February 22, 2024


Climber Motor Corp. (1919-1923)

New Climber Co. (1924)

Little Rock, Arkansas

This is a Climber radiator emblem (1919-1922)   mjs
Size: 55mm wide 54mm high    MM: Unknown

The Climber was probably named to emphasize the aim of producing an automobile suited to driving in the Ozarks and the neighboring poor roads at the time.

The Climber Motor Corporation was organized in Oklahoma in early 1918 with a plan to build automobiles, farm tractors and commercial trucks in a factory to be located in Poteau. The company president was W F Drake.

There was an advertising campaign in Oklahoma and adjacent states in 1918 aimed at selling stock in the Climber Motor Corporation. Early advertisements in April and May 1918 refer to a 1-1/2-ton truck, farm tractors and both six-cylinder and four-cylinder cars, with detailed descriptions of the proposed Climber Six Fifty, which may have been designed by Drake. The first construction contract to build the factory in Poteau was awarded in July 1918 and the cornerstone was laid in August 1918, after when little more is heard about the Climber in Oklahoma. 

It is likely that there were problems in raising finance to start production at the Poteau factory and also likely that a better deal was secured in Little Rock in Arkansas, because the Climber Motor Corporation had a new management established in Arkansas by early 1919.  The management team was still led by W F Drake, who was now joined by Clarence Roth and David Hopson.

There was a new campaign to sell stock and construction of a factory building began in Little Rock in January 1919. The first phase of the factory was completed later in 1919. This part of the factory was  initially intended to be the truck department, indicating that trucks were planned as the first step in production. In the event, this was the only part of the main factory actually built by the Climber Motor Corporation, due to a lack of finance, so Climber trucks and automobiles were built in the same building. 

The company announced a plan to build 3,000 cars in the first year of production probably to try to attract finance but this plan was unrealistic and nothing like this was achieved.

George Schoeneck, an automotive engineer from Detroit, was hired as chief engineer with an initial contract to build fifty four-cylinder Climber cars as the first stage of production, whilst further finance was being raised. 

Some early one-off car production was made for publicity purposes. For example, an advertisement in May 1919 included a photo of a Climber Four under construction in the partially built Little Rock factory with an announcement that automobile production would commence soon. However, material shortages and delays in securing parts meant that the Climber Four was not really available until about November 1919. There were serious management problems and a chronic lack of finance and full production of the 35 hp Climber Four, now advertised as the Climber Four-Forty, did not settle down before early 1920. 

The company was reorganized in October 1919 when both Drake and Hopson left the company. The new company president, H F Buhler, set out an intensive advertising campaign to promote Climber cars and company stock which lasted from October 1919 to the end of March 1920.

In February 1920, a Climber Four-Forty was driven 20,239 miles non-stop in an endurance test and achieved good publicity. The Climber was a good car and well suited to the driving conditions in Arkansas and the surrounding Southern States at that time. 

The 57 hp six-cylinder Climber Six-Fifty model was advertised from the beginning but production of this model did not start until about September 1920. Both the Climber Four-Forty and the Climber Six-Fifty were offered in touring, roadster and sedan body styles. After 1922, the Climber was only offered as a 72 hp six-cylinder model but in a range of body styles.

Despite all the renewed efforts to sell stock and raise cash, the shortage of finance was not resolved and the 1920-1921 recession made matters worse. Money ran out in mid-1923. The Climber company was sold in June 1924 and Climber manufacture was resumed under the New Climber Company name using parts on hand. But, this did not work and it was all over by the end of 1924 after a total life-time production of only 200 cars.

The Standard Catalog of American Cars puts the production figures as 53 cars in 1920 (presumably including those made in 1919), 73 cars in 1921 and 74 cars in 1922-1924. It has been reported elsewhere that about equal numbers of the Climber Four-Forty and the Climber Six-Fifty were built but I find this difficult to believe. It is much more likely that the majority of Climber cars sold were the Climber Four-Forty model. The Climber Six-Fifty was not available for sale until late in 1920 and the recession would have seriously reduced the sales of the more expensive six-cylinder models after 1920.

It is reported that the Climber company also built about 70 to 100 trucks in the range of 1/2-ton to 2-ton capacity using four-cylinder Herschell-Spillman engines. Newspaper articles and advertisements at the time of truck production variously refer to 1/2-ton, 1-ton, 1-1/2-ton and 2-ton capacity trucks but it is unclear which capacity trucks were actually built although there is a reference to some Climber trucks being used locally as mail trucks.


Early advertisements for the Climber Motor Corporation in Oklahoma in early 1918 include an illustration of the Climber Six Fifty and the radiator emblem, see example shown below:

Ad showing Climber Six Fifty & radiator emblem (Apr 1918)
The Poteau News

This is the Climber Six Fifty radiator emblem illustration:

Climber Six Fifty radiator emblem design (1918) 

It is not known if this Climber radiator emblem was ever made but this is certainly possible, if only as a means to demonstrate that plans to build the Climber Six Fifty were real. If this emblem could be found it would probably be ultra rare. 

I believe that the detailed design of this Climber Six Fifty car and radiator emblem belonged to W F Drake. The design of this Climber radiator emblem does not appear in any other Climber advertising after mid-1918 and, although W F Drake took his plans to build a Climber Six car to Little Rock, Arkansas in early 1919 and a Climber Six-Fifty was eventually built there, this did not happen until about the time that Drake left the company in October 1919. 

It is my guess that Drake took the Six Fifty car design and his earlier emblem design with him when he departed, because, in the following year, Drake had taken his design to Tennessee to be built as the Southern Six (see Southern Six) and he appears to have used the same design again for his Drake Six car built in 1921, also in Tennessee. In both these cases, the radiator emblems kept the same basic design as the Climber Six Fifty emblem proposed for Oklahoma, see example shown below:

Southern Six ad showing emblem (1920) ms

There are very few original period photos of Climber cars that clearly show the radiator emblem after the move to Little Rock and the only two Climber cars known to have survived are both restored six-cylinder models, which may have had their radiator emblems made during restoration. These surviving Climber cars are to be found at the Museum of Automobiles in Morrilton, Arkansas.

Most Climber advertisements after the move to Little Rock were aimed at selling stock in the Climber Motor Corporation. Illustrations of the Climber Four Forty and the Climber Six Fifty were included in some advertisements in early 1919 but none show the radiator or the emblem. An advertisement from May 1919 seeking sales of stock does have a photo of a Climber Four under construction but the photo is so unclear that the radiator emblem, if it existed, cannot be seen, see below:

Advertisement showing a Climber Four being built (May 1919)
daily arkansas gazette

The Climber Four was the first model to be built at Little Rock in October/November 1919 and a Climber Four was used for the February 1920 endurance run. There are photos of the car at the start and finish of the endurance run but, again, the radiator emblem cannot be seen. 

However, there is an original period photo of the Climber stand at an Auto Trade Show which includes a completed Climber car and a Climber chassis with both exhibits showing their radiators, see below. The photo is undated and, so far, I have been unable to find any reference to the Climber being shown at a trade show but I suspect this may have been taken in 1919 and the exhibits are Climber Four models. 

Climber stand at an Auto Trade Show (unknown date-poss 1919)    museum of automobiles

The Climber Four car and chassis in this photo both display heart-shaped radiator emblems mainly white in color.

This is the white and blue enamel Climber radiator emblem shown above at the top of this post and again below. This Climber radiator emblem is very rare.

This is a Climber Four radiator emblem (1919-1922)   mjs
Size: 55mm wide 54mm high    MM: Unknown

The Climber name was also displayed on the hubcaps, see example shown below:

This is a Climber hubcap (date unknown)   dkc

The engines used for the Climber automobiles built in Little Rock were manufactured by Herschell-Spillman and this company used a four-leaf clover as part of their logo, see below:

Herschell-Spillman Logo (c1920)   moa

It is believed that the Herschell-Spillman logo may have inspired the Climber Motor Corporation to adopt a four-leaf clover for their own logo in 1920, see below:

Climber logo (1920)      ms

It is not clear when the Climber Motor Corporation first used this four-leaf clover logo but it appeared on the cover of the first Climber Magazine in August 1920, which was announcing the imminent start of production of the Climber Six, see below:

Climber Magazine showing logo (Aug 1920)  moa 

The cover of this magazine shows the earliest illustration I have found showing the Little Rock Climber Six with a part view of the radiator. A radiator emblem is included in the illustration and appears to be shaped like a four-leaf clover similar to the new Climber logo, see below:

Climber Six illustration showing a radiator emblem (1920)   moa

It is interesting to also note that the shape of the Climber Six radiator seems to reflect the top part of the heart-shaped Climber Four radiator emblem.

There are a few original period photos of the Climber Six showing the radiator emblem. The detailed design of the Climber Six radiator emblem cannot be seen from these photos, although it is clear that the emblem is based on the Climber four-leaf clover logo but with the "Climber" name in a white rather than a dark color background, see the examples shown below. The first photo shows a Climber Six on display, probably in Little Rock, about the time that Climber Six production began. It is interesting to note that the model is here referred to as the "Climber Simplex Six" and "The New Climber".

Climber Simplex Six showing radiator emblem (1920)   moa

Climber Six showing radiator emblem (1920)  moa

Climber Six showing radiator emblem (1923)    moa

The Climber four-leaf clover logo does not appear to have been used in newspaper advertisements until about August 1921, nearly a year after Climber Six production commenced, see example shown below:

Climber ad showing the logo (Sept 1921)  arkansas democrat

As mentioned earlier, there are only two surviving Climber cars, both six-cylinder models, a 1920 model now under repair and a complete 1923 model on display (as of 2014). The following photos show the surviving 1923 Climber Six Fifty model as it was when restored and a view of the radiator and emblem from the same car now on display at the Museum of Automobiles. This Climber radiator emblem does not appear to be an original emblem and was most likely made during the restoration of the Climber Six-Fifty. The close up view of the radiator emblem shown later below was kindly provided by the Museum of Automobiles.

1923 Climber Six Fifty showing radiator & emblem after restoration

1923 Climber Six Fifty exhibit showing radiator emblem  moa

Climber Six radiator emblem close up photo (Feb 2024) moa

I can find no clear original period photos of a Climber Six radiator emblem and none in color, so I am unable to confirm that the reproduction radiator emblem on the surviving 1923 Climber Six shown above is a true representation of an original Climber Six emblem. Most likely the emblem is simply based on the four-leaf clover logo. If a truly original Climber Six radiator emblem with the four leaf clover design could be found, it would be extremely, if not ultra, rare. 

I can also find no illustrations or original photos of the Climber Four built after 1919 that show the radiator emblem, so it is not possible yet to confirm absolutely that the Climber Four continued to use the heart-shaped radiator emblem shown earlier above, although I do believe this to be so. What can certainly be said, is that, although very rare, the heart-shaped Climber Four radiator emblem is found in many early auto emblem collections but, so far, I have not seen a single original four-leaf clover-shaped Climber Six radiator emblem. This is very strange, if the reported numbers of Climber Six cars built are to be believed. My guess is that the Climber Four did continue to carry the heart-shaped radiator emblem to the end of production and that many more Climber Four cars were sold than the Climber Six. This would not be surprising in view of the 1920-1921 recession which hit at about the time the Climber Six was put into production. 

It is reported that the Climber Motor Corporation also built about 70 to 100 trucks but I am not confident that these production numbers are realistic. I can find no articles referring to Climber trucks, apart from the sizes of Climber trucks offered, no original period photos and there are no surviving Climber trucks.

The following illustration from a Climber truck advertisement is the only example I have found showing a Climber truck. This truck has a cast radiator with the "Climber" name probably cast into the radiator tank top.

Climber truck showing emblem (1922)  arkansas democrat

As referred to earlier in this post, there are references to Climber trucks used as mail trucks, presumably delivery vans, which would have been light duty models most likely based on the Climber Four with a conventional radiator and which may well have carried the heart-shaped radiator emblem, although I cannot confirm this.

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