Though the exhibit Woodies in Maine
closed in the fall of 2001 several of the vehicles exhibited remain in our collection. To view information on our current exhibits and our complete collection, click to go to our Home Page
oodie (woody), the name evokes images of beaches, weekend getaways, and even surfing. Dating back in design to the 1800s, the Woodie automobile was a carryover from the days of wooden wagons. The earliest woodie body can be seen on the 1900 Bronson Wagon, and closely mirrored on the 1925 Model T, positioned side by side on display for comparative purposes. The early wooden autos emerged from an age where wood was the material of choice, used in all horse drawn carriages, and even in the framing and bodywork of early automobiles. As all-metal construction became more economical, wooden construction became an object of prestige. Hand craftsmanship became an exception, where it had once been the rule, and the Woodie as we know it was born.
A panoramic view showing part of the new exhibit
Wooden construction of automobiles predates the Woodie era, as wooden bodies were around long before the Woodies we know today. Many, if not most, early automobile manufactures relied upon wooden body and frame construction, such as that performed by coachmakers. The 1885 Benz, 1903 Mercedes Simplex, 1904 Stanley Runabout, 1920 Maxwell Town Car, and a wide variety of other early examples of automobiles relied upon wooden construction to some degree, but are not considered Woodies.
Until the 1920s, Woodies were station wagons by design and definition: providing transportation of goods and people to and from the railroad station, as trains were the most common and reliable form of transportation from town to town. From this use of the Woodie, these cars earned the nickname Depot Hack. Depot Hack is actually two terms combined to make third. Depot is another name for the train station, and a hack, short for hackney, is a type of horse drawn taxi. The taxi that conveyed visitors from the train station to the hotel was therefore known as the depot hack. The hack often had three seats, in order to accommodate numerous passengers, and distances traveled were usually short, so windows weren't worth the expense or effort of installation. In fact, it wasn't until the 1930s that glass windows were used. The term station wagon is believed to have been first used in reference to the 1911 Pierce Arrow, depot hack being the previous term for such a vehicle. At the time, the United States was expanding, population was increasing, and towns were becoming cities; railroad depots, likewise, were becoming railway stations. The vehicle itself consisted of a standard touring body, made of metal, fixed with a large wooden box with jitney style seats (those which face one another).
Until 1929, Woodies were not a part of automobile manufacturers' regular catalogs of body styles. Woodies were sold as work vehicles, primarily as trucks; their boxy, capacious bodies being perfectly suited to such use. Automobile manufacturers produced the engines and chassis, and contracted out with one or more of the great number of wooden body makers, Ionia, Cantrell, Mifflinburg, Murray, and Campbell to name a few. Body construction was square, spacious, and quite often completely open, as these were vehicles of function, built for work, not comfort. In the early years, these bodies were constructed almost entirely by hand, with hand-tools alone. Framing members were often of maple, oak or white ash, while paneling was white birch, cottonwood or mahogany.
In 1921, Ford broke new ground when Henry Ford opened a lumber mill in Iron Mountain, Michigan, on the 313,000 acres of timberland he had purchased two years earlier. In this mill, Ford processed the lumber that was to be used by contracted firms in the construction of the bodies of Ford's cars. By the late '30s, Ford would not only be milling the lumber for its bodies, but also constructing the bodies, making it the only manufacturer to ever do so. Ford again broke tradition in 1929, when it offered a wooden bodied vehicle, a Model A, as a regular catalog item. This woodie was sold as a truck, even though it was built on a car chassis.
An interior view showing the wooden doors and dash
By the '30s, wooden construction costs had surpassed those of all-metal construction, and the Woodie became the plaything of the well to do, a status symbol. The station wagon became the estate wagon, providing conveyance on and about the estates of the rich. Woodies were primarily wagons, valued for their spacious hauling capacity, although sedans and convertibles, such as the Sportsman and Town and Country, were produced.
Although almost no cars were produced during World War II the Woodie saw an upsurge in popularity at this time, as the use of wood conserved precious steel, a commodity so vital to wartime production. After the war, soldiers returning home started families, the economy rose, and people had more money and leisure time to spend on automotive pursuits. As a result, many turned to the utilitarian Woodie, for its space and carrying ability, as the family vehicle of choice.
The Museum's 1925 Ford Beach Wagon
Once the popularity of the Woodie was recognized by the masses (1946-47), the automotive industry realized that it could not produce enough units to meet demand. The cost and time involved in hand-making the bodies were too great for Woodies to be made in any great quantity. Despite the fact that the downturn in production was imminent, designs did continue to advance. In 1949, Packard pioneered the fold-down rear seat. Prior to 1949, seats had to be unbolted and wrestled out of the rear of the car. This change optimized the cargo area, making the conversion from family conveyance, to freight vehicle a much more manageable one.
Sales of Woodies had peaked by the early 1950s, by which point, wood was becoming simulated (1950 was a transitional year for GM, with wood being replaced by simulated wood made of stamped metal) in order to meet the high demand for Woodies. Another tactic utilized to make the Woodie more cost effective was the bolting of real wood accents to the exterior of the vehicle, as seen in Woodies produced in the early 1950s.
While the Woodie Car Club of America recognizes 1948 as the last year of the Woodie, most Woodie enthusiasts agree that the 1953 Buick Roadmaster was the last real American Woodie, actually relying on wooden construction of structural components; the entire rear deck and window frame are wooden.
A stunning Plymouth Deluxe Wagon
In the '60s, Woodies saw resurgence in popularity through imitation and salvage. The once pristine wooden bodies of most Woodies had been neglected, and had fallen into a state of decay. Wooden bodies require meticulous care in order to preserve them, including refinishing the wood every year, and coating and replacing the canvas or oilcloth roof periodically. Owners rapidly lost interest in vehicles requiring such care, and a surplus of rotten-bodied vehicles was available. Surfers, requiring large vehicles to haul their boards, found great deals on abandoned Woodies, and repopularized a classic vehicle, as evinced in the Beach movies and bands of the '60s. Imitation extended the life of the Woodie even longer, as can be seen in the wood grain application seen on station wagons right through the 1990s. In fact, Subaru attempted a resurrection of the Woodie in 1999 with the release of their Forester Concept Car, a wooden paneled passenger vehicle that used actual wood in its construction, and which is now housed here at the Owls Head Transportation Museum.
Among the vehicles displayed in Vacationland: Woodies in Maine are a 1937 Ford 85 V8 Station Wagon, a 1946 Pontiac, a 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster and a 1952 Buick Custom Hot Rod nicknamed "Woodzilla" that redifines the word custom. 1953's Buick Roadmaster was the last production American auto with real wood exterior paneling. "We are thrilled to inaugurate the Museum's new wing with this wonderful exhibition" said Transportation Museum Director Charles Chiarchiaro. "Each of the exhibitions we present in this wing over the coming years will be devoted to interpreting and demonstrating the impact of air and ground transportation on the culture and history of Maine" he said. "I doubt there is another symbol of Maine's coastal and camping heritage that is more evocative and appropriate than this splendid display of woody wagons and convertibles. You simply must see them."
The following is a list of woodies that have been on display in the State of Maine Wing and throughout the rest of the Museum:
1900 Bronson Horse Drawn Wagon
1925 Ford Model T Beach Wagon
1931 Ford Model A Station Wagon
1934 Ford Model 40 Station Wagon
1937 Ford 85 V8 Station Wagon
1940 Ford Model 1-A V8 Station Wagon
1941 Ford Special Deluxe Station Wagon
1942 Ford Deluxe Station Wagon
1946 Pontiac Streamliner Estate Wagon
1948 Chevy Fleetmaster Station Wagon
1948 Ford Super Deluxe Station Wagon
1948 Mercury Station Wagon
1948 Plymouth Special Deluxe Station Wagon
1950 Ford Custom Deluxe Station Wagon
1952 Buick Custom Chopped Station Wagon (hot rod)
1999 Subaru Forester Woody Wagon (concept car)
For more information on woodies, check out the National Woody Club, or Old Woodies.
Wonderfully restored to its full glory, the 1953 Buick Roadmaster
The Museum would like to thank the following for their help and research:
David Miller, oldwoodies.com, nationalwoodieclub.com
Photos by Chris Wolfe, k2bh.com