Kurbside Kapsule: Olson Kurb Van – Energy-Packed Bread

(first posted 11/7/2017)        This Olson Kurb Van has a special place in my heart. It has sat here for as long as I’ve been shooting CCs; in fact it sat right behind the ’72 Cadillac that was the subject of my first CC, until the Caddy finally disappeared a few years back. It’s time to give the Kurb Van its 15 minutes of fame.

Here’s how these three CCs looked until recently. What an eclectic combo. I shared the Corolla Liftback with you just recently, but I’m sure I wrote it up in the past too. And sandwiched between them was that gnarly old Caddy Coupe DeVille. I really miss it.

And I was hoping to document its slow decline for decades to come. As in the growth of the moss in the trunk, and the lichens on the roof. Oh well.

I don’t think it was a happy ending, especially once the side window was smashed in. So much for that.

I’m hoping the Kurb Van has a slower decline, which may well be the case given its aluminum body and superb construction.

Olson is a storied name in vans. A NYC Chevrolet dealer, Walter Heingartner, is credited with conceiving of the aluminum-bodied step van in 1939 or so. Seeing all of the many independent laundry companies, he rightfully theorized that an aluminum body would be lighter, more efficient, and of course more corrosion-resistant. He was friends with Jimmy Olson, then head of the State Liquor Authority, who agreed with him, and happened to know “Jake” Swirbul, one of the founders of Grumman.

Grumman was the single largest producer of carrier-based planes in WW2, like this F6F Hellcat, and knew a thing or two about aluminum. After the war, it was open to new ways of using its expertise. The aluminum step van was conceived before the war, but took a bit longer to enter production. But by 1946, Grumman-Olson vans were in production, and they quickly caught on, with large fleets like UPS as well as independents.

The above paragraph was conveniently lifted from my previous CC on an older Olson Kurb Side van, which is of course the official CC van.


This was of course a Sunbeam Bread delivery truck.


Little Miss Sunbeam has faded over the decades.


Here’s how she looked in her youth.


And here’s a little blurb about her origins.


It’s been some time since the cloying odor of fresh white bread filled the back of the van. The Ford six cylinder engine is visible up there. It probably didn’t have to work very hard, as that white bread is about 92% air (and most of the balance is chemicals, dough conditioners and preservatives). Yumm!

Here’s the business end. I bet that seat got some serious work in its day. Note how the wear is of course all on the right side, where the driver slid off and on to get the bread from the back and then hop out the curbside door to deliver it.

The scourge of all hitchhikers. Not that one was ever likely to get a ride in a bread van; well, while it was still a bread van. Old vans like this were popular back in the day along with school buses as hip mobile homes, and I did get a ride in a few of them.

The driver’s rear corner is missing in action. Did someone hit it while it was parked, or did the driver back over something?

As long lasting these aluminum bodies are, the steel hardware is suffering from pretty bad rust. That might be both from the elements and/or possibly from the aluminum not being adequately insulated form the galvanized steel. I assume some galvanic corrosion is a factor between these two metals.

Unlike the Cadillac, this van has a much more secure future, given the considerable demand for vintage vans as food carts. I’m surprised it hasn’t yet succumbed to that yet. I know! The should make and sell…hipster white bread.