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1946 Chevrolet 2 ton with Thornton Drive



Owner: Howard Jones

Wow!  They cannot get any rarer than this 1946 Chevrolet 2 ton with Thornton Drive.  Of several thousand produced, this appears to be the only one remaining.  This 1946 Chevrolet 2 ton has two rear axles turning 8 wheels and tires.  The rear axle assembly was produced by the Thornton Tandem Company of Detroit, Michigan.

It was seen sitting among the 825 specialty trucks at the 2013 annual convention of the American Truck Historical Society in Yakima, Washington.  The owner and restorer is Howard Jones of Corvallis, Oregon.  He found it near his home about 1989 and quickly realized its rarity.

No doubt Howard saved it from the usual death of the rest of the Thornton’s.  Their heavy weight made them a top candidate for the crusher once they found their way to a salvage yard.  The price per pound in one vehicle spelled extra income to scrap dealers that had no sales for the heavy iron parts of a Thornton.

Howard Jones is responsible for the almost ground up restoration in the mid 1990’s.  All facets of the restoration was done except for the Thornton duel differential drive system.  Because it operated correctly he did not disturb the inner workings of these differentials.  Fluid change, cleaning, and relining the brake shoes were the limit.  The fear was breaking an internal part and not finding a replacement.

The original horizontal Thornton side plates were restored and placed back on the hood.  A damaged round Thornton plate above the differentials was made again with a non-metal material.  It looks like the original and no one realizes it is not the pure thing!

Because of working outside much of its 65 years, the cab was loaded with rust problems in all the important places.  Howard finally found a replacement 1946 cab with its share of dents; however, it was certainly an improvement of what he had.

All is now black again on the outside and it has the correct tan hammered paint on the interior.  Howard made it as close to its first day in the field as possible.  Note the heavy front bumper.  This is the first year the Chevy 2 tons were given this extra heavy steel unit.  Howard removed a large accessory grille guard from the bumper during the restoration.  It had probably been in place since it was new. The odometer showed almost 16,000 original miles on the truck.

As this Thornton is only for display, Howard created a large opening in the flat bed.  This allows the curious to see much of the differential that would normally be out of view.

Since its restoration was completed almost 10 years ago, Howard has taken it to three larger shows:  Spokane, WA, Reno, NV, and now Yakima, WA.  The weight, long wheel base, and low gearing makes it much more difficult to be moved like a light weight truck.  It now has its own 6 wheel special trailer!

The Thornton is so long that Howard added 5 feet to his garage to keep it out of the Oregon rainy season.  Having the only one remaining relates to the need to protect it from all types of weather!

Howard’s Chevrolet Thornton uses its original 235 low oil pressure six cylinder engine.  The multi-speed low geared differential allows for easy starting even in third gear on the flat land and no load.

Additional Thornton Data:

The Thornton Tandem Company home office was Detroit, Michigan.  Its non-GM accessory was provided to authorized Thornton dealers in the United States.  The components were produced for trucks manufactured by General Motors, Dodge, Studebaker, Ford, etc.  The “kit” consisted of 2 identical pre-existing complete Eaton differentials.  The Eaton differentials were a standard among many large truck manufacturers.  The Thornton assembly consists of a 2 speed high/low splitter into the pair of 2 speed Eaton differentials.  These differentials were installed as mirror images (one forward and the other reversed).  Very unique!  Add this to the optional “No Spin” assembly inside each differential (full driving power to all rear wheels).  Of course, the 2 ton started with the original non-synchronized 4 speed transmission.  Thus Howard’s 2 ton has 16 forward gears and a reported top speed of about 40mph.

In this case, the Chevrolet Thornton required a 3 piece custom drive shaft with two carrier bearings and long frame rail extensions.  These rails made the frame 1 ½ foot longer at the rear than factory and extended inside the original frame to about the rear motor mounts.  This gave the frame over twice the strength!   The wheel base then increased to 230 inches.  Howard’s Thornton gross weight capacity changed from factory 15,000 pounds to almost 46,000 pounds with 8 pulling wheels.  These frame extensions made it practical to move very heavy loads off-road in rough terrain.  Even carrying a large water tank in the back country for fire fighting was a natural for a Thornton!

In the case of Howard’s Thornton, its first owner used it to carry a large tree removing D6 Caterpillar for making a path in native timber for installing Oregon electrical lines for the first time.  The Thornton was just right for carrying the heavy Caterpillar into the woods with no roads.

Years later the next use for this Thornton was carrying a large water tank.  The water with a sprayer was used to keep down road dust that was created in the back country by logging trucks.

Later, before Howard found the truck, it was owned by a person clearing his large acreage of maple trees.  They could load so many logs and make one trip each day to a nearby mill for processing.  This person is the only owner known that actually kept the Thornton in a barn out of the weather when not in use!

If you would like to contact Howard Jones email hjonesmts@gmail.com.

Other examples of Thornton’s uses:

Hauling coal from mines.  See photo.

Carrying water to rural fires by Fire Departments.

Transporting ready mix concrete to job sites.  See photo.

Hauling sand and gravel.

Moving tanks of gasoline and oil.

Carrying loads at harvest times from larger farms.

Howard has heard about 100’s of Thornton’s that were exported overseas after World War II.  They were great help in clearing the after war rubble from cities due to many bombings.  The large volume they carried helped shorten the time of rebuilding.

Unfortunately, when these large rubble removing jobs were complete, the Thornton’s were too large for most overseas farm work or other commercial uses.  The expense of keeping these large now well used Thornton’s was not useable by the local people.  Once again the heavy weight and operating expense of these trucks was what resulted in their demise!  War torn countries could not afford them or need them once the US contractors had completed their jobs.  They went to steel recyclers.


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