Featured in Antique Automobile Club of America, November/December 2009
Our little truck was built in October 1931 by the Fageol Brothers (Twin Coach) in Kent, Ohio, more than likely delivered in primer to the customer. It was up to the end user to paint them in company colors and build the interiors to suit their particular needs. This one joined a large fleet owned by Helms Bakery in Los Angeles, and went into service late in 1931 or early ’32 and was on the road until 1967.
Twin Coach and Divco (Detroit Industrial Vehicle Co.) merged in 1936 and the trucks were sold as Divco Twins until 1941. The trucks were made in two body styles, the Divco (with a nose, and the Twin (flat front), the majority being Divcos. After the war, Mr. Helms tried to buy more of the “Twin” body style but discovered that they had been discontinued. His solution was to buy just chassis and make his own trucks until 1948.
We know that in 1934, Helms had a fleet of the 148 of these trucks plus others trucks. Helms covered all of southern California, from the Mexican border to Fresno. At its peak it had 800 drivers to reach 250,000 home-delivery stops, bakeries, sub-bakeries and distribution points. The “coaches” were driven by company drivers and kept closer to the bakeries. The outlying area was served by independent drivers who bought their product from Helms and resold it. Mr. Helms was one of the corporate sponsors of the 1932 Olympics and called his bread Olympic Bread.
Helms Bakery closed in November of 1969 after 40 years. The little trucks ended up in L.A. salvage yards – some were crushed and some were sold. Two trucks made their way to the Seattle area. One was made into a hot rod and I have the other one. My interest in these vehicles was piqued when I saw a similar truck at the ATHS (Antique Truck Historical Society) meet in Toledo in 1995. I never believed I would find one less than 20 miles from my house in Port Orchard. In 1997 I was at a local ATHS truck show and met a man who told me about a Twin Coach that he had. One year later I went to see it and it was love at first sight. I wanted to buy it but all available funds were going into the restoration of our 1928 Erskine (AACA Presidents Cup, 1999). I was finally able to purchase the little truck in 2000 and restoration was started in October of that year by Robinson Restoration in Limmerick, Pennsylvania, and completed in 2006.
My Twin Coach has its original four-cylinder Hercules OOB engine, which is unusual as many of the Helms trucks were repowered with Ford sixes in the 1950s. It has a four-speed transmission and a rear end ratio 1:5.34.
We have had the pleasure of showing the Helms truck several times: AACA Hershey in 2006 (First junior award), AACA Detroit Lakes in 2007 (Senior), ATHS 2007 (Colorado Springs) and a number of local shows. We have met many people who remember the little trucks and the whistles that announced their arrival in the neighborhood. (They also gave day-old cookies and broken donuts to the kids.) We have also met several people whose family members worked for Helms as drivers or in the bakery, in addition to one Helms family member. We also talked to a fellow who worked in the salvage yard where the trucks were crushed. We have been fortunate to find a great deal of Helms memorabilia including pie tins, fruitcake tins, teacher’s flash cards kits, original decals, posters, freebie/give-a-ways and field trip souvenirs as well as original bread wrappers.
At 30mph and having to drive while standing, this is not much of a touring vehicle, but who knows! We may come to a neighborhood near you some day! It would be impossible for me to list all the people who have helped me with this project, but thanks to all of you this has been a real crowd pleaser. After all, it’s the people in the hobby that make all of this possible.