Moreland trucks drove Burbank growth

CRAIG BULLOCK

The transformation of Burbank from rural town to manufacturing center

was a brought on by the growth of the region and some clever

marketing by some creative Burbankers looking to secure the economic

success of the city. The arrival of the Moreland Motor Truck Company

in Burbank proved to the opening of the manufacturing era in the

city.

In 1917, Watt Moreland, head of the Moreland Motor Truck Company,

planned to open a new truck manufacturing plant in the Los Angeles

area. He had selected Alhambra as the site of his new plant, and

began negotiating with the city for the purchase of the land. Ralph

O. Church, an early Burbank activist who led the successful drive to

bring the Pacific Electric Car to Burbank, read of Moreland's move to

Los Angeles in the newspaper and had other ideas about where the

manufacturing plant should be located.

Church knew time was of the essence, and he enlisted fellow

Burbank activist Maurice Spazier to help him convince Moreland that

Burbank -- not Alhambra -- was a better site to build the

manufacturing plant. Church and Spazier captured Moreland's attention

by offering a suitable site for the plant at no cost. Moreland, not

wanting to pass on such an opportunity, stalled negotiations with

Alhambra and began to scout Burbank for a suitable site.

The first site explored by Moreland was on the corner of Flower

and Verdugo avenues. This site, however, proved to be unsuitable. The

most suitable site for the manufacturing plant turned out to be on

the corner of San Fernando Road and Alameda Avenue. The parcel was

owned by Henry Luttge, who sold the 25-acre parcel for $25,000.

Church and Spazier spearheaded the efforts to raise the money, and

deeded the property to Moreland. The manufacturing plant, along with

its good-paying manufacturing jobs, was to become a reality in

Burbank.

Construction on the $2-million plant commenced immediately, and

the plant opened in March of 1920. It was one of the largest

developments in the region and the largest in Burbank at the time.

The manufacturing plant was immense and efficiently designed, and

sprawled over the entire 25-acre parcel. The administration building

contained the general offices, kitchens, cafeteria, assembly and club

rooms along with the engineering department. The manufacturing

buildings boasted nearly 50% windows to allow proper ventilation, as

well as lighting, to create a clean and safe working environment.

Those buildings were used for the testing, manufacturing, painting

and assembly. Not only were the trucks assembled at the site, but

nearly 70% of the parts that went into the truck were also

manufactured there. Moreland employed 250 people who assembled 25

trucks a month. Each truck bore signs declaring "Made in Burbank."

The trucks that were produced at the Moreland Motor Truck factory

were innovative for the day. Moreland pioneered the design of a rear

end capable of driving all four wheels which, until that time, had

not been reliable.

Another innovation Moreland spearheaded was the "Gasifer," which

allowed engines powered by gasoline to operate on kerosene like

petroleum distillates. This proved to be economic savings, since this

alternative fuel was cheaper than gasoline at the time. The trucks

proved economically efficient, and could compete with freight trains

in the transporting of goods.

Moreland also created innovations in business that led to the

popularity of his company. Approximately $500,000 worth of parts were

manufactured and inventoried in the Burbank plant to provide parts to

outside service centers. The service centers carried anywhere from

$8,000 to $30,000 and were constantly being supplied by parts

manufactured here in Burbank.

This arrangement ensured that parts were dispersed, and a Moreland

truck could be easily serviced anywhere in California. Moreland

trucks also came with a one-year warranty, much better from the

90-day warranties that were the standard at the time.

The durable trucks proved to be popular not only in the United

States but around the world. Moreland trucks could be found in 17

countries. The success of the company, however, would not last.

The Great Depression hit the Moreland Motor Truck Company hard,

but it managed to stay afloat, though production was significantly

reduced. In 1939, World War II erupted in Europe, and while the U.S.

was not involved at that time, the shortages of materials triggered

by the war caused the closure of the Moreland Motor Truck Company in

Burbank.

Several businesses occupied the Moreland plant, including Weston

Bisket Company, Pacific Bakery and later, Pride Products Inc.,

before being demolished for a shopping complex.

While no longer there, the Moreland Motor Truck Company

contributed to Burbank's transformation from rural town to

manufacturing center, and paved the way for other manufactures to

come to Burbank.

* CRAIG BULLOCK is the chairman of the Burbank Heritage

Commission. Reach him at brbnkheritagecom@aol.com.

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