The DuMont Telecruiser

DuMont Telecruiser Story

By Brenda Alums
As it appeared in the Kiwanis Club Newspaper, "Ki-Notes,"  reproduced here with the author's permission.

Chuck Conrad has discovered a way of combining two of his hobbies: collecting radio and television equipment memorabilia and collecting classic cars. Conrad, a member of the Greater Lakeport Kiwanis Club, is owner of KZQX Radio at Chalk Hill (located near Longview, TX). It's not some satellite fed music service. Everything originates in Chalk Hill, Texas (near Longview) in their own studios. KZQX started out as one of the first Low Power FM stations to be authorized by the FCC to operate in Texas. The station has been on the air since September 18, 2002. In the Fall of 2009, an opportunity opened up top acquire a commercial frequency on 100.3 FM and the station moved, probably becoming one of the first, if not the first LPFM stations to make such a move.

A few years ago, Chuck discovered the existence of a Dumont Telecruiser, which is one of the very first mobile TV production vehicles ever manufactured. It was just sitting in a field near downtown Dallas. The Telecruiser was known in Dallas as the "Golden Cruiser." It was purchased originally by East Texas Oil Man Thomas Potter for his television station KBTV. In 1949, Potter's KBTV, Channel 8, on Harry Hines Boulevard, became the first television station located in Dallas. In 1950, the Belo Corporation acquired KBTV and the call letters changed to WFAA. The station is still providing news and entertainment to the Dallas area.

In 1948, Potter ordered the Telecruiser from Allen B. DuMont Laboratories, who in  turn had the Flxible (sic) Company custom build the coach in 1949. The company manufactured smaller buses, ambulances and motorcycle side cars, hence the name "Flxible." They found they could not register the name spelled correctly, so they decided to drop the "e". "They were used as mobile x-ray units and bloodmobiles," Conrad said. "This is one of the very few, if not the only, mobile units from that era left."

Potter's Flxible bus was outfitted with what was at the time, "state of the art" equipment, by Allen B. DuMont Laboratories in Passaic, N.J. DuMont was a pioneer in early television equipment on both the broadcast and consumer levels. Among his accomplishments was perfecting the TV picture tube, and operating his own TV network. He also built broadcast equipment and high end TV's for discriminating buyers.  A brass plaque in the bus reads "DuMont Telecruiser, Model B Serial No.101."

"It's probably the only Flxible Telecruiser (sic) still in existence," Conrad said. During the late 1940s and 1950s, DuMont Laboratories lead the way in radio and television technologies. Potter wanted his bus outfitted with the best broadcasting equipment available. In fact, the entire TV station was outfitted by DuMont.

The "Golden Cruiser," as it was known, was operated by KBTV and subsequently WFAA until it was put to pasture, almost literally, in 1972. "People at Dallas' Sixth Floor Museum believe the Dumont Telecruiser may have been used during part of the ABC TV/WFAA coverage of the Kennedy Assassination," Conrad said. "Even if it wasn't, there is a lot of Dallas history to it.
(Editor's Note: Friends at WFAA have provided us with some video that was actually shot from the Telecruiser. Among the clips is the J.D Tippit funeral. Officer Tippit was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy's assassin. This funeral feed was distributed as a pool feed to network stations.)

It was used by WFAA-TV well into the early 1970's." Edward Terry purchased the Telecruiser from WFAA at an auction. Conrad, in turn purchased it from the Terry Estate. "That makes us the third owner, perhaps the fourth owner, since Belo purchased the bus when they acquired Channel 8 in 1950," Conrad said. "Mr. Terry intended to turn it into a motor home, but never got that far." Terry apparently used it as a traveling store, visiting numerous flea markets with it.

"To his credit, Mr. Terry saved most of the electronics that came with the bus," Conrad said. "We are still missing quite a lot, but the equipment we got from Mrs. Terry is certainly a good start to restoring this to a working black and white TV Mobile Unit."   That's Conrad's goal: to get the Telecruiser restored to its original condition.

"At first I though it would be a three year job," he said. "That was three years ago. So now I've added three more years."

The 28-foot van, carried all the equipment, including the three cameras and the tripods used to hold them as well as all the cables and mics and other necessary equipment. It was also used as the control room.
"The equipment I got with it is 1960s vintage," Conrad said.   WFAA updated the bus about 1960, and added new devices as they went along. Original DuMont equipment is very hard, if not impossible to find. Conrad only has one camera but has parts for two others. "I'm hoping someone will call and tell me they've got some old television camera parts," he said. Conrad said the vehicle was used to cover athletic events, church services, parades and other local events.  "There was no breaking news with this vehicle," he said. "It doesn't have a generator so you had to find a power supply and it used a lot of electricity." It took a lot of pre-planning to get it into operation.  He said networks could rent it for special events, making it a profit center for the station.

The Telecruiser was not originally air conditioned, but at some point external air conditioning ducts and a unit were added. Conrad plans to return it to its original appearance, so the exposed duct work has gone away. He plans to add air conditioning, but in a more tasteful and discrete way that will not be visible to the casual observer.
 "Strangely enough, it has its original engine - a Buick straight eight," Conrad said. "It runs pretty good, considering." Most of the original engines were replaced by larger more modern units a long time ago. Very few Flxible busses still have their original running gear. Conrad and friend and fellow Kiwanian John Morgan are working on gutting the vehicle. "I want to get it a close to original inside and out as I can," Conrad said. "I want to get it painted like it was originally. I'm looking for someone with enthusiasm, willpower and the desire to do it right. This is a long-term project. Finding vendors with a passion to do the job correctly is more difficult than it might seem." After it's restored to working order, Conrad plans to display it at some well known national car shows. "I may use it as a novelty at some events, but eventually I'll be looking for a home for it in a museum," Conrad said.