Golden West Motors
In addition to FWD and Jeffery/Nash, by the beginning of World War I there were
only a few manufacturers in the field of four-wheel-drive vehicles. Around the turn of the
century there had been only three notable patents awarded for four-wheel drive—to Gustave
Hoffman in England during 1901, and in the U.S. to William Bard in 1904 (in addition
to the third being Zachow-Besserdich at FWD).
As World War I ignited in Europe, among the competitors building four-wheel-drive
vehicles were Couple-Gear, C.T., Duplex, Morton, Nevada, Walter and Ware. To be more
specific, C.T. (which stood for “commercial truck” at one point) only built battery-powered
trucks. Morton, the predecessor of Hurlburt, lasted only until 1916, and its biggest
customer was the Russian government. Hurlburt lasted until 1927 but did not build 4 ?
4s. Nevada built trucks under license from Four Wheel Traction Automobile Company,
which became Kato. All were defunct by 1913. Couple-Gear built battery-powered as well
as gasoline-electric hybrid trucks and buses before World War I.
By that time, the Four-Wheel-Drive Wagon Company, the American Motor Truck
Company, Cunningham Engineering Company, Aultman & Company, the Four Traction
Automobile Company (Kato) and the Cleveland Motor Truck Manufacturing Company
had each tried their hand at building 4 ? 4s and had not succeeded.
One out-of-the-ordinary exception was Golden West Motors of Sacramento, California. In addition to being a vehicle manufacturer on the West Coast, among only a very
few at the time, the company was founded by an inventive engineer named Edward Robinson
and several wealthy investors. However, they could not agree on the company’s direction
or proper management. Robinson had obtained four patents by 1914, including one
for four-wheel steering.
At the time of the genesis of Golden West Motors in 1913, Sacramento and vicinity
were growing rapidly. Nearby Stockton was also developing as an industrial deep-sea port
city via canal to San Francisco. Sampson had started to build farm equipment, including
tractors in Stockton, and Holt of Caterpillar fame also had its origins there, along with
Best of crawler tractor fame in nearby San Leandro.
In 1911, Sacramento, which adjoins San Joaquin County where Stockton is located,
annexed land to triple its area. Another basis for industry had been created by the Southern
Pacific Railroad, which had established a large maintenance and repair facility along
with its depot at Sacramento’s “Old Town.”
The first two Golden West trucks were both four-wheel drive and four-wheel steer.
They were both powered by a Continental engine mounted on a subframe. The transfer
case included Whitney silent chains, another innovation. All in all, Golden West Motors
was a “golden goose” for Sacramento and its new industry. Cross-country tests were undertaken
for 7,500 miles and a truck polo match was organized in front of the capitol for publicity.
However, due to stockholders’ discontent and much wrangling among the key play
ers, by 1916 the company was now called Robinson. That year the 8th Artillery Regiment
in Honolulu, Hawaii, bought 36 four-wheel-drive trucks, but they were all built by FWD
in distant Wisconsin. A group of Sacramento businessmen associated with the Globe Iron
Works began negotiating with the federal government to assemble the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny”
airplane. This did come to fruition and Mather Field opened just outside Sacramento city
limits as a flight training center. But because of further internal strife at Golden West,
the company faded away, missing an enormous opportunity whether or not they would
contribute to the military needs of the U.S. Army during World War I. There was also
much need for this type of vehicle in the enormous California Central Valley agricultural
The Golden West four-wheel-drive was well engineered and the four-wheel-steering
feature was great for open terrain, but very problematic when in the city next to a
building, curb, tree or other object, as the vehicle’s aft turned inward, colliding with any
adjoining obstacle. The next iteration of the company, named Big Four, abandoned fourwheel
steering, but it was too late and the entire enterprise completely faded out soon
after the war.
"Albert Mroz. American Military Vehicles of World. Books."