AH reader and photo collector Norm Gholston recently sent along this amazing photo from 1929, so we’ve enjoyed doing some of our favorite photo detective work. Have a good look first and we’ll take it apart to learn a bit more about Wrenn Auto Delivery.
The Wrenn Auto Delivery team in front of company offices on N. Tillamook near Interstate. Photo courtesy of Norm Gholston. Click to enlarge.
First things first: Wrenn Auto Delivery is not a company that delivers autos. They were essentially an around-town trucking firm. The name “auto delivery” was an artifact of the horse-drawn earlier days when it was a novelty to have something other than a horse and carriage deliver goods. When the company started out just four years after the Broadway Bridge was built, it was a major innovation (and quicker) to have an automobile deliver your load of heavy wax paper or whatever you might be needing.
To our eye, it looks like this photo has been touched up a bit, though the sparkling chrome on the Mack truck at far right looks completely genuine. The labels “Western Wax”—referring to the Western Wax Paper Company, a major customer of Wrenn’s in 1929—have been penciled in, and the hood of the Mack on the far left looks like it’s been doctored (nice fingerprint there too, which gives us a clue about the size of the original photo). But everything else looks authentic, including the surly looking dog in the middle truck.
Wrenn Auto Delivery was started in about 1916 by Nolia Gray Wrenn and her three stepsons Moultrie, Grover and Ashby. The rise of autos—and relationships the family had with various industry sectors—probably spurred the start, combined with the family’s economic necessity. Samuel E. Wrenn, Nolia’s husband and the boys’ father, died unexpectedly in 1915 following a career in the lumber and wooden box industry.
By 1917, Nolia had bought a new truck, had a contract with the Union Meat Company, and was pioneering a whole new business model, a notable accomplishment for a woman-owned small business in the heavy industrial sector in the 19-teens. Read on:
From The Oregonian, March 25, 1917. Click to enlarge.
During the first few years, the company operated out of the family home near NW 22nd and Johnson, but by the mid 1920s Nolia had moved to the Paramount Apartments at 253 N. Broadway and the business headquarters was a garage and warehouse near today’s N. Tillamook and Interstate. In 1933, the family launched something they called Wrenn’s Auto Laundry…an early car wash for trucks and cars?
Advertisements for the company during those years referred to 155 N. Tillamook, which after great renumbering translates roughly to today’s 687 N. Tillamook. Building landmarks are hard to discern in the 1929 photo (awnings, big doorways, windows, ivy), but after much looking we think we came pretty close with this view.
The 600 block of North Tillamook, former home of Wrenn Auto Delivery. January 2018.
Nolia died in September 1952. By the mid 1970s when the trail of the business goes cold, it was operating out of the Mt. Scott area in southeast Portland. Can you tell us more about Wrenn Auto Delivery or these three great delivery trucks and their smiling drivers?