on South Nevada Street in Littleton for the new vehicle operations. Holmes retained a senior position in the new company.

About thirty men were employed in the Coleman plant in the 1920s. Harleigh Holmes utilized an innovative form of marketing the trucks, called Holmes Trucks in 1924. He simply demonstrated how well the trucks worked. Often he would stop to pull someone out of the mud or snow. His employees were instructed to do the same, and the reputation of the trucks became known throughout the area. One anecdote reported by the Littleton Independent (March 14, 1924) told of a Pierce Arrow truck fully loaded with groceries that had become mired in the mud. A Holmes truck returning from Denver loaded with 3 tons of material stopped to help. Without unloading, the driver of the Holmes hooked the two trucks together and the Holmes pulled out the Pierce Arrow "with little effort.

In July of 1925, Coleman completed an order for a fire truck for the Littleton Fire Department. The water from the pump on the fire truck sprayed water eighty feet high, twice as effective as the old fire truck. The Coleman fire truck could attain a speed of 40 mph and could maneuver through two feet of snow or 18 inches of mud. Perhaps most impressive of all, it was able to climb a 50% grade with full equipment and men. The new fire truck was placed on display at the State Fireman's convention in Denver. Public donations helped to finance the truck for the town of Littleton.

The U.S. Army purchased a Coleman truck in April, 1927 for use hauling an anti-aircraft gun for tests. The Littleton Independent boasted that the Washington Post printed an impressive article about the Coleman truck purchase.

In March, 1928, an amazing demonstration took place on Main Street, Littleton--a tug-of-war between a 5-ton Coleman truck and a 10-ton Caterpillar tractor. The Coleman was laden with 12,000 lbs of concrete blocks, while the tractor weighed 20,000 lbs. Even with the weight handicap, and giving the tractor a 15 ft. head start, the Coleman truck won the event. Many influential members of the community cheered on the hometown vehicle. Apart from the outstanding performances achieved in the Coleman trucks, they required little maintenance and rarely broke down.

Colorado's mountain passes suffered from frequent blockages due to snowfalls. An engineer from the state highway department had developed a rotary snowplow, the first of its kind, to clear the snow, but the highway department could not find a truck that could push the plow through the snow on winding roads, until they tried the Coleman truck. A rotary plow with an auxiliary motor was fitted on a 5-ton Coleman in April, 1928 and then driven to Berthoud Pass. The truck and plow cleared a channel through four feet of snow, making y mile per hour. The Coleman returned a few days later to finish clearing the pass. Another five ton Coleman equipped with a rotary plow opened Berthoud Pass for the summer, 1929.

By 1929, other uses had been found for Coleman trucks. A five-ton Coleman fitted with a Sargent snowplow could easily remove snow from Littleton's streets. In a demonstration, this same Coleman and plow backfilled a long trench dug by Public Service Company twice as fast as a traditional tractor.

Coleman Motors worked in partnership with Ford Motor Company to develop a standard Ford truck that had a Coleman front wheel drive and an auxiliary transmission. The U. S. War Department had requested new types of specialized trucks, and in September 1929, just one month before the stock market crash, the first specialized Coleman truck was tested on Ruby Hill in Denver. With an army representative looking on, the truck successfully climbed a steep hill carrying a 3500 lb. load from a standing start. This truck also drove through sand that was "hub deep without effort. The truck was sent to an army camp outside of Baltimore, and others were delivered to the army.

The Coleman Motor Company received an army contract to assemble 720 ten-ton trailers in March, 1944. The trailers were for heavy duty use, able to transport light tanks. They were painted olive, and stood 53 inches high from the ground to the floor and 4 feet from the floor to the top of the sideboards. Many soldiers returning from World War II stopped in at the Coleman plant and related their amazing experiences in the four-wheel drive trucks.

George Coleman passed away on July 7, 1945 and his stock was sold to George Meffley, a Littleton resident living on Bowles Avenue. Operations continued, possibly due to the continuity provided by Harleigh Holmes. Wartime contracts in the 1940s gave them the chance to expand the plant and build new specialized vehicles. One design called for a special truck on which a crane was mounted, to be used by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Several hundred of these were built. The company also marketed kits for converting two-wheel drive trucks into four-wheel drive and even six-wheel drive. The "Coleman Conversion Kit" became quite successful.

In 1948, Coleman Motor Company merged with American Road Equipment Company and a head office in Omaha, Nebraska was established. The name was changed to American- Coleman. Meffley's stock was acquired by the new firm, but Harleigh Holmes still owned a large share of the company. The new board of directors was Howard Agee, William Ramsey and E.L. Martin, all from Omaha, and a Denver attorney, Phillip Van Cise. The Littleton plant continued to build vehicles under the name of Coleman Motors.

This reorganization led to another new product, the aircraft towing tractor. Tests conducted in 1949 at Carswell Air Force Base proved extremely successful and American-Coleman received a contract for 49 tractors. In 1950, another contract for 73 tractors was received, and in 1951, a contract for 495 tractors was awarded. By 1952, American-Coleman employed 460 people and was a household name in Littleton.

On July 26, 1963, Harleigh Holmes passed away. A few years later in 1987, the AmericanoColeman facility in Littleton closed down. Employment had dropped to about 21. Vice President and General Manager Joseph E. McElroy handled the shutdown. The plant building, owned by a local developer, was in foreclosure and was eventually sold. The equipment was moved to Kansas City, the parent company home. A proud history of innovative truck design had come to an end.

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