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Pennsylvania License Plate History & Images

John McDevitt, Walnutport, PA

ALPCA #4376

 

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The photos on this website, whether provided by me or other contributors, are intended for use solely on this website, and may not be otherwise used without permission.  This is a reference only website, no plate sales..


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Posting 7/23/2017

Spotted this Antique Motorcycle plate in my recent travels.  According to Tom Perri's PA Plates website, the serial number is some 1000 plates above the last reported high, suggesting that antique motorcycles are popular.  These are permanent plates with no sticker.  This current plate style was first seen on the road in June of 2013 with an expected starting point of 01000, which took the place of the white-on-purple 2- and 3-character plates with the map outline.

 


Here's the latest Omnibus plate courtesy of Ryan Battin.  No sticker — but this plate series has not yet caught up with growing list of plates without sticker wells.  Omnibus plates have always been somewhat of a mystery, but the first plates with OMNIBUS as the legend were blue-on-yellow and date back to 1974 where they started at OB-10000.  That same numerical sequence continues to this day with the plate shown here.

 


Steve Ondik snapped this photo of an Apportioned Truck plate, which happens to be  a new high number.  For additional history on PA's Apportioned Truck plates, back to their beginning, click here.

 


This is the first of its kind on this website.  It's also a personalized version of a Fraternal Association of Professional Paramedics plate.  These plates have been in use since early 2016, with 30-some plates issued.  Thanks to Tom Perri for the plate photo.

 


This nice low number West Shore EMS plate was spotted by Nick Tsilakis.  Like the Paramedic plate above, the plate frame really doesn't add to its appeal.  West Shore has had plates since 2010.  This plate was spotted by Nick Tsilakis.

 


This Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Constables plate.  This is believed to be their one-and-only plate at this time, although the plate has only been around for a few months.  Tom Perri spotted it on their website.

 

 


The long run of Pennsylvania Passenger plates has brought us up to the 1983 to 1987 period.  Toward the end of the '77 to '83 run, a new alpha-numeric serial progression emerged starting at AAA-000 and ran into the GYK series.  The '83 plates, now yellow on blue, and sporting a whole new legend, picked up at HAA-000, with the legend being "You've Got a Friend in" along the top and "Pennsylvania" along the bottom.  The only sticker well was in the lower left corner.  From the HAA-000 starting point the plates ran into the RWP-series before another change took place in 1987.  It should be noted that plates on the '77 base could still be revalidated up to the full plate replacement which began in late 1999.  The same can be said for the 1983 thru '87 plates, as both series were valid concurrently. 

If you wanted to make more of a statement, vanity plates with up to 6 characters were available.  The use of a space or a dash was also permitted, but not both.  The two plates on the far left are from Ned Flynn, while the ANITA4 plate photo is thanks to Tom Perri.  I can't speak with much authority on low number plates during this period but I do know that the lowest numbers were still under the control of the Governor.

 


Moving next to 1984 to 2000 Truck plates we have the same yellow-on-blue coloring as Passenger plates, but the legend has been flip-flopped from the previous base.  The plates also have been reduced to one sticker well, now in the lower left.  The plate alpha-numeric series continued on from the previous base, picking up in the 36000-CD series.  This CD series ran until it was in the CJ series, when it was brought to a halt.  I have a vague recollection from a news report that there was a computer issue with too many 'C's.  That does not make a lot of sense, but many news stories fail the litmus test then and now.  While I was interested in plates at the time, I didn't perform any due diligence in checking out this event.  Hopefully someone will have a better account of what actually took place and why.  To continue issuing plates a new alpha-numeric was released starting at YA-00000, the Y prefix did not change until the series hit YZ-99999, then came ZA-00000 and the Z-issue ran into the ZV series.  This plate series and the previous blue-on-yellow truck plates were were both in use simultaneously and could be renewed up to the point where the www base replaced all remaining prior issues. 

 


Posting 7/16/2017

Finally an image of a prototype Philadelphia Centurions Motorcycle Club plate.  This was forwarded to me by Bill Houser who saw it on a Phil Wenrich Facebook posting.  One would think that new organizational plates would be posted on PennDOT's Approved Special Organizations page, but it seems like their page is seldom updated.  So far no plates are in use.  I listed this plate on the Fire, EMS and Police page since this organization is police related.

 


The Penn State Alumni Association give the Nittany Lion a fresh new look.  We knew this revision was coming for a while thanks to Tom Robillard.  My guess is that the plate will have the small map outline and likely start the serial number at P/S30000.  The current high is over 29000.  This image was from the association's website.

 


It may be a little hard to read but these two Autism plates use different plate legends.  The #1 plate reads Autism Awareness.  This road shot photo was provided by Steve Ondik.  The #42 plate reads Autism Society of America and came from eBay.  Every other plate spotted on the road reads Autism Society of America; however, there were early samples and prototypes that used the Autism Awareness legend.  My guess is that the initial run of plates used the Autism Awareness legend, and later plates got Autism Society of America.  This plate type have been on the road since 2005 with almost 500 being issued.

 


Tom Robillard passed this Conserve Wild Resources - Otter plate image along.  It's a nice image of a Format 4 Otter plate.  The current high is in the R/C0X00 series.  Note sure what the life expectancy of this plate is with PA's addiction to moving everything to the visitPA family of plates.

 


Jeff Hinkle recently acquired that nice Persian Gulf War Veteran plate.  At one time there was a run of these plates with the logo inverted.  Then, as best as I can recall, the error plates were replaced with the correct plates on a number for number basis.  Click the link above to see a couple of the error plates.  Anyway, this plate is formatted correctly.  This plate type dates back to 1993, and in 2015 the plate was redesigned on the visitPA base with color graphics showing the South West Asia Service Medal.

 


Ryan Battin photographed this Official Use plate which is the new high for the series.  This particular series is for passenger vehicles, including marked State Police vehicles, and light trucks, where 2 plates are issued.  Larger trucks are issued singles from the PA-0000A series.  There are plans to switch over to the color style plate after inventories are depleted.  From a previous posting: state agencies would have the option of using their own logo in place of the coat of arms shown here.  That should be interesting with 14 universities, and numerous state government agencies.

 


As we resume adding old car plates to the history section, we start with this group of three 1953 Passenger plates, and the '55 Passenger plate next to them.  From late 1952 thru the end of 1955, which includes all of the above plates, the base was 6" by 10" before switching to the 6" by 12" as the standard size in 1956.  The '53 plates provides images of a Formats 4, 9 and 11, and the '55 plate provides an image of a Format 14 plate.  Thanks to Chuck Sakryd for the use of the '53 photos.  The '55 plate was photographed at a car show.

 


1977 Passenger saw a whole new look. The bicentennial plates were gone and were replaced with a new undated blue paint on yellow reflective sheeting.  The separator replacing the liberty bell is a medium size keystone outline and the words Keystone State embossed along the bottom.  There are sticker wells in the upper left and right corners, but no sticker the first year.  These plates were issued starting in 1977 and continued into 1984; however, plates could to be renewable up thru 2000.  Above are examples of the five serial progressions, beginning with all-numeric.  Next are three alpha-numeric formats with a single alpha character starting with a 1st position, then the 6th position, and finally the 2nd position.  Following that came a new format with 3 letters followed by 3 numbers.  The last format was actually the starting point for today's passenger plates, now with one additional digit.  Plates in order are courtesy of Chuck Sakryd, my collection, Jim and Lori Wakefield, Chuck Sakryd and George Kunsman.

Getting a vanity plate with a word or initials could now be had without being paired up with a number.  The limit at the time was 6 characters.  It was getting easier to get a low number plates as there was not such a tight control on some of the under 1000 plates.  After all, this was in the period following Watergate and the Nixon resignation.  Not every political figure was so keen to be identified as such.  The HDE plate is from my collection and likely someone's initials.  The MS-626 plate shown here is believed to be Milton Shapp's plate, but I would call this a vanity and not a political plate.  The number 2 plate continued to be used by or reserved for the Lt. Governor.  These two photos are from Eric Conner.

Here's a strange one.  DPL prefix followed by a keystone and a dash separator.  According to information received from Ned Flynn, there was a family in the Stroudsburg area some years ago that had an affinity for New York City theatre. They purchased vanity tags with DPL in an effort to appear as diplomats hoping they might receive favorable parking, and other considerations. It is still unknown how the use of the keystone separator and a dash came about, possibly some kind of favor.  This plate was previously featured on this site in 2014, and now has also been added to '77 to '84 passenger display.  The photo was from John Anshant.

 


For 1978 a new series of truck plates was issued replacing the 1972 to '78 Commercial plates.  These '78 Truck plates went back to using the word Truck as the legend, after the last two plate cycles used the term Commercial, and like the previous plates, the sticker wells were in the upper left and right corners; however, the plates went sticker-less in their first year.  The Truck serial numbers started again fresh at CA-10000 and ran thru CZ-99999.  Then the 2-letter prefix was moved to the suffix position with 10000-CA which extended into the CD series.  The C in the serial did not advance, and the adjacent letter always advanced last after the numbers.  A dash separator was used between the letters and numbers.  As a point of clarification, this section has no connection to Farm Truck and Apportioned Truck classes that had their beginnings in 1977 and 1982 respectively, and are displayed in their own sections.

 


Posting 7/9/2017

The Silver Star Medal is our nation's third highest military award, so definitely not a common sight on the road.  This is also the high number plate.  The Silver Star plate has been available since 2012.  This plate was spotted by Bruce Bufalini.

 

 


With so many other military and veterans' plate types, including U.S. Army Veteran and U.S. Army (active duty), these U.S. Army Reserve plates seem to have fallen out of favor.  These were also listed as an organizational plate, rather than a veterans' plate.  In addition there is no logo, but I've always been drawn to these stacked prefix plates with only a 4-digit serial number.  Tom Perri's PA Plates website puts the reported high at A/R1247, so when you consider the starting point at A/R1000, this is a low number plate.  PennDOT maintains an inventory of these plates, so they should still be available.  Thanks to Nick Tsilakis for sharing this photo.

 


On the far left is the first image of a Gettysburg College plate on the visitPA graphic base.  It's also a personalized or vanity version.  We've been expecting to see one of the graphic plates with a serial number, but so far nothing.  I'm not going to try guessing why.  Again thanks to Nick Tsilakis for spotting this plate.

 


This Special Mobile Equipment plate was the first of a new series with an alpha character in the prefix position and on the visitPA base.  These were issued after the previous series exhausted all available combinations upon hitting SME-999Z.  The series shown here has been around since 2013, but Brendan Sherry just spotted this first of its kind plate.

 


This Mercedes Benz Club of America number 1 plates was spotted by Colin M.  Some 85 of these organizational plates have been issued since 2010.

 

 


This is the only first generation Allegheny College plate I have seen — I live on the wrong side of the state.  Until late afternoon on 7/9 the plate is up for grabs on eBay.  Thanks to Jeff Hinkle for the use of the photo.  These plates were first issued in 1997 with some 400 plates being registered by the time that they were replaced with the www base in July of 2001.  There is no indication that the plates will be moved to the graphic colorized base.

 


Here is a beautiful unused 1951 New Car Dealer from Jeff Hinkle.  There were two serial progressions for 1951, A000A as seen here and A00A0 as shown in the image gallery.  There was also Used Car Dealer which I don't have a photo of.  The existence of a C000A Transit Dealer is still unconfirmed, we do know they were in use in '52.  The 'X' series Miscellaneous Dealer plate was in use in 1952. 

 


Jeff Hinkle shared his recently acquired 1934 Passenger plate.  This plate would be part of the Format 2 serial progression which runs from A to Z999 on a 6" x 10" base, and a longer progression of A1000 to Z9999 on a 6" x 12" base.

 


 

 

 

This group of 1952 Passenger plates provides examples of additional alpha-numeric formatting.  All of the plates except the 9LH4 plate are courtesy of Chuck Sakryd.  The 9LH4 is from Steve Ondik.  All of the plates shown above measure 6" x 11"; however, the last plate, manufactured later in the year, measures 6" x 10".

 


This low-numbered 1965 base with 66, 67, 68 and 69 stickers was supplied by Tim Gierschick, and he tells me that it was assigned to a Judge from Berks or Lebanon Counties.

 

 


For the first time since 1936, these 1971 thru 1976 Passenger car plates have gone map-less.  And in anticipation of our nations 200th birthday, passenger plates featured a replica of the Liberty Bell front-and-center on the plate, and used the caption 'Bicentennial State '76'.  After all, PA is the home of the Liberty Bell.  In 1971 ALPCA gave it the Best Plate of the Year Award.  The plates above represent the six standard issue plate serial formate for the period 1971 to 1976 beginning starting with an all-numeric format, then with an alpha character in 5 different positions.  Plates issued in 1971 had no sticker, instead had 71 lightly etched into the upper left sticker well.  Plates above from left to right are from Chuck Sakryd, Drew Steitz, my collection, Matt Ciecka, Steve Ondik and Chuck Sakryd.

And if the standard issue did not suit your fancy, a special issue plate could be yours for an additional fee.  There were all-numeric offerings from 1000 to 99999, and there were many alpha-numeric choices.  As far as I know there were no vanity plates with all letters and no numbers, and all alpha-numeric combinations used the liberty bell separator between the letters and numbers.  The 1928 plate is thanks to Steve Ondik.  The 626-MS is from Eric Conner who connects this plate with Milton Shapp, PA Governor from 1971 to '79.  For more information and details on Bicentennial plates, check Rick Kretschmer's website.

But wait, there's more.  These low-numbered plates were pretty tough to get if you weren't politically connected.  Starting with the # 2 Lt. Governor plate from Chuck Harrington.  The 85 plate is thanks to Eric Conner and 400 was provided by Jeff Hinkle.

 


Last week we covered the the 1964 to 67 Truck series with its many weight and axle classes, and each one assigned its own serial progression.  For 1968 to '71 Truck plates, this is all gone — at least it's no longer a part of the plate serial number.  A new plate serial coding system was introduced using CA-10000 as the starting point with 'C' as a non-advancing character and the second letter always advancing last after the numbers.  Not all C combinations were used such as CI, CO, CQ.  In addition all plates were now 7-characters, and the word Truck has been replaced with Commercial.  The plates have an embossed sticker well — no question where the sticker goes, and only vestiges of the state map remain.  Early plates had 68 etched into the sticker well with no sticker used in '68.  The plate shown here is from Steve Ondik.

 


For 1972 to '77 Truck plates continue to use the legend 'Commercial'.  A new series of yellow on blue plates was issued, again using CA-10000 as the starting point; however, the map outline, after many years of reshaping, has been replaced by a narrow embossed border.  Sticker wells now appear in the upper left and right corners.  Early plates had 72 etched into the upper left sticker well, stickers were then issued for 1973 thru 1977.  Plates shown are from Jeff Lawson and my own collection.

 


Posting 7/2/2017

Brand new fresh out of the envelope is this Steel Worker plate from Steve Ondik.  It appears that at the 05500 point the plate was switched over to the semi-flat color graphic edition shown here.  Plate still has the sticker well.  While these plates have the look of an organizational plate, they are actually a special class of plate brought about by legislation.

 


Over the years we've gotten used to always seeing these Person with Disability plates with 5 characters before or after the PD and wheelchair symbol.  This eye-catching plate is a vanity or personalized version, and was spotted by Tom Perri.  This one still has the renewal sticker, newer PD vanities now have the small map outline and no sticker well.

 


In 2014 I posted this Honoring Our Veterans image on the far left from an anonymous source.  Recently a contributor named Dave, sent me a link to a YouTube video.  If you are an automotive enthusiast, you may recognize the name Doug DeMuro.  Click the snap shot to watch the YouTube video, or jump ahead to the 3 minutes and 35 seconds point to see the rear of his vehicle.

 


Last week (6/25) I posted a series of photos of four very nice Philadelphia Pre-State plates from Bob Connison.  Ned Flynn pointed out where several corrections to my write-up were needed.  I rewrote the PA Pre-State section with some help from Ned, or gleaned from his February 2012 ALPCA Plates article on The Pennsylvania Pre-State Era.  Link to article.  You must be an ALPCA member to access it.  Ned has done outstanding research on the infancy and evolution of early plates here in PA.  Thank you Ned.

 


I spotted this refinished 1916 Passenger plate at a recent car show.  Not related to this plate, but while going thru '16 plates I realized that plates between 10000 and 19999 were on a 6" by 14" base, a plate size that I had previously not listed, and a format for which I have no photo.

 


These 1950 Passenger plates have been added thus providing examples of two previously open serial progressions.  Thanks to Chuck Sakryd for the use of the photos.

 

 


This group of 1951 Passenger plates has also been added to fill the serial progression gaps.  The B1257 plate was provided by Steve Ondik.  The remaining three were made available by Chuck Sakryd.

 


One additional 1958 Passenger with a 59 sticker is being added.  It is a 4-character example of what I list as a Format 8 plate which includes anything from AA00 to ZZ999.  This also falls under the broad heading of reserve issue plates which were number & letter combinations available upon request without additional cost.  This photo is thanks to Jeff Hinkle.

 


Next we move forward  to 1965 Passenger plates.  For 1965 plates were initially undated, then were renewed with annual stickers up thru 1970.  Serial progressions were much the same as '58 plates with the addition of a 00A-000 format.  The plates in order left to right are from Chuck Sakryd, Jeff Hinkle, Steve Ondik, Shawn, and Steve Ondik.

Special Issue or reserve issue plates were continued but required an additional fee.  There were so many alpha-numeric combinations available that I am not going to attempt to show them all, at least for now.  The plate shown here is thanks to Jeff Hinkle.  Note that this plate and most of the political plates below use a base with a different map outline than the standard plate.

The plates shown here, some may argue, are not true passenger plates but rather are issued to the Lt. Governor, cabinet level positions and state officials and dignitaries.  I'm not going to debate the matter, but the plates were issued for use on passenger vehicles, no matter who owns or uses them.  I have no provenance for these plates; however, I have no doubt that they were produced for the purposes described herein. The plates shown left to right are courtesy of Chuck Harrington, Jeff Hinkle, my own collection and Jeff Hinkle.

This is considered a 1970 Interim plate.  This is a very unusual passenger plate.  It is believed to have been used when the blue on yellow '65 plate stock had run out before the new '71 base could be used, which at the time was March 15.  Note the use of a '70 sticker and note this interim plate is on the non-passenger base. The plate is apparently owned by another ALPCA member who provided the image to Ned Flynn. The number series comes from the Format 1 series above, possible using some unused or dead tag numbers.  The above information and image were provided by Ned Flynn.

 


I snapped this plate on the go and was unable to get a better shot.  Anyway this 1958 Class-T Truck plate image is being added to last week's display of '58 truck plates.

 

 


The final series for this week is this group of 1964 Truck plates.  This series was used thru 1967.  Like some of the '58 plates from last week, a few of the images came from an older group photo from Kelly Brewer.  Those particular photos do not enlarge.  Here we have an S-class plate from Chuck Sakryd, U-, W- and Y-class plates from Kelly Brewer.  The last two include a ZZ-class heavy 3-axle truck plate and a YT-class 3-axle truck tractor plate — these last two uncommon plates are thanks to Clayton Moore.

 


Posting 6/25/2017

This Superior Court plate was provided anonymously.  In addition to this plate, the plate gallery has plates S/C03 (with badge), S/C06, S/C11 and S/CPJ1 (President Judge 1 with badge).  Not much is known about the history of this plate type.  Click the link above to read some additional bits and pieces of history.

 

 


This very recent image of a personalized Penn Alumni plate was photographed by Jordan Irazabal.  Note the lack of a sticker well and no map outline in its place.  This suggests that organizational plates or at least personalized ones, will not have the map outline, while standard issue vanity plates have been issued with the map outline.

 


ON JULY 2, WATCH FOR CORRECTIONS ON THIS ARTICLE WITH REGARD TO DRIVER LICENSING AND VEHICLE REGISTRATION.

They don't get any older and they don't get any nicer.  These 1903 to 1906 Philadelphia Pre-State plate images were provided by Bob Connison.  After the state passed a law requiring vehicles to show a registration number as early as 1903, and the state did not issue plates until 1906, the registration process was handled at the county level during the intervening years.  The City of Philadelphia (or County, as they are the same) began issuing 4-inch by 7-inch porcelain plates in 1903.  Eric Taylor's Porcelain Plates website (http://porcelainplates.net/) has an excellent write-up and is a must-read if you have any interest in license plate beginnings here in PA.  According to Eric, there were no single or 2-digit plates.  

 


This 3-digit 1916 Passenger plate photo was provided by Bob Connison.  1916 saw the switch from porcelain to painted steel.  The makers number was now stamped into the embossed keystone.  An aluminum keystone was only used if the plate was transferred to another vehicle.

 

 


This 1933 R-Class Truck plate was made available by eBay user rqb507.  This is the only '33 truck plate photo I have, so it does fill a gap.  These plates were yellow on dark blue and measured 6" by 15".  All plates used 6 characters with the first one or two alpha characters indicating the weight class and number of axles.  Since there was no legend identifying the vehicle as a truck, the first one or two letters and 6-character serial format identified the vehicle as a truck.

 


This beautifully refinished 1934 Passenger plate helps to fill one of the serial progression gaps. This 10-inch shorty is (or was) up for grabs on eBay, and the owner, Graham Ham of West Australia, gave me the OK to use the image.  I don't say this often enough, but one of the benefits of this plate hobby is the great people with whom you come in contact.

 


Here are a couple additional format variations to the 1944 Passenger and 1947 Passenger plates.  The 4-character '44 plate is a 10-inch shorty, and the 5-character '47 plate is a scant 1 inch wider.  Thanks to Steve Ondik for providing the photos.

 

 


Here are two more formatting additions to the 1949 Passenger run including these 4-character and 5-character photos.  For 1949 all plates were either 4 or 5 characters, and measure 11 inches.  The far left plate is from Steve Ondik and the near left plate is thanks to Chuck Sakryd.

 


The picture on the far left with one plate above the other shows the difference in die types used on 1956 Passenger plates.  The upper portion of the photo shows the thinner dies used later in the year and the lower plate shows the standard dies used up to the changeover.  Note the difference between the 4 and the 2 shown on both plates.  The M4K25 is part of what I categorize as Format 15.  I want to thank fellow ALPCA member and friend Ned Flynn for his help with these photos.

 


Here's another example of a '56 Passenger plate with '57 dies; however, it is from a different serial format than the plate shown above.  Three serial formats with '57 dies were issued concurrently.  The image is from an eBay user who did not request credit for the picture.  The left edge of the plate is clipped off.  This is how the plate was when the owner acquired the plate from another auction.

 


We're finally up to 1958 Passenger plates with lots of additional images since the first few standard issue plates were posted some months ago.  Other than the 1942 plates with the 43 tabs to aid the war effort, 1958 was the first modern plate to venture into the use of multi-year registration plates.  Initially plates were manufactured with a rectangular slot to the left of the 58 where a metal tab was planned to be affixed annually.  No tabs were ever issued and the idea was scrapped in favor of the now-familiar annual validation sticker.  Eventually the tab slot was eliminated.  Only the far left plate above shows standard formatting of six characters with a small keystone separator in the center between the 3rd and 4th characters.  The other plates shown in this group are all reserve issue which were available upon request.  The 1139 plate above is from Tim Gierschick, while the other three are from Steve Ondik.  The 312M and HF850 are from the America on Wheels Museum, 3712P is from Runkle's Notary and the 282DP is from Steve Ondik.

Keep in mind that during this period there were also Amateur Radio plates, Suburban plates beginning in 1960, and Press Photographer plates which all shared some common elements with Passenger plates.

 


I'm starting the 1958 Truck run with these two R-series that are in the same R00-0A0 serial progression.  The main difference is the earlier plate on the far left has the tab slot.  The near left plate was manufactured later which was after the tab slot had been eliminated.  These plates are from Chuck Sakryd.

Below is a continuation of 1958 Truck plates.  These photos were almost all a part of a group picture provided Kelly Brewer.  Unfortunately the original picture is not a high enough resolution to allow for larger individual photos.  As a result these photos do not enlarge by clicking them.  That's the down side.  The up side is that we now have photos of the complete RZ to ZZ series of 3-axle trucks. 

 

 

 

The ZZ class, heaviest 3-axle truck, plate from John Willard is shown here to complete the sequence.

 

For 1958 there was a new class of truck plates for truck tractors, or think of it as the truck portion of an 18-wheeler minus the trailer.  Obviously such trucks existed before, but now had their own plates series made up of WT, YT and ZT 3-axls truck tractors.  Don't know what 2-axle truck tractors used.

The last group of '58 truck plates includes these YX and ZX 4-axle trucks.  Again such trucks existed before, but were likely licensed with the heaviest 3-axle trucks.  The ZX class plate is from John Willard is shown here to complete the sequence.

 

 


 

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Images and photos are always welcome.  Please send to:

John McDevitt, Walnutport, PA

ALPCA #4376

 

 

 

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