Antique truck collectors are a different breed, and among them come a variety of collects. Some collect anything they can find, while others, like Don Chew of Brighton, CO, who has seen more history than most, have a very specific area of interest. Don’s main interest in trucking is with all-wheel drive heavy trucks, and mostly Marmon-Herrington rigs. Marmons themselves are pretty rare these days, but the old cabover seen here is even more special – it is thought to be the only one of its kind left!
The name “Marmon” in the trucking world evokes many opinions and ideas. Many deemed Marmon the “Rolls Royce of trucks” because they were hand-built and could be spec’d out exactly to the driver’s wants and needs, while others really hated them (mostly because of their boxy looks).
The history of Marmon can be traced all the way back to the mid-1800s. Marmon began in 1851 as the Nordyke and Marmon Machine Company, which specialized in the production of flour mill equipment. By 1900 the company had entered the production of automobiles and they would go on to be the first manufacturer to win the Indianapolis 500 in 1911 with the legendary “Marmon Wasp” piloted by Ray Harroun (the company was then known as Marmon Motor Car Company). Known at the time for luxurious automobiles, the Great Depression would spell the end of this successful era of the company’s history.
In 1931 the company became known as Marmon-Herrington when Colonel Arthur Herrington joined the company and quickly re-directed its efforts to the development of all-wheel drive equipment, most notably associating with Ford. By 1963, however, all-wheel drive vehicles were not selling, so Marmon-Herrington was sold to the Pritzker family, where heavy trucks would continue to be produced. The name of the company was changed from Marmon-Herrington to simply Marmon. The operation moved around a bit, and then found a permanent home in Garland, Texas, where the last Marmon truck was built in 1997. The Marmon Group, as it is known today, is still in operation under the ownership of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (Warren Buffett’s investment company), manufacturing several products including driveline equipment under the Marmon-Herrington name (the Marmon Group also includes Fontaine trailers).
In the early 1960s when the company’s sales began to decline, they made one last gallient effort to survive before being sold to the Pritzker family – the production of the cabover seen here. With the truck slated to be sold through Caterpillar, thus effectively enlarging Marmon-Herrington’s sales range, development began in 1961. After about one year of testing, the lightweight cabover trucks entered production in late 1962 and on into 1963, with the first truck entering service at an outfit called Ellis Trucking in Indianapolis, IN. Mayflower also purchased one of the tractors for testing. Dorn Motor Lines took five of the trucks, and Federal Express ran three of the units. Production figures indicate between 22 and 25 of these trucks were manufactured. Though many vehicles carrying the Marmon name are considered rare, this cabover, even when produced, was (and still is) very rare.
Though a number of the tractors were bought, sales were underwhelming at best. The trucks were originally offered with the 220 horsepower 1673 Caterpillar, which was the first Caterpillar diesel engine designed specifically for heavy trucks. However, late in the production run, Marmon began to offer the truck with other engines such as a 220 small-bore Cummins, a 265 Cummins V8, and Detroit Diesels ranging from 6-71s up to the 12V-71. 12-speed Spicer and 10-speed Roadranger transmissions were offered, as well as two-stick setups. The trucks were offered as both sleeper and daycab tractors with single and twin-screw drives available (this was the only truck produced to carry the Marmon-Herrington name that did not have all-wheel drive). The truck is basic, offering little in the way of creature comforts inside the cab, but with a tare weight of just under 16,000 pounds, the truck was certainly made to maximize payload.
The truck shown here is owned by Don Chew of Brighton, Colorado. As mentioned before, production of these cabovers never exceeded 25 trucks, and the one here, built in 1962, is the only known one in existence. Don found the truck in Pueblo, CO where it had sat for a number of years. In its service life, it was used to haul steel and it operated as a dump truck, as well. During its several retirement years in the field, this truck was riddled with bullet holes by kids who often used it for target practice. After Don rescued it from its sure death, the truck was brought home and restored.
Powered by a 1673 Cat hooked to a Roadranger transmission with a hydraulic clutch, the truck is painted a two-tone forest and mint green combination. The interior is painted with a spatter-look tan color and features period-correct Bostrom seats. The gauges are minimal, to say the least, and the switches and other equipment are strictly utilitarian – no extras here! The truck has 10.00 x 20 tires, dual 60-gallon fuel tanks, and a small hydraulic tank for running Don’s Landoll lowboy trailer, which he uses to haul many of his other old trucks to shows.
Though Don never drove trucks as a profession, his life has involved trucks and other things mechanical for years. Prior to retirement, Don Chew owned and operated a restoration company called Main Tain. Though Don has always had a love for the all-wheel drive vehicles, he has also repaired and restored planes and other mechanical equipment, too. Don’s collection of vintage and antique equipment goes far beyond the Marmon-Herrington cabover seen here, and includes several other Marmon-Herrington all-wheel drive trucks, Coleman and FWD equipment, a 1974 narrow-nose Peterbilt previously owned by Lee & Eastes (the last year a narrow-nose Peterbilt was sold), and several other cool old rigs.
Don spends much of his time today restoring his collection of trucks, which is still growing. Currently rebuilding a Ford-bodied Marmon-Herrington pickup from the late 1930s, he has also procured a Mercury truck from Canada. His ever-growing collection is always a delight to walk through. Having a love of history and a willingness to share this knowledge, beyond restoring antique and vintage equipment, Don has also spent a lot of time doing research for various companies and been the guest speaker at many different events (including the annual Marmon Truck Gathering held in Terrell, Texas). Don has even taken his WWI-era FWD military truck across the original Lincoln Highway route for a re-enactment.
I’d like to thank Don for his stalwart efforts in getting the truck prepared for the photo shoot. Having sat in his garage for several years hooked to a van trailer, the fifth wheel was tight and it took us about 20 minutes to unhook the tractor. As mentioned, the old cabover has a hydraulic clutch, which certainly made our efforts that much more challenging, to say the least. After sitting for so long, the transmission was rather tight, as well. In fact, when we pulled the truck out, we only had the low side of the Roadranger, which maxed out at 18 miles per hour! But, Don never let this phase him. We soldiered on and got the photo shoot done (it is always encouraging when the truck owners throw themselves completely into a photo shoot).
We at 10-4 Magazine would like to thank Don Chew for his time and efforts, as well as supplying his vast records of information and knowledge in preparing this article. History is something to always be remembered and prized, and Don and his extensive collection of literature, data, records and trucks are a testament to the importance of our history. Without individuals like Don, we would forget where we came from, and, in turn, we might lose sight of where we’re headed!