Live Auctions

Navy Wrecker – 1942 Sterling Chain Drive Truck

First impressions:  imagine what Jay Leno could do with this! Thanks to reader Matt W. for spotting this neat World War II-era Sterling chain drive truck located in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts and offered here on craigslist. Several comments in this thread on discuss the popularity and advantages of chain drive including greater ground clearance and strength for off-road applications. This Sterling appears to be an HCS model similar to this one on where you can peruse 158 pictures showing many details of a wrecker with the body attached.

Sterling supplied the American military with trucks during both world wars, and their production peaked in the 1920s (thanks to for some details). The seller identifies this one as a World War II vintage “Navy tow truck,” but all the pages I researched call them “wreckers,” which sounds way cooler. This truck’s Dual Tandem chain was as tough as they come, at least compared to the single chain versions.

This video shows a similar restored truck, and near the end you can see the huge chains as the truck drives away near the end. The seller identifies the our feature truck’s engine as a “Waukesha gas engine,” and many are documented on, where the long list of engines fitted to HCSx models barely narrows it down much, especially with no engine picture. I suspect the cab and chassis demand a fraction of the price with original body. Truck experts can comment below regarding the asking price of $13,900. I’ve seen some mighty find automotive machinery sell for less than that, but I’m no Sterling truck hunter. What do you think of this interesting piece of trucking history?


  1. Mountainwoodie

    That thing is a monster! Park that in your driveway in suburban America and watch the neighbors go bonkers!

    Like 1
  2. geomechs geomechs Member

    They were big trucks, designed for big jobs. I can imagine that 8 hours in one of them would separate the men from the boys. I have no doubt that they would have to be carrying at least a four ton payload before they’d even hint at keeping from shaking your fillings out.

    Like 1
    • Nova Scotian

      Haa! That front bumper alone adds about 1ton! Lol. Hell, it even has suspenders to help carry that load…about the weight of a Ford Focus!
      Love it!

      Like 1
    • packrat

      Yep. Driving one of these as a serviceman for a rushed week over artillery-pockmarked territory would open you up to brand-new experiences– along the lines of, “For someone that doesn’t *actually* have a bullet wound in them, that’s an amazing amount of blood in my urine.”

      Like 1
  3. JW

    How intimidating would it be for a kid in a Focus looking in his rearview mirror at that massive bumper behind him.

    Like 1
    • Snag

      Forget about a kid in a Focus, and think of me in my 1990 Miata, Surviver driven the last 28 summers since delivery 2 April 1990, only regular maintenance

  4. Ron Bunting

    Makes rat look trucks look like the fad toys they really are .it looks like you could Swap in a cummins QSK95 . Sterling Started out as Sternberg trucks but changed it’s name during WW1 .It went out of business in 1953 before the name was used by Ford in 1997 So don’t go buying a new Sterling thinking you are getting a tough truck, it’s just a Freight liner.. LOL!.( there’s a freightliner/sterling assembly plant along my road)

    Like 1
    • Kevin W

      Ford did not use the name Sterling. Ford sold it’s heavy truck division to Daimler, who in turn rebadged the Ford Areomax “Sterling”. They did the same thing with Dodge light duty cab and chassis. Sterling has since been discontinued.

      Like 1
  5. Scott Ewing

    That has to be about the truck on the planet! I don’t know anything about them, but wow.

  6. Larry K

    Love it. Wouldn’t change a thing.

    Like 1
  7. Coventrycat

    Now that’s a proper truck.

    Like 1
  8. BiggYinn

    Is this a typo :
    I’ve seen some mighty find automotive…

    I thought the saying was mighty FINE

    Oh well thats one big ass cool as hell truck

  9. Nova Scotian

    Scary…in a fun way.

    Like 1
  10. 408 interceptor

    Anybody heard from Howard A.?

    • leiniedude leiniedude Member

      Maybe AMXSteve?

    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Howard is in the neighborhood. Not to worry.

  11. Rube Goldberg Member

    Originally, I believe chain drives were implemented, because metal technology hadn’t kept pace with the demands on large trucks, and breaking axles was a common thing. I read, the strongest way to transmit power is through a chain. They had very few advantages over axles, one advantage, I read, was ground clearance, and for some applications, they were the choice of many log haulers. Here is a typical setup for dual axles. Note the oilers, ( above drive gear and tanks on each side) a constant ritual, along with adjusting. I heard, “singing chains” is a sound you won’t soon forget. Sterling offered chain drive until they were bought out by White in 1951, but I read, Kenworth continued to offer chain drive into the early 60’s, as customers asked for them. This is a beast, but no different than operating any other class 8 truck. Probably manual steering, and a set of sticks. Aside from losing a master link clip, I’ve never had a chain break.×450/80-image_af4b61f9779ab13fa9b5ab2d51d0936fd2ba93df.png

    Like 2
  12. Joe Howell

    Many years ago I used to have an old deuce and half army truck (1958 M58 built by Studebaker) 6 with a dump bed. With a winch on the front and logging chain draped across the bumper it presented an intimidating appearance. I used it when building my house to haul stone and sand. On ocasion I would get couple of friends and cruise around with a six pack or two just see the people stare 😀

    Like 1
    • Joe Howell

      The “6” was a Rio Gold Star engine built by Continental, not Studebaker.

      Like 1
  13. chad

    Sno country liked the chain drive too.

    I C a drive shaft AND 4 chains in 1 of yer pic.
    2 me that aint the chain drive I’m familiar with…

  14. Rob M.

    Just looked up the definition of truck in the dictionary. A picture of one of these is included. Very cool.

  15. Snotty

    Big n muscular! Just the way I like my trucks.

  16. Gene

    I’ve yard driven one of the large sterling’s, Keeping in mind the warning on the dash ” No horn= No brakes!” The air line had rusted into somewhere on the frame. But for what the railroad museum used it for we never got above 2nd gear in high range. But picking turbos out of Alco RS1 locomotives was like a 1 ton wrecker pulling a car out of a ditch!

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