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Keystone Wagon Co., Keystone Wagon Works, Keystone Vehicle Co., Daniels Motor Car Co., Daniels Motor Co., Levene Motor Co.
Keystone Wagon Co., 1876-1886, Gerardville & Shenandoah, Pennsylvania; Keystone Wagon Co., 1886-1890; Keystone Wagon Works, 1890-1909; Keystone Vehicle Co., 1909-1920; Daniels Motor Car Co., 1915-1920; Daniels Motor Co., 1920-1924; Reading, Pennsylvania; 1924 Levene Motor Co., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Associated Firms
Daniels Motor Car Co., Klees Wagon Works, Reading Metal Body Co.

Unrelated to Friedrick's Keystone Wagon Works, a mid-20th Century truck body builder located in Philadelphia, Penn., or to the Keystone Wagon Works, a small automobile body builder located in Altoona, Penn.

Today the Reading Vehicle Co., a direct descendant of the Reading Wagon Co., is mainly remembered as the constructor of production bodies for the Daniels automobile, a high-quality car manufactured in Reading, Pennsylvania in very small numbers between 1915 and 1924.

The Reading Wagon Co. was founded by a Pennsylvanian-born blacksmith named James A. Klees. He was born on March 10, 1851 in Gordon, Schuylkill County, Pa., to Isaac and Ann (Stevens) Klees. His paternal ancestors were of French extraction, whilst on the maternal side they originally came from England in the pre-Revolutionary War era. Isaac Klees, the father of our subject, moved to Schuylkill County at an early age, and there learned the trade of a blacksmith, and followed it throughout his entire life.

At the age of 12, James, having completed his primary education in the Gordon schoolhouse and already being well-versed in his father’s trade, was apprenticed to a local machinist and blacksmith. He gained further experience in a wagon-maker’s shop and upon reaching his majority rented a 12’ x 12’ shop in Girardville, and with $50 in borrowed capital established his own blacksmith shop. He acquired an assistant and shortly thereafter relocated to larger quarters in nearby Shenandoah.

The firm was located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s coal region and the firm’s novel coal delivery wagons were utilized throughout the northeast. His business expanded and during the winter months employed as many as 25 hands, who kept busy producing wagons of all types for the regions numerous miners, farmers and businessmen.

On November 14, 1875, Klees married Kate Spanig, daughter of Peter Spanig of Reading, and to the blessed union was born nine children: Clifford F.; E. Spanig; J. Guy; Bessie E.; Eleanora; Elsie; Lou; Russel; and Ernest Klees.

In 1886 Klees sold the prosperous Shenandoah works and relocated 50 miles south to Berks County, where he erected a new $11,000 plant at Reading and entered into the manufacture of wagons in the style of the Keystone Wagon Works. The firm's popular coalc wagons were first mentioned in the 'Trade News' column of the October 1, 1888 issue of The Hub:

"J.A. Klees, of Reading, Pa., maker of the Keystone coal wagons, has sold six of his wagons to New York City during the past few weeks. He reports business better than last season."

In 1890, Klees took in a number of partners, reorganizing the Keystone Wagon Works into the Keystone Wagon Company, and a large 200,000 sq. ft. factory, covering almost an entire city block, was erected on Third street and the Lebanon Valley R. R.

Through most of its years in business James A. Klees' patented Coal Chute and Dumping Wagons were its most popular product, the foundation upon which the firm gained a nation-wide reputation. The 4 US Patents he received being:

Dumping Wagon – US Pat. No. 449265 - ‎Filed Nov 22, 1890 - ‎Issued Mar 31, 1891 to James A. Klees and assigned to Keystone Wagon Co.

Dumping Wagon – US Pat. No. 454004 - ‎Filed Feb 12, 1891 - ‎Issued Jun 9, 1891 to James A. Klees and assigned to Keystone Wagon Co.

Dumping Wagon – US Pat. No. 490661 - ‎Filed Oct 30, 1891 - ‎Issued Jan 31, 1893 to James A. Klees and assigned to Keystone Wagon Co.

Dumping Wagon – US Pat. No. 519455 - ‎Filed Aug 28, 1893 - ‎Issued May 8, 1894 to James A. Klees and assigned to Keystone Wagon Co.

Keystone exhibited their new line of coal wagons at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago where it came to the attention of businessmen from England, Australia, South Africa and South America. Keystone was also well-known for its express and platform spring wagons and enclosed delivery wagons, all of which were available with light, medium or heavy duty wagon gear.

Klees patented a hand cranked gear which lifted the coal-filled body high in air, sloping rearward at any angle desired by the operator. The anthracite exited the body via a metal chute that passed through a small door in the rear allowing the operator to have complete control over the manner and speed of the delivery.

The wagons were widely advertised and during the next two years an increased demand soon outstripped the new factory's capacity. Local businessman saw much potential in the invention, prompting a notable recapitalization of the firm which was covered in the April 1892 issue of Carriage Monthly:

“Keystone Wagon Co., Reading, Pennsylvania, have increased their capital stock to $150,000. This concern is under the general management of Mr. James A. Klees, a thorough business man and genial gentleman. The officers are: President, James A. Klees; secretary, Harry T. Shick; Treasurer, W.H. Shick. These works were established in 1876, and the plant has been increased in a phenomenal manner. It consists at present of 3, three-story brick buildings, making a total floor surface of 49,250 feet. The following new machines are being added; 150 pound upright Bradley hammer, a plunging machine, weighing 12,000 pounds, and having two heating surfaces. Numerous other new machines are about to be added.

“Mr. A.L. Kern, a specialist in forged iron working, has patented an improvement on upright hammers for plating trees and carriage clips and similar work. This invention will be put in operation at this company’s factory. A very pleasant still enjoyable event was the occasion of the banquet, February 20, tendered to the stockholders by the directors of the company. Rev. W.J. Stevenson being the invited guest. A beautiful and artistic model, in cut flowers, of the Keystone Dumping Wagon, graced the center of the board. Mr. George Crim, the popular salesman of this company, on the occasion of his birthday, which occurred on even date with the banquet, was admitted to the company, and was presented with a fine gold headed cane in appreciation of his valuable services.”

The directors subsequently erected a 5-story 42' x 110' addition on the west side of the plant, and a 4-story 50' x 75' addition on the south side, providing 75,000 square feet of addiitional manufacturing capacity. The new modern facilities included a massive 150 h.p. Corliss steam engine whose purchase was mentioned in the May 6, 1893 issue of the Hamilton (Ohio) Daily Democrat:

“Corliss Engine a Favorite.

“The Corliss engine manufactured by Hooven, Owens & Rentschler has a great reputation all over the world. The following is from a Reading, Penn., newspaper, and is a very handsome compliment of one of our leading industries:

"The Keystone Wagon works have been making extensive Improvements during a recent period and President James A. Klees has just placed an order for a 150 horse power Hamilton-Corliss engine with Wm. A. Hammett, general eastern manager of that company. Mr. Klees had examined the various engines of other manufacturers and made choice of the Hamilton-Corliss as best adapted to their purposes. This Is the seventeenth engine of that manufacture purchased in this city within the past year and a half."

The March 1896 issue of The Hub announced a new slate of officers elected at the firm's annual stockholders meeting:

“The Keystone Wagon Works, Reading, Pa., elected the following officers: President, James A. Klees; Treasurer, W. H. Shick; Secretary, H. D. Shick ; Directors, James A. Klees, W. H. Shick, Peter E. Buck, E. M. K. Becker, Frank Klees, H. H. Shick and E. M. Bracefield.”

A sudden downturn in business during the late 1890s caused the firm to default on a major loan originally procured from the Pennsylvania Trust Co. back in 1892, and the Wagon Works entered into receivership, the February 25, 1899 issue of the Reading Eagle reporting:


“Real Estate and Contents Go at That Figure – A New Corporation to be Formed.

“The Penn’a Trust Company, the receiver, put up for sale the Keystone Wagon Works and contents, 3d and Lebanon Valley Railroad. It is a large 3-story building with numerous annexes and occupied the best part of a square. Harry S. Yeager was auctioneer. Some 75 persons were present.

“Garrett B. Stevens read conditions of sale. They stated that the plant was to be sold subject to a mortgage of $40,000 with interest at 5 ½ per cent, since last May. The purchaser was to pay 10 per cent down and the balance in 30 days.

“It was sold over and above the mortgage. Garrett B. Stevens was the first bidder at $15,000. Nathaniel Ferguson added $100 and Mr. Stevens another hundred and the latter was the purchaser at $15,200 or $55,200 with the mortgage.

“Mr. Stevens represented as trustee and attorney a company that is to be incorporated within 5 days to be composed of a number of creditors. In the meanwhile the plant will continued in operation.

“Before the sale started notices were read from the Patterson Wagon Company and the I.S. Remson Manufacturing Company, of Brooklyn, each claiming 9 of the wagons. The vehicles in the building are valued at about $10,000. The structure and contents were appraised some time ago at near $200,000.”

Klees was forced out of the reorganized firm which was now placed under the capable hands of Reading banker and industrialist Nathaniel Ferguson.

Ferguson was born at Robesonia, Berks County, Pennsylvania on June 5, 1868 to Nathaniel and Amanda (Davenport) Ferguson, his father being involved with Robesonia Furnace, an early smelter of pig iron, an important ingredient in steel and wrought iron production. The younger Ferguson studied at Reading’s Carroll Institute and Philadelphia’s Pierce Business College after which he entered the banking industry becoming vice-president of the First National Bank of Reading. In addition to heading Keystone Wagon, Ferguson served as president of the Blue Mountain Mfg. Co., vice-president of the Montello Brick Company, and a director of the Pennsylvania Trust Co., Oleyville Railroad, Berks County Agricultural Society and the Reading Public Library.

James A. Klees remained undaunted, forming the Klees Wagon Works within months of losing control of Keystone, the June 11, 1899 issue of the Reading Eagle reporting:

“New Wagon Works

“The new Klees Wagon Works will be put into operation within the next two weeks with some 20 hands. The old plant used by the Keystone Wagon Works along the Lebanon Valley tracks has been fitted up for operation and will be run by James A. Klees, who established the Keystone plant and has had many years’ experience as a builder of wagons. Mr. Klees has already booked a number of orders.”

Although unrelated to our subject, Keystone Wagon, the Klees Wagon Works remained in business into at least 1908 and is known to have constructed a number of ambulances, one of which was delivered to the Lebanon Sanitorium in November, 1904.

The August 23, 1899 issue of Horseless Age inferred that Keystone was considering the manufacture of motor trucks:

“The Keystone Wagon Works, Reading, Pa., are considering the advisability of taking up the manufacture of motor trucks and delivery wagons.”

Although trucks were not manufactured, they did begin building a line of pl;atform and dumping bodies for early motor trucks. The firm's products were distributed in Manhattan by the New York Wagon Co., 8th Ave at 18th Street, who also distributed products built by the Cortland Wagon Works, Cortland, N.Y.

John A. Roebling's Sons Co., the firm who constructed the wire cable used on the Brooklyn Bridge, were users of Keystone Coal Wagons, the January 10, 1901 issue of the Trenton Times reporting:

“The Roeblings have put in service two new two and a half ton coal delivery The wagons were manufactured by the Keystone Wagon Company.“

Keystone’s new slate of directors voted to increase the firm’s capitalization in late 1902, the November 19, 1902 Daily Gazette & Bulletin (Williamsport, Pa.) reporting:

“READING - A meeting of the stock-holders of the Keystone Wagon Works of this city, will be held In Camden, N. J., to increase the capital stock of the company from $300,000 to $400,000.”

Although the firm’s bread & butter remained Klees' patented coal delivery wagons, Keystone constructed all kinds of commercial wagons and heavy delivery trucks. The also constructed vehicles for the US Government, and between 1896 and 1910 were one of a handful of firms to construct rural delivery wagons for the US Post Office.

One popular postal wagon sold directly to rural mail carriers was the ‘Light Runner’, a style constructed to US Postal Service specifications by Keystone and the Ligonier Carriage Co. of Ligonier, Indiana. A description of a surviving ‘Light Runner’ follows:

“The driver sat inside and guided the horse with reins through the open front window. The hinged window could be swung inside and hooked to an overhead strap. The rear window could be opened, too. In front of the driver's seat there are 12 mail bins and a stamp-money box. A foot brake is inside on the right. In winter, the reins passed through two little slots at the base of the window. Atop each side door are the words ‘The Light Runner.’ On its sides are the words ‘Rural Delivery Route No.1, U.S. Mail.’ There's even a whip holder on the right side of the green buggy with lighter green trim. The frame is red with yellow striping.”

The April 1904 issue of Carriage Monthly reveals that George W. Biehl, a well-known Reading commercial body builder, had been hired on as general manager of the Keystone Wagons Works:

“The Keystone Wagon Works. Reading, Pa., were originally established in 1890, and subsequently incorporated in 1899. Their capacity is 5,000 vehicles annually. Of the present output carriages represent 50 per cent, and wagons 50 per cent. The officers are Nathaniel Ferguson, president; John Hendel, secretary and treasurer. G. W. Biehl is general manager.”

George W. Biehl was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania on Feb. 5, 1854 to John A. and Matilda (Wetherhold) Biehl. His father was a skilled carriage trimmer, having entered the trade at an early age in the Kutztown blacksmith shop of his father, George Biehl (b.1813 - d. 1861), who had been working in the trade since he was 7 years old.

Matilda Wetherhold was also from another famous Berks County carriage building family that was headed by her father, William H. Wetherhold. Established in 1862, it became Wetherhold & Wetherhold when his sons William and George joined the firm, and Wetherhold Bros. when its founder retired in 1891.

George W.’s father, John A. Biehl (b.1831 - d.1908), was later apprenticed to an Allentown, Pennsylvania carriage builder where he became learned the art of trimming and upholstery. Once a journeyman, he traveled across the state working for various builders before settling down in Reading where he became associated with the carriage building firm of Conrad Krebs.

After his son, George W., had completed his studies in the Reading public schools, at the age of 13 he entered the trade as a trimmer’s apprentice working alongside his father in the Krebs carriage works.

In 1877 Biehl made a bold move and established a carriage works of his own on Reading’s Cherry Street, just below Sixth.

Business progressed and in 1880 he moved into larger quarters on Pearl Street, between Cherry and Franklin, establishing an office and wareroom at No. 31 S. Fifth St., Reading in 1882. Biehl produced the occasional pleasure vehicle, but his main line of work was for Reading’s businessmen, for whom he produced transfer and express wagons, ambulances, embalmers' wagons and hearses.

In 1891 Biehl tentatively sold the carriage works to James Goodman, the son of Reading carriage builder Henry Goodman, but within two years Goodman had stopped making his mortgage payments and Biehl repossessed the firm in 1893. By the turn of the century Biehl’s 45 hands were turning out $50,000 worth of vehicles annually.

In 1903, Mr. Biehl admitted a partner, Wilson H. Eisenbrown, the proprietor of Reading’s Eagle Wagon Works, and the two plants consolidated into Biehl’s growing Pearl St. manufactory.  Six years earlier Eisenbrown’s factory had been destroyed by a fire on the night of August 10-11, 1897, and his heavy truck and wagon business had never fully recovered from the loss.

The combined business grew at an exponential rate and in 1904 a third partner, Thomas DeMoss was admitted to the firm which was reorganized as Biehl's Carriage & Wagon Works.

At one time or another Stephen Golubics, an Austrian immigrant and veteran Bucks County coachbuilder headed the woodworking departments at a number of well-known Pennsylvania builders who included Hoffman-Shimer (Bethlehem, Pa.), Keystone Wagon Works, Biehls Carriage Works (Reading, Pa.), Reading Metal Body Co. and its successor, the Fleetwood Metal Body Co. (Fleetwood, Pa.). His son, George Golubics, would become a Ford Motor Co. designer in the 1950s.

Edward Hofheins, Keystone’s New York State sales representative, was highlighted in the September 1904 issue of Carriage Monthly:

“A Hustler

“One of the most active representatives of the wagon industry in the State of New York is Edward Hofheins, who represents the Keystone Wagon Co., Reading, Pa., in an important territory in the city of Buffalo, N.Y. Mr. Hofheins has been building up his trade for years, and is regarded as one of the popular men in the industry. He has done much to make the products of his company well known throughout a large territory.”

In August 1906 President Roosevelt purchased for use at Oyster Bay a three-seated platform spring-wagon. Edward A. Hofheins, representative of the Keystone Wagon Works, Reading, Pennsylvania, received the order through McReynolds Sons of Washington, DC Known as No. 71 of the Keystone line, the wagon had removable seats for six passengers.

During the latter part of 1906 Keystone’s principal stockholder and President, Nathaniel Ferguson, became convinced that the firm’s future lay in the construction of composite automobile bodies of the type manufactured by Fleetwood, Pennsylvania’s Reading Metal Body Co. which was headed by James C. Reber and Harry C. Urich.

Ferguson convinced the board of directors to abandon the manufacture of coal dumping wagons in favor of automobile bodies. George W. Biehl, Keystone’s manager was not in sync with Ferguson, and he elected to ‘retire’. Ferguson brought in Reber to reorganize the factory for composite body production, putting him in charge of the plant, the transition being announced to the trade via the March 1907 issue of Carriage Monthly:

“Manufacture of High-Grade Wagons.

“The Keystone Wagon Works, Reading, Pa., have elected the following officers: Edward C. Nolan, president; Robert E. Brooke, vice-president; John L. Coxe, secretary and treasurer, and James C. Reber, general manager. It is the purpose of the Keystone Wagon Co. to continue in the manufacture of high-grade wagons, together with the manufacture of automobile bodies, which business Mr. Reber, the new manager, has been in for a number of years, being the president and general manager of the Reading Metal Body Co.

“George W. Biehl, at the time of his retirement from the position of general manager of the Keystone Wagon Works, Reading, Pa., was the recipient of a silver tray and cut glass service set, given to him by E. A. Hofheins and C. C. Hayes, as a token of their high esteem of him as a man, friend and employer. Mr. Biehl, in severing his connection with the Keystone Wagon Works, took with him the good wishes of all the staff of employees and associates.

“George W. Biehl, formerly general manager of the Keystone Wagon Works, Reading, Pa., will devote his time in the future to Biehl's Carriage and Wagon Works of that city of which concern he has been senior member for the past thirty years. He will also be interested in an automobile and garage to be conducted under the name of the Berks Auto and Garage Co.”

The April 23, 1907 issue of the Reading Eagle announced the news to the Reading community:

“Keystone Wagon Works Making Auto Bodies.

“A busy industry is the Keystone Wagon Works, at Third street and the Lebanon Valley Railroad. About a month ago the manufacture of auto bodies was started and a large number of them are turned out weekly. This is an entirely new line and has proved quite a success.

“James C. Reber is the manager of the plant. He assumed charge about a month ago. Mr. Reber has had considerable experience in the manufacture of auto bodies, having a plant at Fleetwood. It is the intention of management of the works to eliminate the manufacture of light buggies and heavy coal wagons and to manufacture only business wagons and auto bodies. Every department is working full handed and the outlook is very encouraging.”

James Calvin Reber was born on June 22, 1868 in Adams, Pennsylvania to James Tobias (b. Apr. 29, 1834) and Sarah (Potteiger) Reber. To the blessed union were born six children: C. Alice; Clara R.; Valeria E.; Benjamin F.; Morris B.; James C. Reber. He started his career working as a clerk for Bard, Reber & Co., cor. Eighth and Penn Sts., a prosperous Reading hardware store owned by his father James T. Reber.

On Sep. 22, 1892 James married Mary Jane Uhrich (b. July 29, 1867 in Myerstown, Lebanon County, Penn. to John and Jane P. [Leinbach] Uhrich) in Myerstown, Pa. and to the blessed union was born 3 children: John Uhrich (b.Oct. 6, 1893); Mary Uhrich (b. Feb. 1896) and James Valentine Uhrich (b.Feb. 1, 1898) Reber.

Soon after his marriage Reber got into the bicycle manufacturing business, forming the Metropolitan Cycle Co. with John G. Xander. The firm's 'Neversink' bicycles were manufactured in a 4-story 40' x 100' factory located adjacent to the Philadelphia, Reading and Pennsylvania Railroad on Neversink Ave., Reading.

Reber's father got on board the bicycle craze and in 1894 the pair organized the Acme Bicycle Company, James T. serving as president and James C. as secretary and general manager. Acme manufactured the 'Pennant' and 'Stormer' bicycles (unrelated to the Acme Cycle Co. of Elkhart Indiana) until the firm's factory and machinery were destoryed by fire on March 24, 1897, causing aloss of $75,000. The Rebers entered into an agreement with the American Bicycle Co. who continued to construct Acme's Pennant and Stormer bicycles into 1899 while the plant was rebuilt.

It was during this time that Reber began to experiment with the automobiles, and by 1901 he had constructed the first 'Reber', a small carriage equipped with a two-cylinder, vertical engine. The Rebers formed the Reber Mfg. Co. and brought in Pittsburgh engineer James Haslett to design a car along the lines of the French imports, that were popular at the time.In January of 1903 Reber annopunced the introductino of the Reber, a 12 h.p. touring with a detachable tonneau.

The Rebers got Jakob Nolde and George D. Horst, the principals of Reading's Nolde & Horst hosiery mill, interested in the project and on July 9, 1903, the Acme Motor Car Co. filed articles of incoporation with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the manufacture and sale of vehicles and motors. Victor Jakob, formerly with the Mercedes Company in Germany, was brought in as chief engineer and designer. The firm was announced tothe trade in the June 17, 1903 issue of Horseless Age:

“The Acme Motor Car Company have succeeded the Reber Manufacturing Company, of Reading, Pa., and have applied for incorporation with a capital stock of $200000. The officers are George D. Horst, president, and James C. Reber, treasurer and general manager.”

During 1904, Acme brought out a succession of models which included a one-cylinder runabout, two twin-cylinder runabouts (one a chain-drive model, and the other a bevel-gear, shaft-drive job, and a four-cylinder touring and a landaulet.

In June, 1905, Frank A. Devlin, a Chicago dry goods executive, bought out Nolde & Horst's shares in the firm. Within the year Acme was in receivership, and on July 9, 1907, the Acme Motor Company's assets were purchased by Herbert M. Sternbergh, who continued to manufactured small numbers of Acmes until 1911 when he formed the S.G.V. Co. with two partners; S.G.V. standing for Messrs. Herbert M. Sternbergh, Robert E. Graham, and Fred Van Tine.

For more details on the Acme and S.G.V, please click here.

By this time James C. Reber had left the firm he founded a decade earlier (Acme) in order to get into the automobile body business. Reading Metal Body’s incorporation was announced to the trade via the following announcement in the July 20, 1905 issue of The Iron Trade Review:

“The Reading Metal Body Co., to manufacture parts of automobiles, will be incorporated in Pennsylvania with a capital of $25,000. The men interested are Charles S. Madeira, James C. Reber and Harry C. Urich.”

Charles S. Madeira (wife Elsie C.) was a Fleetwood-based textile manufacturer, who was involved with the following firms: Keystone Textile Co., Fleetwood Silk Co., Madeira & Wanner Hosiery Mill, Olseh Hosiery Mill, and the Pennsylvania Dye & Bleach Works. He also served as Fleetwood’s Postmaster between 1908 and 1913.

Harry C. Urich (b.1867-d.1941) was born in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 1867 to John W. (b.1841-d.1899) and Mary A. (Price, b.1840-d.1916) Urich. His father was a cabinetmaker and after completing his public education at the age of 14, Harry was apprenticed to a blacksmith in Stouchsburg, PA, just east of Lebanon.

His apprenticeship complete, he was hired as a journeyman at the Metropolitan Cycle / Acme Bicycle Co. in Reading, which was owned by James C. Reber. Urich was eventually made Acme’s plant manager and in 1890 married Emma N. Mattes. Urich remained with Reber’s business enterprise which experienced a number of named changes during the ensuing years from Metropolitan Cycle Co. to Acme Cycle Co., to the American Bicycle Co. and finally the Reber Mfg. Co.

In 1902, Reber’s long-time friend Harry C. Urich took a job with the Fleetwood Foundry & Machine Company, remaining with the firm until it was destroyed by fire in late 1904. Shortly thereafter a 3-story frame structure adjoining the East Penn Railroad siding on W. Franklin St. was leased to the Reading Metal Body Co. and Urich joined Reber and his partner Charles S. Madeira, as plant manager and treasurer.

The July 26, 1905 issue of the Reading Eagle announced that the firm had leased a portion of the former Schaeffer & Merkel foundry bordering the East Penn Railroad in Fleetwood:

“Fleetwood News:

“A New Industry

“The Reading Metal Body Company, who will locate in the large warehouse of the old foundry (Schaeffer & Merkel foundry), has a number of men at work getting things in shape. A new boiler and engine were erected and they expect to start work about Aug 1.”

The List of Charters of Corporations Enrolled in the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth during the two years beginning June 1, 1905 and Ending May 31, 1907 reveals the firm was re-incorporated in Reading on August 5, 1905:

“READING METAL BODY COMPANY—Fleetwood, August 5, 1905. Capital, $25,000. The manufacture of iron or steel or both, the manufacture and sale of automobiles and parts thereof, castings, machinery, tools, specialties of iron and steel and other iron, steel or metal products of similar or cognate character.”

Reading Metal Body specialized in composite aluminum-bodied limousines, town cars and closed bodies and most of its early work was for regional automakers which included Chadwick, Duryea, Matheson, and Palmer-Singer.

In early 1907 James C. Reber took a haitus from his responsibilities in Fleetwood to return to Reading and take charge of the floundering Keystone Wagons Works, a firm deeply indebted to the Reading National Bank of which his father served as president, the March 1907 issue of the Carriage Monthly reporting:

“Manufacture of High-Grade Wagons.

“The Keystone Wagon Works, Reading, Pa., have elected the following officers: Edward C. Nolan, president; Robert E. Brooke, vice-president; John L. Coxe, secretary and treasurer, and James C. Reber, general manager. It is the purpose of the Keystone Wagon Co. to continue in the manufacture of high-grade wagons, together with the manufacture of automobile bodies, which business Mr. Reber, the new manager, has been in for a number of years, being the president and general manager of the Reading Metal Body Co.”

The April 23, 1907 issue of the Reading Eagle announced Reber’s appointment as manager of the Keystone Wagon Works to the locals:

“Keystone Wagon Works Making Auto Bodies.

“A busy industry is the Keystone Wagon Works, at Third street and the Lebanon Valley Railroad. About a month ago the manufacture of auto bodies was started and a large number of them are turned out weekly. This is an entirely new line and has proved quite a success.

“James C. Reber is the manager of the plant. He assumed charge about a month ago. Mr. Reber has had considerable experience in the manufacture of auto bodies, having a plant at Fleetwood. It is the intention of management of the works to eliminate the manufacture of light buggies and heavy coal wagons and to manufacture only business wagons and auto bodies. Every department is working full handed and the outlook is very encouraging.”

The decision by Keystone Wagon’s directors to abandon their lucrative coal wagon was a bad one. Demand for composite automobiles bodies was much lower than anticipated, and the additional loss of revenue caused by the cessation of coal wagon production sent the firm into the December 1907 edition of The Carriage Monthly reported on the firm’s November bankruptcy filing:

“Keystone Wagon Works Succumb.

“The wagon department of the Keystone Wagon Co., Reading, Pa., has been shut down indefinitely, according to report. The company's action affects 200 men. The automobile department is still in operation, along conservative lines. James C. Reber, general manager of the company, when interviewed by the local press, is reported to have said: "Our customers have asked us to defer shipment on their orders for several months, and this has left us with very few orders on hand for immediate shipment. This will affect 200 employees. We are going very slow in the manufacture of our automobile bodies, this department employing 30 men."

The December 2, 1907 issue of the Altoona Mirror announced the details to the local populace:

“Reading, Pa., Dec. 2. - John L. Coxe has been named as receiver of the Keystone Wagon works of this city, a corporation capitalized at $400.000.”

In a March 1, 1909 appeal (First National Bank of Reading v. Ferguson, Appellant) of a $2,500 judgment against him, Nathaniel Ferguson claims he was against the decision to convert the plant over to automobile body production. However the court found otherwise and affirmed the judgment for the First National Bank of Reading finding:

“Prior to February, 1907, the wagon works had built up and was doing a profitable business manufacturing wagons. About that time, against the defendant's protest, this business was abandoned, and that of manufacturing metal bodies for automobiles entered upon. The departure proved disastrous, so that the stock pledged by the defendant (Nathaniel Ferguson) to the plaintiff (First National Bank of Reading) became worthless, entailing upon him a loss greater than the amount of his indebtedness to plaintiff. Whilst the affidavit declares that the plaintiff made the change that wrecked the wagon works, it does not allege or point to any corporate act on the part of the plaintiff corporation as in any way directing or connected with it. What is meant is obviously to be gathered from the averment that the plaintiff owning the majority of the stock was, as such stockholder, through the majority of the directors of the wagon works, in control of its business and affairs.”

The same judge had earlier issued a $9,725.50 judgment against the Wagon Works in a suit brought by its former general manager James C. Reber, the January 20, 1909 Reading Eagle reporting:

“Verdict In Favor of Mr. Reber for $9,715.50.

“After the case of James C. Reber vs. the Keystone Wagon Works, and John L. Coxe, receiver, was called for trial before Judge Endlich, a consultation between the attorneys on both sides was held, and upon agreement, the Court directed the jury to render a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $9,725.50. This was a claim for three years’ services as manager of the plant. After the receiver was appointed Mr. Reber’s services were not needed.

“The Court, however, reserved the right to the defendants to file reasons for a new trial and judgment, notwithstanding the verdict. Snyder & Zieber represent the plaintiff, while Joseph R. Dickinson and J. Bennett Nolan, are counsel for the defendants.”

A news story in the March 2, 1909 Reading Eagle detailing an offer for Keystone Wagon’s assets reveals the financial condition of the firm at the time of its failure:


“Receiver Asks Court For Permission To Sell - Enters Into Agreement – Hearing on April 5.

“J. Bennett Noland and Joseph R. Dickinson, attorneys for John L. Coxe, receiver of the Keystone Wagon Works, filed a petition for an order of sale of the assets of the insolvent defendant in the equity proceedings between Hoopes Brothers & Darlington Inc., stockholders and creditors of the Keystone Wagon Works, plaintiff, and the Keystone Wagon Works, defendant.

“Judge Stevens fixed Monday, April 5, as the time for the final hearing and granted a rule on all creditors, stockholders and parties interested, to show cause why the request should not be granted.

“Appraised at $143,380.30

“The petition states that Mr. Coxe was appointed receiver for the plant Nov. 29,1907. Appraisers were appointed and they made an inventory of the defendant company’s assets, which shows them to amount to $143,380.30, made up as follows: Cash on hand, bank and office, $227.88; book accounts receivable, $23,861.21; machinery, tools and fixtures, $10,039.40; merchandise and manufactured materials, $64,251.81; reals estate, $45,000.

“The liabilities are represented as being $231,766.70, including a mortgage of $40,000.

“Present Financial Condition

“The receiver sets forth that he was authorized by the Court to employ labor and operate the plant in order to realize the greatest possible value out of the stock at hand.

“The petitioner, Mr. Coxe, sets forth that he operated the factory, worked up much of the material on hand, and paid the expenses incurred, to the present time. The assets in the hands of the receiver at this time, he states, are: Cash on hand $23,135.61: book accounts receivable, including notes, $32,411.73: machinery, tools and fixtures, $10,039.40: merchandise and manufactured materials, $35,000: real estate, $45,000: total, $145,886.74.

“The receiver avers that at the present time he owes for merchandise and supplies purchased by him, $4,270.48, and has paid, in addition to operating expenses, $2,810.89, for preferred claims against the wagon works, such as wages, taxes, tec.

“The petitioner says that the estimate of materials and supplies on hand is based upon the valuation made by the appraisers, and that he believes if a sale is forced, he believes much less than the appraised value will be realized, as much of the material has no ready market.

“Thinks It Should Be Sold

“He believes that thus far the operation of the plant has been to the advantage of the estate, but will not be so any longer, since he is unable to get a sufficient number of desirable customers for the produce of the plant.

“Receives an Offer

“Mr. Coxe further represents that he has received from George Brooke, jr., of Birdsboro, the following offer: For real estate and machinery, $10,000, the conveyance to be made subject to the mortgage of $40,000, now held by the Penn’a Company for the Insurance of Lives and Granting Annuities, of Phila., with interest from Nov. 1, 1908, and subject to sewer liens to the extent of $448.56: for the stock and merchandise on hand, $30,000.

“The petitioner claims that, although this offer for the realty and machinery is $4,000 less than the combined appraised value, it is a fair price and more than can be realized upon a public sale.

“He says further, that although the building and machinery are appraised separately, they cannot be sold separately unless a bid for the real estate can be procured, sufficient to pay off the mortgage.

“To Assume Contracts

“The petition avers also that Mr. Brook will assume the contracts entered into by the receiver and relieve him and the estate in his hands from all possibility of loss by reason of further operation. Mr. Brooke, it is represented, will purchase from the receiver all policies of insurance now in force, for the unexpired term.

“The sale, if consummated, is to take effect from March 1, 1909. The petition states that the receiver has entered into an agreement for the sale of the plant, material and supplies, in accordance with the terms of the offer, subject to the approval of the court.”

On April 10, 1909 Judge Stevens approved the sale, the May 1909 issue of the Hub reporting:

“Sale of Keystone Wagon Works Confirmed.

“A reorganization was effected by the Keystone Wagon Works April 10. The court, on motion of J. Bennett Nolan and Joseph R. Dickinson, made absolute the rule in the application for an order of sale granted receiver John L. Coxe, to show cause why the plant should not be sold to George Brooke, Jr., of Birdsboro. The latter paid $40,000 for the plant, which the receiver deemed a better price than could be realized at public sale.”

The 1909 edition of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Charters of Incorporation listed the following transaction:

“KEYSTONE VEHICLE COMPANY— Reading, May 4, 1909. Capital, $75,000. Manufacturing, buying and selling of vehicles and the component parts thereof.”

A letter from its general manager, John L. Coxe, appeared in the June 1909 issue of Carriage Monthly:

“Keystone Vehicle Co. Reading, Pa., May 10, 1909.

“As successors to the business of the Keystone Wagon Works, Reading, Pa., we deem it advisable to acquaint you with the condition of the new company.

“On April 5th the new company purchased the manufacturing plant, including ground, buildings, machinery, stock and orders formerly owned by the Keystone Wagon Works The same management and the same force of employees which have been so successfully operating the plant during the last year and a half will be retained intact. The new company is composed of some of the most influential citizens of the city of Reading and its vicinity, and have been provided with adequate capital for carrying on a new and enlarged business.

“The new company starts out entirely free from any current indebtedness, such as bonds, notes, preferred stock or merchandise bills owing, its sole encumbrance being an old mortgage upon their manufactory, which it is not deemed good or economic policy to pay off at this time. The new company will start out with all the assets of the old company and a far larger cash capital, and will have none of the liabilities of the old company, except the mortgage already referred to.

“It will be our settled policy to promptly discharge all obligations incurred and to discount all bills. We will inaugurate a policy toward our customers of filling all orders entrusted to us with promptitude and satisfaction. It will be our constant endeavor to merit your future patronage by the high standard of the results which we will obtain and by the celerity with which we hope to obtain them.

“Trusting that this statement will put the condition of the Keystone Vehicle Co. before you with satisfactory clearness and that our future dealings with you may be such as will merit your approval and continuation, we remain,

“Very sincerely yours, (Signed,) John L. Coxe, General Manager.”

Shortly thereafter the 100 hands of the Keystone Vehicle Company resumed business in the former 4-story brick, 200’ by 225’ Keystone Wagon Works plant located at 500-520 N. Third Street, Reading, adjacent to the Lebanon Valley Railroad. The firm’s officers included: Edward C. Nolan, president; G. Stanley Hendel, secretary; John L. Coxe, treasurer and manager. The reorganized firm was mentioned in the September 1909 issue of The Hub:

“Reorganized Company Doing Prosperous Business.

“According to an article in a local paper the Keystone Vehicle Co., successors to the Keystone Wagon Co., at Reading, Pa., is doing an unusually prosperous business. The company has over 200 hands on its pay rolls, and several departments of the plant are working overtime. Nearly all of the old hands of the Keystone Wagon Works are employed and many new ones.”

The March 1910 issue of Carriage Monthly announced a new slate of officers had been elected at the firm’s annual board meeting:

“The board of directors of the Keystone Vehicle Co., Reading, Pa., have chosen the following officers: President, Edward C. Nolan; general manager, John L. Coxe; assistant general manager and superintendent, H. P. Burmeister; treasurer, W. L. Davis. The company are now employing 210 hands and have sufficient orders booked to keep the plant going steadily until August. The firm are turning out large numbers of touring car and taxicab bodies.”

The taxicab bodies were being supplied to the Duryea Power Co., another Reading firm whose factory was located across town at the intersection of River Road and Hockley Street. The March, 1911 issue of The Carriage Monthly announced John L. Coxe's resignation due to ill health:

“Resigns from Keystone Vehicle Co.

“Announcement has been made that John L. Coxe has resigned his position as secretary and general manager of the Keystone Vehicle Co., Reading, Pa., on account of ill health. His resignation will take effect on March 1st. and in the meantime his successor will be chosen. He says he has nothing in view except to take a complete rest. Mr. Cox once acted as receiver for the old Keystone Wagon Works and was later appointed to his present office in the new company. Under his management the business has prospered.”

In addition to its well-known ‘high-lift coal wagons’ Keystone now offered a complete line of commercial bodies for both horse-drawn and motor-driven conveyances, the November 1911 issue of Carriage Monthly reporting on the firm’s 30th anniversary:

“Thirty Years of Good Wagon Building

“It is now more than thirty years since the Keystone Vehicle Co.. Reading, Pa., began the manufacture of a class of work for which they have become especially well known to vehicle buyers throughout the country. We refer, of course, to the Keystone express, panel delivery and high lift coal wagons.

“It is natural, after more than thirty years' experience in this line, that the company should feel that a point of excellence has been reached where their wagons are in every respect worthy of the confidence of both dealer and consumer. It has been their aim to excel in material, workmanship, style and finish, and their vehicles stand today in the foremost ranks of the good grades of wagons.

“The proof that their products are giving the best of satisfaction is furnished by an inspection of the two cuts shown herewith. The concern that gives good service and value for money is the one that grows and enlarges its plant. While a very small building sufficed at the start, it will be seen that it requires an extensive and finely equipped group of factory buildings to supply the present big demand for Keystone vehicles.

“The 1912 catalog of this company is just off the presses, and is now being distributed. The full line of express delivery wagons, panel delivery wagons, milk and coal wagons and other specialties are shown in fine illustrations and fully described in the text.”

The December 1911 issue of Carriage Monthly provided further details of the firm’s new 76-page catalog for 1912:

“The Keystone Vehicle Co., Reading, Pa., summarizes it achievements of the past thirty years in a handsome catalog of 76 pages. Besides the full line of Keystone wagons and wagon and automobile bodies, this factory also produces the celebrated Keystone ‘high-lift’ coal chute wagons, which are said to be made in a most substantial manner.”

The February 1st, 1912 edition of the Reading Eagle reveals business was so great that overtime had become necessary:


“Sufficient Orders On Hand to Keep Plant Busy for Six Months.

“The Keystone Vehicle Company, whose plant is located at Third Street and L.V.R.R., are the manufacturers of the Keystone delivery wagons, and high lift coal wagons. They also manufacture about 1,500 auto bodies a year. Their wagons are sold from coast to coast and they have just closed a deal to build for the Crew & Levick Oil Company, their tank vehicles.

“They have issued their 1912 catalogue. Many new features of construction and style have added greatly to their popular line.

“The plant employs 225 hands and is running 60 hours per week and some departments make from 70 to 80 hours per week.

“The managed stated that they have enough orders on hand to run the factory for the next six months. They keep a number of delivery, milk, bread and general purpose wagons on hand, ready for immediate delivery. The company has established a repair department for wagons and automobile bodies.”

A new slate of directors was elected at the firm’s annual board meeting, the February 1913 issue of Carriage Monthly reporting:

“Directors of the Keystone Vehicle Co., Reading, Pa., elected at the annual meeting January 14th, are as follows: Robert E. Brooke, George Brooke, E. C. Nolan, J. Bennett Nolan, J. L. Coxe, F. D. Burmeister, H. John Erb, H. P. Burmeister. Directors reorganized as follows: H. John Erb, president; H. C. Burmeister, secretary and general manager; J. E. Ely, treasurer.”

Late in the year, the firm’s management attempted to reduce its mechanics’ wages by 10%, a move which resulted in a strike, the January 1914 issue of the Machinists’ Journal reporting:

“There was a strike In the Keystone Wagon Works at Reading, Pa. What, a strike? Yes, a real strike. They weren't striking for more money, either; no, sir; they only wanted to keep what they had, $9 per week, and not a 10 per cent reduction, as was desired by the Keystone Wagon Works Co. They didn't want any more; they wouldn't have gotten it if they did, and some of them didn't deserve that much, to my way of thinking.”

The strike coincided with the installation of an improved Grinnell wet and dry automatic sprinklers and fire extinguishing apparatus.

Its 1916 advertisements stressed their range of ‘standardized automobile bodies’, a display ad in the December 20, 1915 issue of The Automobile stating:

“Keystone Automobile Bodies for 1916

“We have standardized a wide range of types and styles in automobile bodies.

“These are custom-built in every sense of the word. They go far beyond the car builder’s standards in point of style, workmanship and appointments. And for the man who wants his car to possess distinctive lines and refined elegance, they are beyond compare, yet well within reasonable price limits.

“Keystone Vehicle Company, Reading, Pa.”

The February 20, 1916 issue of the Reading Eagle made a small mention of the firm:

“Keystone Vehicle Company

“Excellent samples in the way of design and construction of automobile bodies are shown as the finished products are turned out by the Keystone Vehicle Company, Inc., 500 to 520 North Third Street. The company has been specializing in this line of work. For some time past the concern has been furnishing specially built bodies for auto trucks to merchants. Some elaborate upholstering effects are noticed in the interior work of the pleasure body designs.”

Although Keystone Vehicle often made reference to having 200 to 300 employees, the Industrial Directory of Pennsylvania census only found 93 workers when they inspected the plant during 1916:

“Keystone Vehicle Co 500-526 N. 3rd St., Reading, Berks. 93 employees, mfrs carriages, wagons and parts.”

The firm was awarded a number of contracts during World War I, the May 23, 1918 issue of The Automobile reporting:

“Contracts Awarded by Ordnance Department

“WASHINGTON, May 17—Following is a list of contracts and purchase orders included in the awards placed by the Ordnance Department on May 11, 1918:

“Keystone Vehicle Co., Reading. Pa.; tops for drivers' seats, trucks.”

William Bradford Williams’ “Munitions Manufacture in the Philadelphia Ordnance District”, presented a complete list of items manufactured by the firm for the War effort:

“KEYSTONE VEHICLE CO., E.T. Preston president (now Daniels Motor Co.)

“The Keystone Vehicle Co. (later Daniels Motor Co.), of Reading, Pa., during the World War were designers of the special drivers' tops for the Nash Quad. They supplied 500 for overseas shipment for the Engineering Division of the Army, and received orders for 1,200 from the Ordnance Department. “The Keystone Vehicle Co. also furnished other manufacturers with samples, as models from which to build their tops.

“Another contract was received by them for 500 tops from the Engineering Division for overseas shipment.

“In addition to the above they designed and built sample tops for the Dodge Repair Truck, the five and ten-ton tractors and the artillery.

“Also seventy-five Class B bodies on an order for 500, which order was cancelled by reason of the Armistice. The company had other orders, as sub-contractors, for 250 bodies for limbers and caissons.

“As many as 350 employees worked, at one time, on war production.

“The regular line of the Keystone Vehicle Co. (now the Daniels Motor Co.) is high grade pleasure automobile bodies.

“The War Executive Personnel follows: Geo. E. Daniels, President and General Manager; W. S. Eaton, Superintendent (later succeeded by Sydney Atterby); F. W. Sheadle, Purchasing Agent; A. W. Zechman, Shipper.”

Post war records indicate Keystone was awarded $11,250 in truck body contracts and after arbitration was awarded an additional $8,345.45 in compensation for the completed goods. Report to Congress of claims adjusted under act of Congress approval Mar. 2, 1919, entitled “An act to provide relief in eases of contracts connected with the prosecution of the war, and for other purposes”.

Since its inception (formed June 25, 1915), Reading's Daniels Motor Car Company, had been one of Keystone Vehicle's best customers so it came as no surpoise when its wealthy president, George E. Daniels, purchased a controlling interest in Keystone Vehicle during 1918 and in the Spring of 1920 merged both operations into the Daniels Motor Co., the May 22, 1920 issue of Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record reporting:

“MOTOR CAR COMPANIES MERGED - The Daniels Motor Car Company and the Keystone Vehicle Company have been merged under the name of the Daniels Motor Car Company and will continue to manufacture the Daniels car in Philadelphia, on a production schedule of 1,500 cars a year. George E. Daniels, formerly manager of the Oakland Motor Car Company, is president; Neff E. Parish, vice-president, and Warren Davis, secretary and treasurer.”

Manufacturing of the Daniels auto began in the Mount Penn Stove Works near 3rd and Greenwich Streets, and in 1920 moved across the street to the former Keystone Vehicle Works at 300-320 N. Third St.

The June 10, 1920 issue of Iron Age reported that Daniels had purchased a 6-acre parcel in Philadelphia, which was to be used for a new factory:

“The Daniels Motor Co., Reading, Pa., has been organized to take over the plants and business of the Daniels Motor Car Co. and the Keystone Vehicle Co., both of Reading. The company recently acquired about six acres at Hunting Park Avenue and Westmoreland Street, Philadelphia, and has plans under way for a number of buildings. It is proposed to develop a capacity of 1,500 high-grade pleasure cars during the coming year.”

© 2013 Mark Theobald for







Beverly Rae Kimes & Henry Austin Clark - Standard Catalog of American Cars: 1805-1942

Lauren Suter - Daniels 8; Antique Automobile, Vol. 18 no. 1; Spring 1954 issue;

The Dauntless Daniels - Dec. 1974 issue of Car Classics 

John W. Leonard - Who's Who in Pennsylvania: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporaries, pub. 1908

Morton L. Montgomery - Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania, pub. 1909

Biographical Publishing Co. - Book of Biographies, Biographical Sketches of Leading Citizens of Berks County Pa., pub. 1898

Atlantic reporter, Volume 73, July 8 - October 8, 1909, pub. 1909

Herbert Ridgeway Collins - Presidents On Wheels, pub. 1969

Keystone Vehicle Company - Pennsylvania Heritage, Fall 1986 issue, pp28

Keystone Vehicle Works Factory – Passing Scene, Historical Society of Berks County, Pa.,Vol. 16 pp 34

Keystone Wagon & Carriage Works – Passing Scene, Historical Society of Berks County, Pa.,Vol. 16 pp 51 

Industrial and Commercial Resources of Pennsylvania, pub 1887

William Bradford Williams - Munitions Manufacture in the Philadelphia Ordnance District, pub 1921

Howe B. Willis - The Motor Car Industry, Spur, May 15, 1922 issue

"Daniels Eight of Strong Construction" The Automobile, October 21, 1915 issue

"The Cars of 1916" The Motor, January, 1916 issue

Sergeant John F. Brennen - Automobile Identification, pub. 1924

D.W. Burrell - Memorandum of D. C. Peck on a letter of D. W. Burrell's

Floyd Clymer - A Treasury of Early American Automobiles, Floyd Clymer, Los Angeles, 1950

Lauren Suter - Daniels 8; Antique Automobile, Vol. 18 no. 1; Spring 1954 issue;

The Dauntless Daniels - Dec. 1974 issue of Car Classics 

John W. Leonard - Who's Who in Pennsylvania: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporaries, pub. 1908

Morton L. Montgomery - Historical and Biographical Annals of Berks County, Pennsylvania, pub. 1909

Biographical Publishing Co. - Book of Biographies, Biographical Sketches of Leading Citizens of Berks County Pa., pub. 1898

Atlantic reporter, Volume 73, July 8 - October 8, 1909, pub. 1909

Herbert Ridgeway Collins - Presidents On Wheels, pub. 1969

Keystone Vehicle Company - Pennsylvania Heritage, Fall 1986 issue, pp28

Keystone Vehicle Works Factory – Passing Scene, Historical Society of Berks County, Pa.,Vol. 16 pp 34

Keystone Wagon & Carriage Works – Passing Scene, Historical Society of Berks County, Pa.,Vol. 16 pp 51 

Industrial and Commercial Resources of Pennsylvania, pub 1887

William Bradford Williams - Munitions Manufacture in the Philadelphia Ordnance District, pub 1921

Paul A. Cube – Wagon-Making In the United States During the Late-19th Through Mid-20th Centuries,  pub. 2005

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