My35 Central Texas News
  Contact: Jodi Wheatley   Phone: (254) 867-2836

TxDOT to Celebrate Centennial in April

TxDOT is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year, and the Waco District will take center-stage for the centennial celebration from April 10–12.

Held at the Waco District Headquarters all three days, a traveling exhibit — including a refurbished World War I Liberty Truck used by the department in its infancy (see below) — will tell the history of TxDOT. First named the Texas Department of Highways, the state agency was responsible for building and maintaining the state’s roadways.

“At that time, the main emphasis for TxDOT was getting the farmers out of the mud by building roads that connected them to their marketplace,” says I-35 Information Officer Jodi Wheatley. “In 1918, we built the state’s first official highway — a 20-mile road that connected Falfurrias and Encino. That roadway is now part of U.S. 281.”

  A workhorse from a bygone era, the 1918 Liberty Truck has been fully restored to operational condition by members of the Waco District's Fleet Operations Division. A workhorse from a bygone era, the 1918 Liberty Truck has been fully restored to operational condition by members of the Waco District's Fleet Operations Division.  

The traveling centennial exhibit’s first stop was at the Houston District Headquarters in February. The exhibit will travel to each district until its final stop in El Paso in June. In addition to locally produced centennial activities, each district will host the Liberty Truck and a display of historic photographs.

“In the Waco District, our theme will be ‘then and now,’” Wheatley explains. “On the first day, we plan to display passenger vehicles from every decade of TxDOT’s existence. We will also have some road construction exhibits alongside the newer examples. I think it will be interesting to see how methods have changed, and how technology has evolved over the years.”

Following a Monday afternoon reception for employees, retirees and special guests, on Tuesday April 11, the exhibits will be opened to the public and media, and the district is especially encouraging area schools to take part in the experience with field trips to the headquarters on the event’s last day, April 12, when construction and maintenance equipment will replace the antique/classic cars.

The Star of the Show….

For decades, TxDOT’s 1918 Liberty Truck was sitting in a warehouse collecting dust. In September of last year, Waco District Fleet Operations Division (FOD) Supervisor Lloyd Garrett and his crew were given a big job ― get the truck operational again for the upcoming centennial celebration.

Of the 9,500 Liberty Trucks the U.S. Government made for WWI, only a handful remain, mostly in museums. This truck — one of hundreds like it donated to several state DOTs — is believed to be the last one left in TxDOT.

“We knew we had our work cut out for us,” Garrett says. “We really had no idea what to expect.”

Under the hood was the original 52 horsepower, 425-cubic inch, four-cylinder engine that could only be started by a hand crank on the front of the truck. It powered the 27-foot long cargo-carrying, 3-ton truck to a top speed of 15 mph.

  The Waco crew poses proudly with the fruit of their labor, the refurbished Liberty truck. The Waco crew poses proudly with the fruit of their labor, the refurbished Liberty truck.  

“There were few manuals you could go by, so we just started working,” Garrett says. The crew discovered lots of problems. The carburetor had missing and nonfunctioning components, the spark produced from the ignition magneto was weak and the fuel tank was corroded. But in less than two months, the FOD crew found or rebuilt these main components, repaired the steering box, adjusted the brakes and clutch, and replaced the fluids.

“We also decided to utilize an electric starter originally for a McDonald Douglas DC-3 airplane engine in place of the original hand-crank starter,” Garrett explains. “We rewired the starter to operate on 24 volt, reverse rotation, just to make starting that much easier and safer.”

In November, the Liberty Truck was operational again and was taken to TxDOT’s Camp Hubbard campus, where a new truck bed was built. The old, yellow TxDOT paint was removed so the original Army-green paint could be replaced.

The TxDOT crews that refurbished the 1918 Liberty Truck have no doubt that it looks and runs better now than it did when the Texas Highway Department put it to work building roads nearly a century ago.

Several videos have been produced that chronicle TxDOT’s Liberty Truck makeover:

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