Recently, I went to Branson, Missouri and was lucky enough to stumble across a new military museum, appropriately titled, the Veterans Memorial Museum. Another retired army buddy of mine from Florida, Bob Hodges, joined me on the tour. One of the items that caught my eye at the museum was a perfectly restored, Military Airborne Model 53, Cushman scooter. It was an authentic airborne scooter, right down to the oil leak! Little is written about these scooters, so I thought it would be fun to assemble what I could find, publish it and ask you, our readers, to provide more information and photos for a future article.
First, I think it is best to provide a little history on the Cushman scooter. Everett Cushman and his cousin, Clinton, began their first business together producing farm engines, thus the founding of Cushman Motor Works around 1901-1902 in Lincoln, Nebraska. In order to sell more engines, Cushman installed one of the motors on a scooter, which began the scooter era for Cushman. They built two-wheel and three-wheel scooters from 1936 through 1965 for the public and the military. This lasted until the Japanese motorcycle imports began. They sold under additional names, such as Sears and Allstate and had slight modifications as in the step-thru models, which can be found today in many modern-named scooters. Probably the most famous Cushman was the Eagle, which started production around 1950-1951 and lasted until 1965. Many different models were manufactured, including three-wheel and four-wheel vehicles. Cushman is still in production in Lincoln, Nebraska, but they now produce industrial-type vehicles.
While fighting for freedom in World War II, a need for small, but quick transportation, which could be airdropped, was identified. This need was to fulfill a gap for quick and immediate exchange of communications between frontline airborne units and their rear headquarters organization, which was usually located behind the combat units by a few miles. Since the U.S. Army was already using Cushman scooters with the Cushman Husky engine at military facilities during WW II, they already had a good idea what they wanted for the airborne units. So, the U.S. Army Ordinance Corps put out a request to the automotive industry to design and produce a foldable, lightweight paratrooper transport scooter that was simple to operate, easy to maintain and could survive the impact of being airdropped.
A couple of military scooter models were quickly introduced - the United States Cushman with a channel iron frame and the United Kingdom Welbike. The Cushman civilian version pre-dated the war, and the Welbike was redesigned after the war and sold for civilian use as the popular Brockhouse Corgi. Even though they were cheap to buy, they were unpopular with the paratroopers, as the scooters were very unreliable, quite slow, and had a history of failing to start or breaking down within yards of the airborne unit’s drop zone. The paratroopers saw the motor scooters as a novelty gimmick and not worth the effort to unpack, once they hit the ground. However, if you have ever hit the ground using a parachute from WWII, I’m surprised they even started, let alone ran!
Today, Cushman is among the most revered brand names in the industry. Since the last ones were made in 1965, these scooters are not widely available, with the newest model being over thirty-nine years old. Their following is so faithful, that there are still a number of organizations devoted to the history and preservation of these scooters. A few lucky collectors even have some original models on display.
If you have any additional photographs or historical information on these scooters being used by the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions during WWII, please e-mail the information to me.