The BPR vehicle was originally purchased from the Graham-Paige Motor Corporation through a government contract that provided vehicles not only to the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, but also the U.S. Postal Service. Exactly how many were purchased, and when, remains unknown. Upon being retired from government service the vehicle was used by a Reno Nevada florist as a delivery truck. The vehicle was eventually purchased by Harrah's Club of Reno, Nevada. While not showcased in it's famous collection, the vehicle sat awaiting restoration.
Mr. William (Bill) McBee, a long time highway construction contractor (Hi-Lo Construction) recognized the value of this vehicle and purchased it from Harrah's Club in September of 1978. Mr. McBee took the vehicle to his residence in Eugene, Oregon and began the restoration process. During his ownership the vehicle was almost completely restored. He repaired damaged portions and made operational the engine, transmission, and brakes. The exterior yellow color was returned to the original black tone. The restoration was almost complete as shown in the above photograph.
Bill previously attempted to donate the vintage vehicle to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in the 1980s. At the time FHWA could not accommodate the vehicle and the offer was rejected.
In December of 2002 Mr. McBee approached Ron Carmichael, Division Engineer of Western Federal Lands Highway (WFL), to see if there was any renewed interest in the vehicle. Bill was looking to pass ownership of the vehicle to either WFL or an appropriate museum.
In February of 2003 Mr. McBee graciously donated the vehicle to WFL on the condition that the agency would complete the restoration and preserve the vehicle for the enjoyment of future generations.
WFL is in the process of refurbishing the roof, side and tail curtains. We are searching for such items as front/rear bumpers, exterior door handle, interior window cranks, spare 19" wheel or rim, hub caps, and other minor missing pieces. See the search for parts and information page to learn more about what WFL is seeking.
The 1931 Graham-Paige Commercial Car is a fully functional piece of WFL's history and will be used to educate the public by way of permanent display at the Vancouver office and sanctioned events.
Could This be the Vehicle?
While reading the 1976 FHWA publication "The Trailblazers," Mr. McBee came upon a story from a former BPR employee, Arthur E. Grissom. Upon completing a survey beginning at Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park in November of 1931, the crew was ordered to begin a survey from Keddie to Lake Almanor, CA. The following is an excerpt from his story:
"When we left Tioga enroute for the Almanor survey, Pat Sargeant drove the Government Graham 3/4 ton screenside truck which was our survey party wagon, and Karl and I each drove our own cars. We agreed to meet and put up for the night at the Golden Hotel in Reno. Karl and I arrived at the hotel and were waiting for Pat when the phone rang - it was Pat; he had run the truck into a telephone pole near Carson City and would be a couple of days late getting to the job."
Art and Karl continued on to the project settling in Indian Falls, California, minus one Pat Sargeant...
"About two or three days after Karl and I arrived at Indian Falls, Pat Sargeant came in with the repaired truck. He said the cause of the wreck was a broken steering knuckle, but those of us who knew what a poor driver Pat was, our opinion was that he just ran off the road and broke the steering knuckle when it met the telephone pole. A few weeks later he drove the same truck over the side and would have landed in the river if the truck hadn't hit a tree. No other car involved, no skid marks, no mechanical failure; Pat just daydreamed and straightened out a kink in the road. This was his third mishap of the season and Pat found it so difficult to explain that he paid for the repair from his own funds."
Had Bill McBee rediscovered the very vehicle mentioned in the story? During Mr. McBee's restoration of the vehicle he found a blacksmithed part holding several pieces of the car together. A repair using handmade parts would have been typical for this period in time.
So was it the same vehicle? We may never know for sure...