Two Piece Ford Truck Wheels

Since getting my F-4 I, along with a couple of truck friends, have done a lot of research on wheels for our 1948 to 1952 larger Ford trucks, models F-4 to F-6. These three models, along with the F-3, came from the factory with two part rims commonly referred to as "Widow Makers". F-3S came stock with 17" wheels while the F-4s came with 18" wheels if equipped from the factory with dual wheels in the rear and 20" if the truck came from the factory with single rear wheels. This was done to limit overloading of the trucks. I have found most F-4s with duals have 20" wheels all around, I assume many truck owners switched to the 20" wheels to increase load capacity of their trucks. The F-5 and F-6 cam from the factory with 20" wheel as standard. All of these rims were of a poor design from the factory. They are made of two almost equal halves that are assembled by lining up a notch in the rim and twisting the halves 180 degrees. These were not made like the more common multi-part rims that consist of two or three parts, one being a snap ring, either with a split or solid, that snaps to the outer edge of the rim. The rims with the snap rings are still in use today and still are serviced in many big truck tire shops. The "Widow Maker" type rims can be tricky to spot. From a casual glance they look like one piece rims because they have no outer snap ring that most people are use to seeing but if you look in the concave side of the rim you will see 1 1/2" band running the entire circumference of the rims, this is where the two parts lock together.

There's a simple way to tell if you have multi-part rims on your truck; if the rim size ends in an even number ie. 17", 20" they are multi-part. If number ends in a compound number ie. 19.5", 22.5" it is a one piece tubeless rim. 16" rims can be multi-part or one piece.

The rims are of such poor design that if they have any imperfections like rust or dents, after 50+ years of service there is bound to be some degree of deterioration, they can blow apart during inflation or deflation, even if the wheel is mounted a truck that is parked or traveling down the road. You can imagine the mess that can make. Because of the liability associated with these wheels it is very hard to find a truck tire shop that will work on them. I have heard that some states require the confiscation of the wheels if they are brought into a repair shop. They are very unsafe wheels.

During our research of these rims we have found substitutions that will work on these old Fords. All of the substitutions rims are somewhat hard to find but they are out there. Some Dodge, International Truck and Studebaker trucks of the same vintage have factory rims with the snap ring design that will work. Ford also made one piece 22 1/2" tubeless rims during this same time and were an option used mostly on school buses. Also, one piece tubeless 19 1/2" rims from RVs with M400 or M500 Dodge chassis have the same bolt pattern and will fit over the big brake drums of the old Fords. These rims are also sought after by the vintage RV crowd so there is added competition for them. All these wheels take a little looking to find but they're out there. I have one piece of advice if you are going to look for these wheels. You "Widow Makers" have some value, keep them around so when you find an old beat up truck or RV listed above with the wheels you need use your tire as replacements so the hulk you're taking them off of can be towed to the local scrap yard. This is exactly what I did when I found a set for my F-4.

Addendum:To add to this topic, in a recent issue of Vintage Truck Magazine there was an article featuring a 1948 F-4. In the article the owner mentioned he used the original Ford rims on his truck and the had an undeserved reputation and were not dangerous as long as they were fully inflated. I, along with fellow truck enthusiast Stu McMillan, wrote to Vintage Truck to voice our opinion on the danger of these wheels. I am posting the two letter we sent, along with the response from the editor of the magazine, Pat Ertel. I am doing this to present all of the information I can find on the Widow Maker rims and let you make your own decisions. Click on a image below to bring up larger image of the letter in a separate window:

Stu's letter My letter Editor's response


Last updated on May 21, 2007