|In 1962, CBS introduced a new television comedy by the name of The Beverly Hillbillies. It was an overnight sensation and immediately garnered impressive viewer ratings. The premise was that a poor, ignorant Ozark family becomes suddenly rich when the man of the family, Jed (played by Buddy Ebsen) strikes oil while hunting rabbits with his trusty rifle. Each episode began with a vignette of his famous hunting episode when he misses the rabbit, the bullet penetrates the ground and oil spurts up from the earth.
Oil did spurt up from the ground in similar manner in Oklahoma and elsewhere, several decades earlier, setting off a "black gold rush" and literally fueling the American automotive industry. This television show blurred geology and chronology to suit the needs of its comedic premise: the Clampetts -- naive and ignorant hillbilly folks -- outwit and confound the slick townsfolk trying in vain to trick them out of their home, newfound wealth, and native dignity.
An enduring image in The Beverly Hillbillies was their time-honored vehicle -- a 1922 or '23 flatbed truck. That opening vignette showed them arriving in Southern California: "they loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly; Hills, that is." The Clampetts continued to drive it around town, this unapologetic symbol of their strong-willed independence and immunity to social pressures or the scorn of snobbish neighbors.
As to the ownership of the truck, according to Jed: "Strictly speaking, it belongs to my cousin Pearl. But she said I can keep it as long as I keep cousin Jethro."
The now-wealthy Clampetts didn't bother to upgrade their mode of tranportation; the venerable pre-Depression-era truck, strengthened with rope and baling wire, would remain the family vehicle throughout nearly the entire series, which ran for several years in primetime and then another decade in reruns. Towards the end, a George Barris hotrod version was introduced, partly to enhance product marketing. The latter included plastic toy models, dolls, lunch boxes, comic books, photos, games, record albums, trading cards, and more.
But in 1962 the Clampett's truck was a very authentic if overlooked relic from a time when thousands of Depression-struck and dustbowl families heaped their remaining valuables onto their farm trucks and headed towards the sunset, in a last-ditch effort to escape the impoverishment of their home regions. They sought the "land of milk and honey", and jobs, in California. Many didn't make it.
Buick first began building trucks on a regular basis in 1910 (see Feature section called "Buick Trucks" on this website). Upon founder Billy Durant's second departure from General Motors in 1920, and under Alfred Sloan's leadership, truck manufacturing was consolidated under the Chevrolet and GMC names, even though the designs remained the same -- valve-in-head motors, sliding-gear transmissions, shaft drive, choice of finished bodies, and complete electrical systems.
1923 was the last year of Buick's truck production before reverting entirely to passenger cars. The exceptions were that Buick built a few truck prototypes in 1928, and throughout the 1920s provided chassis for buses, police cars and fire trucks, and then professional cars: hearses and ambulances. [See Feature article "The Flxible and Buick Company" on this website.]
In the photos, note the authentic, lightly-worn, Firestone NON SKID tires the Clampett's truck wears, as if still in use from the 1920s. The illustration appears to depict the Clampett's first arrival at their newly-purchased mansion (with "cement pond" -- swimming pool) in Beverly Hills, in 1962.
According to historian Arthur Shulman, "Television critics ... invariably cited The Beverly Hillbillies as the most flagrant example of the decadence of television comedy." Part of the reason was that, in 1962, people still remembered the Great Depression and the dustbowl drought of the 1930s; some still do today. There was not much funny about it. As it unfolded, photographer Dorothea Lange captured for all time the desperate struggle in her heartrending black-and-white images. John Steinbeck encapsulated the allegorical Joad family's migration to California in his novel Grapes of Wrath, which was made into a film in 1967 starring Henry Fonda and John Carridine, directed by John Ford.
Co-starring in The Beverly Hillbillies, along with the truck, were Max Baer as Jethro, Irene Ryan as Granny Clampett, and Donna Douglas as Elly May. The show was created and produced by Paul Henning.
Find out more about this landmark sitcom, including lyrics to the theme song. Click the picture to visit Terri Siegel's wonderful The Beverly Hillbillies Web Site.
On May 6, 1976, the "Beverly Hillbillies" truck was donated to the Ralph Foster Museum, College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, Missouri, by Paul Henning, the producer of the TV show. This site thanks the museum for the image shown in the story; you can view the museum's website at www.rfostermuseum.com.
RIGHT! You have good eyes. This has been a test -- the Clampett's truck isn't a Buick. Well, we never really said it was. So what kind of truck is it? Here are all the American companies building trucks in those days:
Acason, Ace, Acme, All-American, Armleder, Atterbury, Autocar, Available,
Avery, Bell, Belmont, Bessemer, Bethlehem, Biederman, Birch, Brockway,
Buick, Burford, Chevrolet, Clinton, Collier, Columbia, Commerce, Concord,
Cook, Corbitt, Dart, Day-Elder, Dearborn, DeMartini, Denby, Dependable,
Diamond T, Dodge, Dorris, Douglas, Eagle, Fageol, Federal, Ford, Fulton,
FWD, Garford, Gersix, Giant, GMC, Golden West, Graham Brothers,
Gramm-Bernstein, Grant, Hahn, Hal-Fur, Harvey, Hawkeye, Hewitt-Ludlow,
Huffman, Hupmobile, Hurlburt, Independent, Indiana, International, Jackson,
Jarrett, Jumbo, Kalamazoo, Kearns, Kelly, Keystone, Kimball, King-Zeitler,
Kissel, Kleiber, Knox, Koehler, Lang, Larrabee, Liberty, Luedinghaus,
Luverne, Maccar, Mack, Maxwell, Menominee, Moline, Moreland, Napoleon,
Nash, New York, Northwestern, O.K., Old Hickory, Old Reliable,
Oldsmobile, Oneida, Oshkosh, Overland, Packard, Parker, Patriot,
Pierce-Arrow, Pioneer, Rainier, Reo, Republic, Rowe, Rumely, Samson,
Sanford, Schacht, Selden, Service, Standard, Sterling, Stewart, Studebaker,
Stoughton, Texan, Tiffin, Titan, Tower, Trabold, Transport, Traylor,
Triangle, United, U.S., Velie, Vim, Walter, Watson, White, Wichita,
Wilcox, Willys-Knight, Wilson, Winther, Wisconsin, Yellow, and Young.
Since the Clampett wealth came from the $25 million they received from the O. K. Oil Company, it would be great if the truck was an "O.K."
No such luck, though; it's an Oldsmobile.