A man and his truck: Edward Mitchell and his Diamond T remembered

The man: Edward Daniel Mitchell.

The truck: his Diamond T.

This narrative is told by one of his sons who knew the events from the inside, by observation, though many of the specific details were cir­cumstances that father himself would not relate. In its time, (1937-1966) the truck was recognized by anyone in the Township of Guelph and be­yond.

There were a few other Diamond Ts in the area, but only a very few, so we would be waved at by people working in the fields who recognized the truck. The livestock truck­ing business was in its infancy in the 1920s and father had bought a used GMC (1927) to see if there might be an effective demand for that service. The first truck had single rear tires (32×6) and a capacity load of about 2.5 tons. At that time, the main pork packing in Guelph was Well­ing­ton Packers on the York Road, about 400 yards east of Victoria Road.

That location gave them access to a siding of the Guelph Junction Railroad. Some of their product was exported. The Mitchell Broth­ers (Ed and Brent) themselves were pro­ducing hogs in addi­tion to which most neigh­bouring farmers produced some. One of the hazards of the hog business then, as now, is fluctuating prices. There is and was no quota system’

Father found that there was an effective demand for a truck­ing service.

Exactly how it was that the Diamond T dealer made a con­tact with father, I cannot recall. The closest dealership was in Hamilton, Main Street South, at Stoney Creek. In summer of 1937, two salesmen appeared at the Mitchell farm on Paisley Road with the cab and chassis. Father indicated some interest and shortly thereafter, a deal was made. Father had the Brantford Coach and body (Guelph) build a platform and racks. Remember that depres­sion conditions prevailed, so it should not be surprising that the finished truck cost about $3,800.

The shiny new Diamond T was much admired by the neighbours. The accompanying photo was taken by next door neighbour Grete Henderson. This was long before colour film.

The truck proved to be a reliable performer over the next 30 years. Though people at the time marvelled at the “big” truck, in reality, it was powered by a 6 cylinder motor – a Hercules flat head six which gave 12 to 15 miles per gallon. The truck was very low geared, did not have power brakes, but was capable of loads four to 4.5 tons. It was eventually to put about 150,000 miles on the speedometer. Its favoured speed was about 35 miles per hour, and if father were driving, it was more likely to be 30.

Father’s honesty and reliability ensured that he had a large and loyal clientele. The heart of the trucking came from the Paisley Block itself. The term Paisley Block hearkens back to the earliest settler, John McCorkindale, but the term gradually spread to include that area west of the city of Guelph. Mitchells themselves were part of the founding families; their ancestors came from Suffolk in England in the 1830s.

In a very real sense, there was a good feeling among the residents. After all, they shared a common background and in many cases had known the families for three or four gener­a­tions. People expected to be treated fairly.

Father developed a clientele that went far beyond the Pais­ley Block. I will reach in my memory to those who were regu­lar customers – to the south was Albert Marcy, who lived about two miles south of Crieff; to the west was Leonard Burton in Waterloo County; and to the east Ralph Tait on the Stone Church Road, west of Rock­wood; in the 1940s, there was Noble Postle, who lived just south of Elora and later moved to Waterloo County.

It was a very widespread base of customers. I cannot re­call any among those custo­mers who stopped dealing with father. It was a mark of the times that whenever were were at lunch, we would be asked to take a place at the kitchen table. Rural fellowship was a reality.

People who had hogs for market would phone during the week. Mother kept a note pad at the phone and took down names and numbers. Forty hogs constituted a full load for the truck.

Occasionally, there would have to be a second trip to complete the work. Some farmers weighed the hogs (200 pounds live weight was opti­mum) – quality fetched a small premium in price. Others left it up to father to decide whether a pig should be left for another week. Loading pigs was always a challenge, since you could correctly assume if you wanted it to go forward, the hog pre­ferr­ed to reverse. It involved a judicious use of racks and doors to manoeuvre them into a spot where forward was the only option.

My brother, John, was fath­er’s most consistent assistant but during school and later college vacations, the task fell to me. One learned to be useful.

I would not give the im­pression that the Diamond T was only a “hog hauler” – al­though that was about 60% of its commercial use. The trans­portation of cattle was not a huge part of its use – though if we had a choice parcel of baby beef – that is, cattle weighing not more than about 750 pounds, we might take them to the stockyards in west Toronto – after father had phoned his contact at the yards to ensure a good market for them. By 1945, father had acquired 560 acres of farmland and the truck served an important role:

– on a weekly basis, there was grain to be taken to the feed mill to be chopped, at eith­er Hatthes Mill, at Marden, or Doughty & McFarlane, at Al­lan’s bridge, in Guelph.

– in the spring of the year, seed grain to be taken to the AJ Shantz Mill, just west of Hespeler (Fisher Mill).

– grass seed to be taken to Schweyer’s Mill at Nelles Corners, to be cleaned for sale;

– clay tile to be picked up at Martin’s tile yards at Wallen­stein, when were were doing systematic tiling;

– supplementary feed to be taken to the pasture farm in Wat­erloo County in late sum­mer and early autumn; and

– turnips to be marketed at the Hauser waxing plant at Speedvale and Woolwich.

Students at SS#6 remember the “outings” to ball games and picnics on the Diamond T. At a fairly recent social occasion, a lady whose maiden name was Ruby Fyfe, recalled father taking students in to see Snow White at the Royal Theatre on Macdonell Street in Guelph. On another occasion, the Dia­mond T served as the platform for the entertainers at a garden party at SS#6. Racks had to come off and the platform was scrubbed for such occasions.

No charge was made for community occasions.

This is a truck with a story and when I returned to Guelph, I could not see allowing this piece of heritage going the way that old vehicles usually do.

One day in 2003, I happened to meet Jack Mills. He enquired about the Diamond T. At one time, the Mills family operated an auto parts shop on Suffolk Street. He suggested that David Geddes, of Alma, would do a first rate job of restoration. He and his son own and operate a garage in Alma.

And so it came to pass that the restoration was completed.

Its story with photos has already been written about in a U.S. periodical, Vintage Trucks, Dec. Issue, 2007. Thus the heritage of the Diamond T lives on.