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J.T. Cantrell & Co.
J.T. Cantrell, 1905-1913; J.T. Cantrell & Brother, 1913-1925; Huntington,  New York; J.T. Cantrell & Company, 1925-1958; Huntington Station, New York
Associated Builders
T.F. Scudder

Joseph Theodore Cantrell (1874-1974) was born in 1875 on the north shore of Long Island, in Sunken Meadow, New York. His father was a candle maker, and employed many of his 13 children in the family business. However, Joseph was not interested in the family’s trade and spent much of his spare time in a local boat builder’s shop. He left school after the fourth grade and became a woodworker’s apprentice at a number of regional boat and carriage building shops. For over 20 years Cantrell toiled in the trade and by 1905 had saved enough to purchase the blacksmith and carriage works of his employer, T. F. Scudder, of Huntington, New York (Long Island).

Located on Main Street, the 3-story shop employed about a dozen hands and within just three years had grown to the point were larger accommodations were acquired just around the corner on Wall Street. A younger brother, Albert, joined the firm and in 1913 became a partner in the reorganized firm which was now known as J. T. Cantrell & Brother. Joseph supervised the design of all Cantrell bodies and supervised their construction while Albert concentrated on the company’s accounting and business activities.

The firm built and repaired carriages and wagons and also offered custom built commercial bodies for Henry Ford’s new Model T and TT chassis at the suggestion of a customer named J.A. Carlson. Although some very early Ford trucks were sold with commercial bodies, Ford discontinued the program in 1913, giving away all of their commercial body business to outside suppliers for the next 10-15 years.

Cantrell’s "Depot Wagon" became popular with local residents and by the late teens they were supplying commercial bodies to the region’s Dodge and Ford Dealerships.  The November, 1922, issue of Country Life included an ad for the Cantrell Suburban, which was the new name for their former “Depot Wagon”. During the mid-twenties the H.H Babcock Co. of Watertown, New York and the Cotton Body Company of Concord, New Hampshire were Cantrell’s competitors in the exclusive estate car market. Similar in appearance to their depot hack cousins, the estate cars were marketed through the nation’s leading magazines and were found only in the northeast part of the country, particularly on the estates of wealthy Long Islanders and New Englanders.

The estate cars featured unusual color combinations and exotic woods and sometimes included faux cane or painted panels, leather upholstery, and nickel-plated hardware. Cottonwood, white birch and mahogany veneered panels were available as was rock maple, ash or mahogany framework. The woodwork was treated with a combination insecticide/fungicide then fastened together with waterproof glue and steel braces, then finished off with a varnish that was baked on in Cantrell’s large oven built specifically for that purpose. The slatted roof would then be covered with padded nitrite-coated leatherette and the similarly covered adjustable wooden-framed seats installed. Finally the canvas and isinglass windows would be fitted to the body with nickel-plated fasteners and the body placed on the customer-supplied chassis.

Prior to the late twenties, most automobiles sold on the east coast were delivered to car dealers either by rail, ship, or on well-publicized drive-aways where a group of drivers hired by the dealer traveled by trains to the factory then returned home driving a new vehicle. Truck-based auto transporters evolved slowly during the twenties and didn’t become commonplace until the mid-thirties. As Cantrell was located on a major rail line, the bulk of the chassis they used were shipped by rail from Detroit or from regional assembly plants in New York and New Jersey.

A number of Cantrell distributorships were set up in the northeast, and some larger Dodge and Ford dealers kept disassembled or CKD (completely knocked down) Cantrell bodies in stock which could be assembled on-site whenever a vehicle was sold. 

Although they looked identical, Cantrell’s suburban bodies were not interchangeable, as each was designed for a particular manufacturer’s chassis. Consequently, Cantrell’s series-built bodies for the most popular chassis - Dodge and Ford - were built in small runs of 50 to 100 where the factory concentrated on one particular version for a specific chassis, depending on how many kits were in their dealer’s stock. Once the anticipated supply of Dodge bodies was completed, they would then re-tool and produce Ford bodies.

Cantrell built small series of bodies for other chassis as well as a number of individual customs. One custom Buick was built for Marshall Field’s Lloyd Harbor estate that had a special rear door specifically designed for transporting his hunting dogs. Other customers included the Duke of Windsor and Adolph Menjou who ordered a custom built woody on a Cadillac chassis in 1941.

Cantrell bodies could be found on Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, DeSoto, Essex, Franklin, GMC, Graham-Paige, Hudson, International, LaSalle, Nash, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Plymouth, Rolls-Royce, Studebaker, Terraplane, Willys and Wolverine chassis from the teens through the fifties.

An ad in a 1925 issue of Country Life advertised: "For day-in-day-out service during our harsh northern winters, the Cantrell Suburban Body, mounted on a light car chassis, has many advantages. Equipped with snug fitting side and rear curtains, it may be taken out in the worst of weather and given, with impunity, the sort of treatment that is ruinous to an expensive touring car or sedan".

George W. Ruland joined the firm as a third partner and the firm was reorganized as J. T. Cantrell & Co. Business expanded to the point where they relocated to a new Railroad St. facility in nearby Huntington Station in 1925. They occupied two buildings that flanked the Long Island Railroad, one a 40x300 steel structure where they milled and assembled the bodies, the second a slightly smaller cinderblock structure where they cured and stored their lumber. Railroad cars of lumber, and chassis could now be brought directly to the factory, and then shipped out once the bodies were mounted to the chassis. Cantrell’s wood storage building burned to the ground near the end of the year, replaced by a second all-metal structure in the spring of 1926.

H.H Babcock had supplied bodies to many east coast Dodge dealers during the early twenties, but they went into receivership in July of 1926, and Cantrell’s Dodge business picked up appreciably.

Text from a late 1920s Cantrell ad featuring a Franklin Series 11A Station Wagon:

“Comfort convenience, and smart appearance combine to make the Cantrell Suburban Body ideal for a car for the country estate or suburban home. Numerous patented details add to its refinement and increase its practicability.

“The Cantrell Body can be supplied anywhere for the Dodge Standard Six and the Ford Chassis and, within driving distance of the factory, can also be supplied for the Buick, the Cadillac, the Chrysler and the Graham-Paige chassis.

“We shall be glad to send you upon request our folder "C" giving details and specifications.

“J.T. CANTRELL & COMPANY - makers of Suburban Bodies, Huntington, New York”

Cantrell’s bodies had changed little since their introduction and were beginning to look a little long-in-the-tooth by the mid-twenties. Between 1927 and 1930 they introduced a number of new styling cues such as thicker rear quarter pillars, wider doors and curved windshield headers. Part of the redesign was due to the fact that they were now getting more modern cowl and chassis assemblies from Detroit that included cowls with integral glass windshields and all-steel headers.

A late twenties dealer trade magazine included the following Cantrell ad:


"Cantrell Suburban Bodies have building good will among dealers and users since 1915. They are not only on the estates of many of the best known people of America, but are also in use in most foreign countries including France, England, Ireland, Russia, Sweden, and the Hawaiian Islands.

"Wherever distinction as well as long wearing qualities are required. Cantrell Suburbans will be found. They are built by a company that has specialized in this type of body and it is natural that they should have developed, over a period of years, a sturdiness, comfort and refinement that cannot be found in any other body.

"The basic patented mechanical design ties the side panels, sub-sills and floor together in such a way that the load does not put a strain on the sills and sub-sills alone, but is carried by the side panels. It is obviously impossible to deform or break this ¾” panel standing on edge. The panels are of solid ¾” cottonwood and the trim is Quartered Red Gum. The posts, carlines, sills and sub-sills are of White Ash, of the best grade, and the floor is hard Pine.

"The great care taken in the design of this body is shown by the fact that practically all of the malleable irons, such as strap bolts and top braces, are of Cantrell design. It will be noticed that comparatively few of these irons are used, as the fundamental design of the body insures great strength without the use of heavy irons.

"The tail board is securely fastened by means of our patented swinging bolt and nut fastener, which ties the tail board to the panel in such a way as to prevent any possibility of rattle. It is easy to operate and practically indestructible. The doors are wide and are fitted with sturdy and good looking hardware. All doors are filled with dovetails and rubber bumpers.

"The body is designed to carry seven passen­gers comfortably, though in the regular models, only two full width seats are furnished. A pair of aisle seats can be had at an additional cost of $25.00. Seats back of the driver's are readily removable, thus giving unobstructed floor space of 72" x 46 ½”.

"Great care has been taken to have all seats comfortable. They are stuffed with real curled hair and furnished with deep springs. The covering is of Chase artificial leather which we have found to compare favorably in wearing qualities with real leather. The design of this leather is distinctive and harmonizes perfectly with the natural wood finish of the body.

"The roof construction gives a smooth surface which is very desirable as it means long wear. The deck itself is waterproofed composition board and is covered with rubberized deck material. The side curtains are of sport material and are hung inside the top rail in such a way that when not in use they are not exposed to the weather. Lift-the-dot fasteners are used throughout. The floor is covered with a rubber mat.

"The Cantrell Suburban can be had in two models. The semi-sedan which is furnished with drop windows in the driver's doors only and the convertible sedan which is furnished with drop windows in the driver's doors and station­ary removable glass sashes in all other side open­ings. This model is also furnished with the same curtain equipment as the semi-sedan model and is an all-weather job, as it can be used as a sedan model during the winter months and converted into a semi-sedan for the summer.

Semi-Sedan $347 - Weight Crated: 1030 lbs.
Convertible Sedan $405 - Weight Crated: 1080 lbs.
Prices include mounting at Huntington. If body is to be shipped, add $20.00 for crating.


As seen above, various types of Suburbans were offered in the Cantrell catalog, each with specific features primarily suited to different weather conditions. The carryall was their budget offering, and came equipped only with a safety glass windscreen and little else in the way of protection. The semi-sedan included canvas and isinglass snap-in windows all around, except for the driver’s door which featured safety glass. Next was the half sedan which added roll-down safety glass in all four doors, but kept the canvas in the rear quarters and rear door. The next step up was the sliding glass model, which replaced the canvas rear quarter windows with sliding glass units. For true closed-car comfort, Cantrell offered the sedan, an all-glass wagon with wind-down rear quarter glass windows and an option of a fixed-glass rear tailgate. For the truly well-off, the deluxe sedan added Philippine mahogany in place of the rock maple faming found on the rest of Cantrell’s less-pricey products. 

Cantrell was forced to lay off a substantial portion of their workforce during the Depression and helped make ends meet by refinishing older suburban bodies for existing customers.    

Luckily business picked up and between 1936 and 1940 Cantrell built hundreds of production station wagon bodies for Packard’s new Junior One-Ten (122” wheelbase) and One-Twenty (127” wheelbase) Series as well as a few for the Senior One-Sixty (127” wheelbase) Series. Most were built with mahogany framing and yellow birch-veneered panels, in contrast to the rock maple framed, mahogany paneled wagons they were building for Pontiac and International at the same time. Packard added Hercules as a wagon supplier in 1940, and dropped Cantrell later that year.

Cantrell had been building bespoke suburban bodies on Chevrolet and other General Motors chassis for number of years, but in 1937 they built their first GM production bodies for the firm’s Pontiac division. Chevrolet became a customer in 1939 with Cantrell-built bodies available on the Master 85 and Special Deluxe chassis. Cantrell continued building bodies for Pontiac and added Oldsmobile as a customer in 1939 as all three GM divisions shared the same bodies. GM’s wagon sales increased exponentially before the start of the War and were now getting bodies from Hercules and Ionia as well as Cantrell.

Some experts dispute that Cantrell and Ionia were "official" builders of Chevrolet woodies as Chevrolet catalogs show only Hercules-built examples. However it is known that Chevrolet's Tarrytown plant shipped short sill cowl and chassis directly to Cantrell, so at the very least the conversions were factory authorized. Additionally it would have been unlikely that Chevrolet would go to the expense of preparing three different sales brochures - one each for Cantrell, Hercules and Ionia - on such a low-production body style.

A 1941 Cantrell data sheet describes the Chevrolet body in great detail:


"GENERAL CONSTRUCTION: The Cantrell station wagon body is exceptionally sturdy. The sills, posts and mouldings are made of white ash with the pan­els made of mahogany finished in the natural wood. All joints glued with waterproof and fungus proof glue. All component parts submerged in a special oil primer, then finished in the best quality varnish.

"The glass in the front doors is regulator operat­ed with chromium plated crank handles as in the conventional passenger car. The rear side quarters and the rear side doors are enclosed with glass lights sliding horizontally in double felt channels and locking automatically when closed. Provision is made for locking the entire body.

"A lift door above the tailgate with glass the full width of the body is supported by a continuous leak proof hinge along the top edge. A tight fitting moulded rubber strip around the outside edge of the lift door forms a positive seal against the elements. The tailgate is supported by covered chains when lowered to the horizontal position. Safety glass, of course, is used throughout.

"The tailgate is provided with two inside slam locks, which are connected by a rubber covered cable which enables one to open it with a simple motion of one hand. The tailgate, when open, is level with the floor, making easy the loading and carrying of luggage.

"SEATS: Seat cushions and back cushions are con­structed with soft, deep inner coil springs covered with artificial leather. The seats are provided with a capacity for 7-8 passengers. The middle seat may be removed and the full length rear seat moved for­ward or both seats removed for additional luggage space. No tools needed to moue these seats. The front seat is equipped with the regular Chevrolet passenger car seat adjuster mechanism which per­mits a 4-½” adjustment.

"FLOOR COVERING: The driver's compartment is provided with the regular Chevrolet passenger car rubber floor mat. The rear compartment is covered with heavy black ribbed rubber matting.

"RUNNING BOARDS: The body flares out at the bottom to completely cover the running boards.

"WHEELHOUSE PANELS: Die pressed steel wheel­house panels, painted to harmonize with the interi­or, are used to give a neat, smooth appearance.

"TAILGATE AND LICENSE PLATE BRACKET: Mounted high in the middle of the tailgate, swinging out when the tailgate is lowered. Two stop lights are recessed in the rear of the body.

"SPARE WHEEL: The spare wheel is recessed in the back of the front seat. A cover made of material to match the upholstery is provided. This arrangement places the weight forward, giving better balance to the car.

"BUMPERS: A full length rear bumper - not bumperettes - provides extra protection against rear end collisions.

Width between sides - 51-1/2"
Length from behind driver's seat to tailgate at floor line - 85-3/4"
Height from floor to roof just back of driver's seat - 58-1/2"
    "       "    middle of rear compartment - 46"
Width between wheelhouses - 49-1/4"

Driver's seat - 51-1/2" wide, 18-1/2" deep, 12" high from floor
Driver's back cushion - 23" high from seat
Middle seat cushion - 36" wide, 16" deep, 17" high from floor
Rear seat - 47" wide, 16-1/2" deep, 10" high from floor
Rear seat back cushion - 17" high

Number of cylinders – 6
Bore & stroke - 3.50 x 3.75"
SAE horsepower - 29.4
Body material - white ash framing with African ribbon mahogany panels
Color Seats - Ruby Maroon Duco 21333042 imitation red leather
Wheelbase - 116"
Overall length - 205"
Weight with body 3318 lbs.
Weight body only - 830 lbs.
Price - $995"

1937-1940 International D-2 light truck station wagon bodies were supplied by Cantrell, M.P. Moller and Hercules. Hudson became another customer just prior to the war and both Cantrell and Campbell-Midstate in Waterloo, New York are known to have built a handful of bodies for the 1941-42 Hudson Super Six chassis. After the war a couple of leftover pre-war Cantrell bodies were mounted on 1946 Hudson chassis for internal use by Hudson.

Just prior to WWII Cantrell built a number of wagons and carry-all commercial bodies for the export departments of Chevrolet, Dodge and Studebaker and continued the relationship following the end of hostilities in 1946.

Both Cantrell and Hercules were major suppliers of stretched troop transport wagons for both military and civil defense duties during the War. As new chassis were unavailable, existing sedans were cannibalized by cutting them in half at the B-pillar, discarding the rear sheet metal and stretching the chassis in order to allow a 4-door or 6-door 11-13 passenger station wagon body to be mounted on the chassis. The vehicles were typically painted in drab military colors although a few natural-finish wagons are known to have been built.

Cantrell was in a unique position following the War as a loophole exempted them from the 1945 price ceiling on used cars. Re-bodied vehicles could be sold for as much as the market would bear and Cantrell purchased as many used pre-war cars as they could find, removing the existing bodies behind the A-pillar and substituting a new station wagon body in its place. A vacant lot adjacent to the Huntington Station factory was converted into a wrecking yard expressly for the purpose. As strict war-time rationing of steel kept the output of Detroit’s automakers to a minimum, Cantrell’s rebuilt woodies became very popular and their workforce swelled to over 100 employees, who turned out between 10-20 bodies per day in three shifts. Wagons were built on Chevrolet and Dodge passenger car and light truck chassis. About 200 Cantrell woodies were built between 1939 and 1947 using Dodge 1/2 ton light truck cowl and chassis, of which a handful survive. 

Detroit's first passenger car-based all-steel station wagons appeared in 1949 and their immediate acceptance and popularity marked the beginning of the end for Cantrell. In January of 1950, Joseph T. Cantrell announced his retirement from the company he had founded, and sold his share of the operation to his brother Albert, who assumed control of the firm assisted by his two step-sons, Horatio (Dick) W. Dickerson and Wilbur S. Percy.

Cantrell concentrated on the production of bodies for ½, ¾ and one-ton chassis from Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, GMC and Studebaker of which a handful still exist. Memorable sales included sixteen ½ -ton Studebaker-chassised woodies built for ARAMCO and four one-ton Dodge Power Wagons that were sent to Venezuela, but such large orders were few and far between and on October 1, 1958, Albert sold the Huntington Station factory to a window manufacturer and withdrew from business.

© 2004 Mark Theobald -






Joseph T. Cantrell, First Designer and Builder of of Wood Station Wagon Bodies - Antique Automobile, Vol. 37 No. 6, November/December 1973.

Don Butler - Wandering In The Woods Part I – Cars & Parts, March 1976

"Cantrell and His Copiers" - Packard Cormorant - Winter 1977 pp2

Hugh Nutting - The Cantrell Story, Part I - Woodie Times, February, 2000

Bob Zimmerman - "Packard’s Unpromoted Station Wagons" - Packard Cormorant - #99 pp24

Hugo Pfau - Custom Franklins: Scarce and snazzy – Cars & Parts, October, 1977 pp20-26

Don Bunn - Dodge Trucks

Halwart Schrader - Amerikanishe Station Wagons + Woodies 1938-1960

C.W. Terry and Arthur Hall - Antique Auto Body Wood Work

Rob Leicester Wagner - Auto Focus: Wood Details

Rollie Johnson - Automotive Woodworking: Restoration, Repair and Replacement

Rebecca J. Wittman - Brightwork, The Art of Finishing Wood

Bill Yenne - Classic Cars: Woodies - A National Treasure

Rich Bloechl - The Do it Yourself Guide to Woodie Woodworking

Alan Alderwick - How to Restore Wooden Body Framing

Keith Winser - The Station Wagon Manual: How to Build Station Wagons, a Complete Guide to all Types

Byron Olsen and Dan Lyons - Station Wagons

Bruce Briggs - The Station Wagon: Its Saga and Development

Thomas B. Garrett - Vintage Station Wagon Shop Service

Fred W. Crismon - U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles

Donald J. Narus - Great American Woodies and Wagons

Donald J. Narus - Chrysler's Wonderful Woodie: The Town and Country

Donald F. Wood - American Woodys

David Fetherston - American Woodys

David Fetherston - Woodys

Richard Bloechl - Woodies & Wagons

Robert Leicester Wagner - Wood Details

Ron Kowalke - Station Wagon: A Tribute to America's Workaholic on Wheels

Byron Olsen - Station Wagons

Robert J., Jr. Headrick - Chevrolet Station Wagons: 1946 Through 1966 Photo Archive

James T. Lenzke & Karen E. O'Brien - Standard Catalog of American Light-Duty Trucks: 1896-2000

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