In 1900, the Mack Brothers Company of Brooklyn, New York, one of the most successful wagon building enterprises in the city, began expansion of operations to include busses powered with gasoline engines. Legend has it that their first bus, “Old #1,” operated on the streets of New York for eight years, was converted into a truck, ran another ten years and when retired had logged almost one million miles. This is the foundation for America’s most legendary heavy hauler.
The cornerstone for that legend was the amazingly durable AC series. Though introduced at the end of 1914, full-scale production of these trucks did not commence until shortly before the public debut at the Boston Truck Show in 1916 and it continued into 1938 with a number of modifications.
The AC was designed from the ground up for ease of maintenance, durability, and style. For maintenance, as with the AB series that preceded it, there were inspection ports for numerous key components, such as connecting rod bearings. Heat-treated, pressed steel frames, and numerous patented components such as the cross shaft drive at the front of the engine for the water pump and magneto resulted in unparalleled durability.
Styling of the AC “Bulldog” was instantly recognizable with its Renault type sloping hood, accomplished with a firewall-mounted radiator. The addition of options such as an all steel cab and windshield assured this truck was not to be confused with anything built by the competition.
The AC series made its international debut during World War I where through extensive use on the western front, they garnered acclaim from all who encountered it. British engineers became so enamored to the pugnacious look and rugged durability they dubbed these Mack trucks the bulldog.
On the home front, the feats performed by the AC Mack were nothing short of extraordinary. In 1916 a 3 ½ ton Mack moved a 20,185 pound steel fabrication to be used as the base for a solar telescope up Mt. Wilson in California. In the same year, five trucks with trailers hauled 44 tons of steel bearings, vital to the war effort, from New York to Hartford, Connecticut, opening the door for trucks to move from strictly local cartage to long haul.
In the years that followed AC series trucks would play crucial roles in all manner of construction projects from Hoover Dam to the development of the U.S. highway system. They would be outfitted with dump bodies, as generator trucks, as garbage trucks, and even as fire equipment. As testimony to their durability, many were still on the job into the 1950’s and the Dunn Coal Company retired their last AC in 1968!
During the years before the advent of World War II, Mack innovation and reputation for durability served the company well in a narrow market that was rife with competition. Then the willowing winds of the Great Depression swept through the industry and much of the competition fell by the wayside.
The Relay Motor Corporation, formed from the consolidation of Commerce, Garford, and Service, all manufacturers of heavy-duty trucks, in 1927 built a number of workhorses before suspension of production in 1934. Perhaps the most impressive was the 1931 300-A equipped with twin Lycoming straight eight engines rated at 275 horsepower and Westinghouse airbrakes.
Acme ended seventeen years of operation in 1932. Schacht, with operations that began in 1904, was a true pioneer in the manufacture and development of heavy-duty trucks. When its doors closed in 1938 few took notice, likewise with Selden, a company that had begun production in 1913 and that faded into obscurity with its closure in 1932.
Surprisingly many of the competitors that survived into the post war era are now largely little more than historical footnotes. To find surviving examples from these companies, as well as those that vanished before Pearl Harbor, today is almost impossible as low production numbers, decades of hard work and a half-century or more without production have greatly thinned the ranks.
Corbitt Corporation of Henderson, North Carolina, built a variety of special bodied trucks, tractors, and even busses between 1913 and 1958. Low production numbers kept them from offering serious competition to the likes of Mack or Kenworth but in terms of styling, no one came close to the Corbitt. This was especially true on the 1935 and 1936 models that used the body dies of the 1934 Auburn.
Federal produced an incredible array of truck types between 1910 and 1959. Among these were a series of light duty trucks rated between ¾ ton and 1 ½ ton produced between 1935 and 1949. The first in this series was the Model 10 introduced in December 10, 1935.
Federal was not the only manufacturer of big rigs to diversify into the light truck market during the harsh economic times of the Great Depression. Mack joined forces with REO, who had been building light and medium duty trucks since 1911, in 1936 to create the Mack Jr. series. The REO counterpart was an improved version of the popular Speedwagon.
The initial Mack Jr., the 1M, introduced in 1936 was available in two configurations, a pick up truck and panel truck. The following year the 2M, a badge-engineered version of the REO light trucks, expanded the line with trucks powered by four or six cylinder engines and available in two wheelbases.
For 1937, the Mack and REO trucks were identical with the exception of nameplates and other identification. In 1937, Mack continued its relationship with REO but it also began production of an independent light series. The latter was designated as ED with production continuing into 1944 though after 1941 all trucks were built for military application.
Production of the REO Speed Delivery and Speedwagon trucks continued through 1940 in a wide variety of models including station wagons, pick up truck, panel truck, as well as cab and chassis. Unlike Mack, REO again assumed light truck production after the war in 1950 with one-ton express trucks. Poor sales led to the discontinuance in 1952.
Ironically having survived the Great Depression and stiff competition for a very limited market the companies that survived into the post war era began to falter just as the long haul trucking industry was about to explode. REO had begun to stumble shortly before the war, revived with government contracts and began to slide again after the war. The financial condition of Diamond T, a company that had begun production in 1911, followed a similar path.
A complicated merger culminated on the first day of 1955 with REO becoming a division of White, a true pioneer that had began production in 1900. Diamond T also became a subsidiary and then on May 1, 1967 White combined the resources of the two divisions under the name Diamond REO.
In recent years, the world seems to have shrunk with all things going international. The legendary Mack was not immune and in 1990, the company became a subsidiary of Renault. Then in 2000, the Swedish manufacturer Volvo acquired the company. None of these transitions has lessened the legend of Mack. To this day, where ever there is a heavy load to move or a dirty job to be done the bulldog is still to be found.