Industry Spotlight

July 2019
History of the Brockway Motor Trucks Company
Brockway Trucks Huskie logo
WRITTEN BY:
  • Mark Harter
  • Duncan Putman
PHOTOS COURTESY OF:
  • Brockway Trucks Preservation Association.

Every year, owners of vintage trucks gather at different shows around the country to share their love and interest of classic semi-trucks. From the American Truck Historical Society National Convention to the Antique Truck Club of America Annual show in Macungie, Pennsylvania, these shows are some of the best gatherings to see the trucks that have moved America throughout the decades. Names like Mack, Kenworth, Peterbilt, International and Freightliner are common at these shows along with defunct names like Marmon, White, Diamond REO and others. But for one group of enthusiasts and an entire town in upstate New York, their truck show is dedicated to one marque and preserving a nameplate with a proud history.

With the 20th edition of the Brockway Trucks Preservation Association (BTPA) Annual Truck Show set for August 8-11, 2019 this year in Cortland, New York, we thought we'd share a quick history lesson of Brockway with our readers.

Brockway 400 Series Cabover
1972 Brockway model N361TL

Known as Huskietown USA, Cortland, New York is the birthplace and hometown of the former headquarters of the now defunct Brockway Motor Trucks company. Founded by William Brockway of Homer, New York, William was a well-respected businessman and cabinet maker. He purchased a local carriage making business in Homer with the intent of using their tooling and machinery, and began building wagons and carriages in 1875 as the Brockway Carriage Works. William's son, George A. Brockway took over the business upon his father’s death in 1889, becoming one of the largest carriage makers in the country. In 1909, George began producing trucks with chassis provided to his company by the Syracuse, NY based Chase Motor Company. In 1912, George Brockway and his brother-in-law and business partner Fred R. Thompson leased a production facility located in Cortland that was formerly occupied by the Ellis Omnibus and Cab Company. The Brockway Carriage Works was then reorganized as Brockway Motor Trucks and for nearly 70 years, Brockway produced high quality, custom built trucks until production ended in 1977.

As a small producer of trucks, and with a small market share primarily contained within the Northeast United States, Brockway provided and built trucks for municipalities and small operators in that area. Brockway Trucks were popular with these operators as the basic designs did not change much, allowing customers to keep a parts inventory on their shelves that would work on many model years. While Brockway had produced trucks for the United States effort during World War I and World War II, entering into the 1950s, Brockway sales struggled and the company began looking for a suitor. Many companies were interested, including the H&B American Machine Co, Continental, who provided diesel engines to Brockway beginning in 1954, as well as the White Motor Company who had purchased Sterling in 1951 and Autocar in 1953. But in 1956, the Brockway board of directors finally found their partner, as Mack Trucks, Inc., of Allentown, Pennsylvania acquired Brockway, bringing together the two oldest truck manufacturers in the country.

Brockway model U360TL
Brockway model U360TL

Brockway and Mack were two worlds apart though when Mack acquired the company on October 1, 1956. Mack had an extensive dealer network, an extensive line of products as well as their assembly plants which were modern compared to Brockway, which was still hand producing trucks, one at a time, assembling the trucks in a production bay and not on an assembly line as most manufacturers had adopted by that point in time. After Mack acquired Brockway, they began offering more powerful and popular diesel engines from Cummins, Detroit Diesel and later on, Caterpillar. While Mack components were not used in the production of Brockway Trucks until the Brockway 700 Series was designed, which used the iconic Mack R-Series cab produced by the Sheller-Globe company, Brockway did however, begin offering a cab-over-engine model in 1963, known as the 400 Series, which was based on the Mack F-Model cab.

Brockway was interested in having its own logo and many ideas were brought forward and rejected, including using a bull as their mascot. Because Mack had its iconic Bulldog mascot, it was suggested by a very young Jim Duncan, the son of Brockway employee Bill Duncan, that Brockway should have a dog mascot of their own. Impressed by the Alaskan Malamute after watching the popular television show, “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon,” the idea was suggested to the Brockway Trucks management team, which agreed, and in 1957, the "Huskie" appeared as the new mascot of Brockway, with the first Huskie Dog hood ornament appearing on the model N260TL in 1958.

Brockway model F761TL
Brockway model H360TL

In 1959, Mack's takeover of Brockway was complete, and James "Jack" Cambria, who had been Vice-President of Mack, became Vice-President and General Manager of the Brockway division. Around that time, Cambria announced an entire new line of Brockway models, which was the first complete redesign of the Brockway truck since 1935. The new line of "Huskies" were bold and the design, which featured a squared off look, with fiberglass fenders, gave the new line of conventional Brockway trucks a modern, rugged look. This basic style and design would last through the 1970s when Brockway was closed.

In 1965, Brockway introduced the iconic and popular 300 series lineup of trucks. The 300 series offered a wide range of bumper-to-back-of-cab dimensions, with the shortest being 90-inches and the largest being 117-inches, allowing for a variety of powerplants. These trucks utilized the fiberglass fenders, which swung out, and their butterfly hoods provided easy access to the engine. Also introduced on the 300 Series was the iconic fiberglass grill insert, which made a Brockway easily identifiable and distinguished it from other trucks.

1968 saw the introduction of "Huskidrive." Huskidrive consisted of a 6-cylinder Cummins NH diesel engine rated at 248 HP, with a 5-speed transmission and a 2-speed rear-end. A Brockway truck equipped with Huskidrive can easily be identified by dual Huskie dogs mounted atop its grill.

As Brockway marched its way toward becoming a bigger and better truck manufacturer under Mack's ownership, more people within the trucking industry began to take this once small company seriously and in May 1968, Overdrive Magazine featured a Brockway on its cover and declared it the "Most Rugged Truck in the World!"

Brockway model N361TL
Brockway model U762TL

In 1974, Brockway introduced its all-new 700 Series, featuring a fiberglass tilt hood as well as using the Sheller-Globe cab. While this new model was a big improvement over the 300 Series line of Brockway Trucks, timing of this model's release was bad as high operating costs and interest rates kept fleets and owners from purchasing new equipment.

During 1975, Brockway received an order for 22.6 million dollars from Iran for 575 Brockway Trucks to be delivered over the following 4 years. Distributorships were set up in Iran as well as other foreign countries as Brockway began to see an export business emerge for their trucks in those commercial markets. As of 1975, Brockway had 91 dealerships across the United States as well as 9 factory branches and were producing 25 trucks a day at the Cortland, New York plant.

While the economy was in a slump at that time, Brockway was doing well, but it was all to rapidly change. A combination of its parent company, Mack Trucks, which was struggling financially, as well as the introduction of the USDOT Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) regulation number: 121, was to cause problems for Brockway. The FMVSS 121 regulation mandated that all heavy-duty trucks manufactured after March 1, 1975 must include anti-lock air-brake systems that met minimum performance, equipment and dynamometer test requirements to ensure safe braking performance under normal and emergency conditions.

FMVSS 121 was not just a problem for Brockway, but a problem for every manufacturer in the industry. The lack of technology was the main problem and customers were unwilling to pay for the high-cost of unproven systems to meet this requirement. Like other manufacturers struggling to meet the FMVSS 121 statute, in July 1976, Brockway introduced a glider kit, which only consisted of a frame, cab, hood, front fenders, radiator, and front axle. This allowed Brockway to get around this statute and produce trucks for its customers as the FMVSS 121 statute only applied to complete trucks rolling out of the factory.

The implementation of FMVSS 121 caused sales of heavy trucks to drop off dramatically and the manufacturers took the USDOT to court. The industry group won the case and the anti-lock requirements of FMVSS 121 were repealed in 1978, but it was too late for Brockway.

With the Cortland UAW local 68 labor contract slated to end in 1976, Brockway's parent, Mack Trucks had been in negotiations with the local union that summer. But a wildcat strike erupted at the Cortland plant in early January 1977 and UAW Local 68 Brockway employees walked out after lunch. In the summer of 1976, Mack Trucks and the Cortland UAW 68 had been in labor talks with the union contract ending at the end of the 1976 year. In addition, the union rejected an extension of their current labor contract which had expired in October of 1976. While union employees went back to work, they returned to the picket lines on February 8, 1977 and on March 30, Mack announced it was going to close Brockway.

While Mack was going to liquidate Brockway, a New York Attorney and businessman, Steven J. Romer, stepped forward and approached Mack with an intent to purchase Brockway. While Romer intended to restart Brockway production on June 1 that year, union members rejected his labor contract offer and the sale of Brockway was called off, thus Mack ended up liquidating the Brockway division that summer.

The last remaining Brockways that were on the Cortland production plant floor were shipped to the Elmira, New York Brockway factory branch for completion and final assembly.

An order for 45 Brockway U762TL tractors for Miami's Inter-American Transport Company awaited completion when the Brockway plant closed down. Destined for use in hauling cane sugar in Iran, Inter-American requested that Mack/Brockway ship all the parts required to their Miami warehouse where a small crew of Brockway managers and supervisors assembled the trucks over the course of several months.

Sadly, the very last Brockway, an AU-762-TL, equipped with a Detroit Diesel 12V71 12-cylinder engine, 15-speed Roadranger transmission, and 55,000-lb rear axles was completed on June 8, 1977, 102 years after the very first Brockway made its way onto the streets of Homer, New York.

Brockway model E759L
Brockway model 358

While Brockway may be gone, the Brockway name lives on and a group of faithful owners and enthusiasts won't let this dog die! The Brockway Trucks Preservation Association (BTPA) was founded in 2000 and is dedicated to preserving the history of the Brockway Motor Trucks company. In addition, the BTPA has a museum, which is part of the Central New York Living History Center and is located in Homer, New York. But once a year, the Huskies converge on Huskietown USA, otherwise known as Cortland, New York to celebrate the company that made this city famous!

To learn more about Brockway Trucks, the Brockway Trucks Preservation Association and their annual Brockway truck show, please visit the official BTPA website at: www.BrockwayTrucks.org

Brockway Motor Trucks

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