(first posted 2/4/2014) Every Father’s Day, there is a very nice free car show in Noblesville, Indiana. There is a pleasant variety of things there besides the usual overabundance of muscle cars. The year before last, I was leaving the show when something made me stop. It was this truck, slowly idling its way into the show, a fairly late addition for the day. There was something about this big old monster that turned it into a sort of diesel pied piper, and I could not resist turning around and following it as it played its tune. I have been to a lot of car shows, and have occasionally seen an old semi tractor on display, but I have never gotten to walk behind one as it meandered through the crowd and found a place to park. But I have now, and here it is.
Growing up in the midwest, I do not ever recall seeing a Brockway truck, although they surely traversed my state from time to time. My first reaction was to offer these shots to Paul Niedermeyer, knowing that he is more of a big truck guy than yours truly. He recalled seeing Brockways around Baltimore, so perhaps they had more of an east coast presence. Paul, however, passed on the pictures. He indicated a need to first finish writing up all of his own CC finds. After figuring out that Paul would never get to this one until shortly after his 104th birthday, I decided to keep it for myself. And then pretty much forgot about it. Until someone said something about big truck week at CC. Rats, I thought, now I have to find out something about this crazy orphan truck.
Just what, exactly, was a Brockway? Wiki tells us that it was an old-time maker of trucks in Cortland, New York that transitioned from carriages to trucks around 1909. The company stood on its own until it was purchased by Mack in 1956, and continued as a separate division under Mack until 1977. I suppose that Mack was a natural to take over, since truck manufacturers who used dogs as hood ornaments probably have an unwritten code to stick together. However, eventually the Bulldog put down the poor old Huskie, and Brockway went away.
It turns out that there is a bit more to the story than the Wiki version. A bit of digging on the web turns up an organization that celebrates these trucks, and its website (which can be found here) is a treasure trove of information on this old-line manufacturer. Brockway is a rather obscure brand among big rigs, but was well known in the states around its central New York home base. Although started as a carriage maker in 1875, the company’s 1909 conversion to motor trucks ensured its survival as the twentieth century got underway.
Brockway’s history seems to have intersected with quite a few other companies. Brockway bought the Indiana Motor Truck Co. of Marion, Indiana in 1928, thus providing this Hoosier with a little more enthusiasm for the brand. It was around this same time that a former executive of the White Motor Company took over as President. A merger with Autocar was planned, but was called off due to the stock market crash of 1929. The ensuing depression took Brockway from $15 million in annual sales to bankruptcy. These financial difficulties forced the company to sell the Indiana operation to White, which closed the Marion, Indiana facility in 1932.
By 1935, several new models were added, most of which would stick around into the 1950s. After some fat years of wartime contracts, Brockway would continue to custom-build a small number of trucks every year (strictly to order), never really straying from its base in the northeastern states. This 260 model was introduced in 1946, and would become one of the company’s most popular. As the postwar era progressed, Brockway remained a very small player, holding around 0.2% of the market. However, its trucks were highly regarded workhorses.
The mid 1950s brought the small company to reality and talks were started with multiple companies for possible mergers or alliances, including White and Continental Engine Co. As it turned out, Brockway made a good partner for the ailing Mack Trucks, Inc., a combination that solidified both companies for the next two decades. Mack could concentrate on the mass market, while Brockway continued with its more specialized focus. It was around this time that Brockway introduced the Huskie mascot, providing a compliment to the Mack Bulldog and fitting the personality of its trucks, often found plowing snow in the harsh winters of the New England and Mid Atlantic states.
Brockway eventually became a victim of its small size, its autonomous relationship within Mack, and the kinds of labor troubles that seemed to proliferate in the 1970s. Although the company was working its way out from under the 1974-75 recession, labor troubles resulted in a 1976 strike. Unfortunately, the strike backfired, resulting in the closure of the Cortland plant and the end of Brockway trucks, the last of which was built in 1977 to fulfill the company’s last active order.
The owner of this particular truck, a retired trucker (of course) who restored it, told me that it is a 1957 model and was happy to let me climb up to take some interior shots. The office of this rig has a charming old-school look about it that is remarkably stylish yet austere, all at once. The owner did relate that these old over-the-road trucks were all business and quite a workout compared to newer units, which are much more comfortable and easier to drive. I could certainly imagine that a man would earn his paycheck by muscling one of these big trucks through the dense traffic of the Eastern seaboard. Still, how many other truckers got to spend all those hours gazing at that beautiful steering wheel with its full chrome horn ring?
The Cummins powerplant seems to be an update, as my research indicates that these trucks were probably equipped with Continental engines in this era. But, the Cummins power seems right given Brockway’s long-ago Indiana connection.
As it turns out, I am glad that Paul demurred on my offer of these pictures, as I learned quite a lot about these interesting trucks. If this little summary has whetted your appetite for all things Brockway, be aware that there is an annual summertime national Brockway truck show in Cortland, NY that is put on by the Brockway Truck Preservation Association. But until then, enjoy this brief taste of a little-known workhorse of the northeastern U.S. that has become a hoosier Huskie in its retirement.