Farm prospect now a major player

Trucks Article July 01, 2001
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America’s love affair with the truck can be traced back just over a century to a time when a largely agricultural nation starte

America’s love affair with the truck can be traced back just over a century to a time when a largely agricultural nation started using early automobiles as a source of mobile power on the farm and a means of moving products to market.

Some of the pioneer names in truck production were founded even before World War I. Examples include Autocar, Brockway and Diamond T, all no longer in business.

Mack Trucks, manufacturer of trucks used in road and bridge work, is very much in business today. The company just celebrated its 100th birthday.

Two Macks, William and Gus, joined their brother, Jack, in an infant Mack company which scored its first success as a maker of a sight-seeing bus used in Brooklyn, N.Y.

When World War I was making headlines, Mack’s impact on the truck business was seen in production of the rugged AC truck model which was credited with earning its bulldog nickname on the battlefields of France.

The Mack company went on to establish itself as something a little different in the truck field because it designed and made many of its own engines, axles, transmissions and other components rather than rely on outside suppliers.

Experimenting with those vehicles showed that they could ease farm work burdens—but that only gave a hint of what trucks would do on and off the farm in the future.

Outstanding service as carriers of troops and supplies in World War I and II by the Mack AC and other trucks started establishing the truck’s place as the workhorse of modern-day America.

Giant combinations of semi-trailers and powerful tractors began to refine over-the-road trucking of massive loads of freight after WW I.

The military tank, another automotive vehicle, was an early WW I novelty. It became a standard fighting machine in WW II. It proved to be the backbone of mechanized warfare and established itself as the soldier’s choice as the vehicle in which to approach an armed enemy.

Sometimes overlooked today is the military service of the GP (general purpose vehicle) in WW II which came to be called the Jeep.

In the post-WW II era, the Jeep was a leader among truck-type vehicles for personal use which became big marketing successes as sports utility vehicles (SUVs) in recent years.

There have been many quirks in truck history. Engines were pulled back under the cabs of tractors to improve truck maneuverability. Initially some people wanted to call them "engine unders" but they ended up being called "cab-over-engine trucks." But over the years a long list of vehicles has been developed from basic trucks (i.e., fire trucks, snow plows, modern emergency response vehicles) and while sales of new trucks numbered only about one for every 10 new passenger cars sold up to about 1960, new truck sales have equaled car sales in some months in recent years. The reason: Sales of light trucks—SUVs, recreational vehicles and fancy pickups—for personal transportation have multiplied out of sight.

Sure to change

Many truck features have been changed in the recent past. Automatic or automated transmissions looked like a way to get more skilled gear shifting. Drivers at first objected, calling those components "parts for sissies." Recently they have changed their view because they appreciate the help the "easy shifters" give them with their work. Radar assists and antilock features have been added to truck brakes.

Just as brakes with the antilock feature almost think for themselves, the marvels of modern electronics enable engines to keep an eye on themselves by diagnosing any problem and telling the driver or mechanic what it is.

As they have in the passenger-car field, imported models have become major factors in the truck business here. Mercedes-Benz products from Germany, Volvo models from Sweden and Isuzu offerings from Japan stand out. All three of those lines are big users of diesel power.

Hiring and retaining drivers are musts for managements of truck operating companies with the supply of skilled operators below demand. One solution has been loading trucks with features that appeal to drivers. Air-suspended seats, air-conditioning, microwaves, refrigerators and extra cab space are examples.

Many advances in truck products can boost the performance of the vehicles when used in road and bridge work. The same can be said about other machines used by readers of this magazine. Trucks have no monopoly on the best in diesel engines and are costly to develop and sell in low volume in competitive markets. Work trucks are divided into long-distance, over-the-road models and vocational units for the jobs.

Although Mack has more than a century’s experience designing trucks, the firm felt it had to add a new series of weight-saving Granite Bridge Formula models early this spring.

Market forces have reduced vocational truck producers to Chevrolet, Ford, Freightliner, GMC, International, Kenworth, Mack, Peterbilt, Sterling and Volvo, about half of whom also make light trucks. In addition, more than half make over-the-road models as well.

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TRUCK TRACKS | Roads & Bridges


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