The story of the most versatile collection truck ever designed.
By Zachary Geroux
The American industry machine went into overdrive during World War II with the entire country dedicated to producing new technologies and weapons to win the war. Post-World War II, that same tenacity continued and the economy saw a strong growth that was not expected by most skeptics who feared another Depression. Many industries grew by leaps and bounds experiencing a technological boom, which created many of the products we still use to this day. Refuse haulers and body manufactures saw the need for a better way to contain and streamline the collection of garbage, especially in bigger cities whose populations were ever-expanding and public health was a growing concern. Pre-war technology had already brought forth the bucket-rear loaders with a primitive style of compaction method. While they offered a cleaner solution over open dump bodies and had started to gain favor from haulers, they still required a multi-man crew to hand load the garbage. Even though Dempster Brothers had developed a containerized method of refuse collection in 1937, their trucks could only transport one ‘dumpster’ at a time and served as an early role model for the development of the roll-off truck. In the 1950s, the refuse industry finally received a solution to their problem in the form of the Front End Load truck, which offered the first true automated collection method in America. The Front Loader was originally built for residential routes due to the lower loading height over rear loaders, but it found its true calling in the commercial sector, which made it become the most versatile collection vehicle on the market. With an almost simultaneous creation on both sides of the country, the philosophy behind the front load design saw two schools of truck bodies emerge: East Coast and West Coast. The stricter weight laws of the West Coast forced builders to develop creative ways to maximize the legal load while the East Coast focused on a higher compaction rate due to the bigger population ratio and less stringent weight restrictions.
1952-1959: Humble Beginnings and Radical Ideas
The birth of the front loader happened in 1952 when Phil Gentile Sr. and Samuel Vincen Bowles designed a special truck in Sun Valley, CA for Gentile’s refuse company, United Rubbish. The first 10 trucks created had a fixed bucket attached to a pair of straight arms, which emptied into an open dump body and were used for residential and bulk waste collection. Evolution quickly took hold of their original brainchild and by early 1954, Bowles was manufacturing front loaders with closed dump bodies paired with his “Pull-type” packer blade. The bucket had come off in favor of a forklift type coupling method, and containers of different sizes were given to the customers. Bowles “Pull-type” packer system was something unique to his front loaders in that horizontal, single stage cylinders were located inside the body, pulling the blade toward the back of the hopper. Due to patent rights, it was never duplicated and vertical cylinders located behind the blade grew to become the industry standard because manufacturers could easily make a “half-pack” or “full-pack” body with different ram sizes.
In 1955, a company called Towner Mfg. out of Santa Ana, CA designed the “Nu-Way Pak Sanitary Van,” a front loader that used a unique method of coupling to their container, with a compaction rate of 24,000 lbs. Their system never caught on and only a handful of bodies were made with several sold off to movie studios doomed for use as background vehicles in films. Other companies also began to market their own specific designs around this time based off the Bowles trucks. Most notable were the Cook Brothers, a company known for construction equipment that was based in the Los Angeles area. In 1956, Henry Harbers of Cook Brothers patented a hydraulically actuated torque tube connected to the ends of the arms. This torque tube supported the forks allowing operators to keep the container level during the lifting cycle and also allowed the forks to go negative enough to pick up containers off the loading docks. While they only made refuse trucks for a few years, Harbers’ small change transformed the construction and arm design for every front loader that followed. By the close of the 1950s, the front loader system had spread, taking hold of the Southern California market and changing the face of refuse collection forever. Bowles continued to lead the pack by constantly updating and refining his designs, quickly setting the standard for West Coast builders. Several companies tried to throw their hats in the ring during those early years, but only two survived to make it into the 1960s: S. Vincen Bowles and Western Body and Hoist.
On the East Coast, similar changes were occurring in the garbage industry. In 1953, Philip and Howard Aldredge of Dayton, OH created a front load arm for use with a detachable container system that was based off the Holmes-Owen dirt scoop. They filed for a patent in 1955, but were unable to find a manufacturer. In the same year that the Aldredge brothers applied for a patent, George Dempster unveiled his newest offering to his already successful refuse line: the Dempster Dumpmaster. This “first gen” version of the Dumpmaster featured a licensed variation of the Holmes-Owen arm (very similar to the Aldredge design), fitted on a heavily modified Pak-Mor side-load compaction body and used a horse-shoe style coupling method, which kept the container level during loading. However, their “H-O” model front loader proved unsatisfactory in a number of respects because the arms were not bent to clear the doors of the cab, potentially pinning the driver inside of the cab as a result. Arms based off the Holmes-Owen design were referred to as “broken arms”: when the arms had been raised to a certain point, they bent at the joint and threw the contents of the refuse containers into the body of the truck. By 1957, Dempster had re-designed the Dumpmaster, manufacturing the entire truck at their plant in Tennessee. This new body had a completely different look and offered the first of several industry standards from Dempster. The Dumpmaster now sported gooseneck, Over-the-Cab (OTC) arms that used side channel container forks on a full-eject body and boasted a compaction rate of 58,000lbs.
While Bowles had built several of his trucks in the late 1950s with an OTC arm design, Dempster was the first to the patent office. Armed with their newly approved patent, Dempster filed an infringement suit against Bowles and a consent decree was issued, preventing Bowles from selling their FL-3 and FL-4 OTC lift arms. A consent decree indicates that Bowles voluntarily agreed to cease production of the OTC arms, but did not admit to having infringed Dempster’s patent. This was probably the best Bowles could hope for at the time, since a long court battle would have been costly. Dempster’s strategy seems obvious; by going after Bowles, the biggest of the western independents, they would discourage any of the other smaller firms that might have attempted to market their own OTC arms. Arthur E. Bausenbach of Buffalo Metal Container’s (and the first eastern distributor of Bowles) filed a counter suit against Dempster in 1965 and won. The ruling stated that “prior art” had already been established in the 1950s and the “goose-neck” OTC arms were a natural solution to the problems presented by the straight, over the wheel arms. While this victory broke open the market for companies to build and design trucks with the safer OTC arms, builders on the West Coast still produced trucks with the straight “over the wheel” style arms well into the late 1960s.
Another contender from the east coast, John Brisson of Michigan, filed a patent for his front load system called the “Load-a-Matic” and assigned it to Lodal Inc. in 1957. While his arm was also a modification of the Holmes-Owen design, his method of container hook up was not only ingenious, but also simple and effective. The Dempster and Bowles type system of coupling containers was very much like that of a forklift; two long forks sliding into horizontally disposed slots on either the sides or bottom of the container. With the Lodal system a single triangle, pivotable slightly on the loader frame, engages a corresponding V-opening on the container. Thus only the apex of the triangle needs to catch in the container, and then the triangle is tilted and/or the frame hoisted to move the container into alignment and drop into positive engagement. Once the container is inverted during the dumping action, arrester hooks welded below the V-opening are automatically locked via linkage into the loader frame, preventing the container from sliding off the triangle and into the body. This triangle, single point hook up method is still available from Lodal and other builders through special request and is still in use by some haulers today.
A separate innovation was also being developed around this time that greatly benefited the refuse industry and the front loader most of all: The Cab-Over-Engine. While chassis style was not a major concern to the side and rear load trucks being developed during Post-War America, the development of COE trucks had a direct impact on making front loaders safer and more operator-friendly. Many haulers still preferred the conventional cab for front loaders because it offered a better weight distribution while tipping the body. With the driver positioned higher up and the ability to see directly in front of the truck, operators were now able to see their forks as they connected with the pockets on the bottom or side of the container instead of having the engine block their view and praying they hit the mark. While slow to gain momentum in the 1950s, when paired with the new front loader, haulers thought it was a match made in heaven. Several chassis manufacturers including White and International quickly marketed their trucks specifically for the front loader, which caused a conventional cab front loader to soon became a relic and too old-fashioned.
1960-1969: The Decade of ‘The Big Three’s’
At the turn of the decade, Dempster’s only East Coast competition had been Lodal, until late 1960 when Cobey entered with their front loader. The “Cobey Pak-Tainer” used the Aldredge patented arm with a horseshoe type container connection. A few years later in 1962, Hercules-Galion began manufacturing the E-Z Pack front loader using an ingenious design patented by Milton Clar. In an effort to get around Dempster’s OTC arm patent, which hadn’t been challenged in court yet, Clar designed an arm that attached to the top corner of the body and extended over the cab. Clar’s design was the first arm ever to be self-leveling during the lifting cycle and gave E-Z Pack a unique edge over the competition. E-Z Pack’s front loader became the company’s flagship body, remaining relatively un-changed until the 1980s when it switched to the industry standard OTC arm. The “big three” rear load builders (Heil, Garwood and Leach) were staying out of the Front Load market until the 1970s leaving Dempster, Cobey and E-Z Pack relatively unchallenged on the East Coast. While several small builders had tried manufacturing their own bodies (including Bausenbach), they could not compete with the vast marketing ability of the three giants and never broke out of their local area onto a national level.
Dempster continued to refine his 1957 version Dumpmaster throughout the decade and soon left his second lasting mark to the front loader. Since their creation, the arms had been actuated by cylinders mounted under the body. Dempster mounted the cylinders on the outside of the body that pulled rather than pushed the arms and worked only with his OTC arms. This modification allowed for a greater lift capability via a longer stroke cylinder versus the short stroke cylinder mounted under the body parallel to the frame prevalent on the West Coast until the 1980s. By taking the torsional load off the cross shaft carrying the arms and applying the pressure on the arms themselves, it increased the cylinder wear life and allowed options for varied lift capabilities with a different cylinder width. Initially, Dempster had issues with the arm cylinders blowing off the sides of their truck when lifting the arms. Frank Giannattasio Sr, owner of J&G Refuse in Connetticutt, developed a U-shaped bracket to anchor the base of the cylinder on his Dumpasters. Dempster reps came by and took some pictures and next thing he knew, all new Dumpmasters were coming out with that modification.
George Dempster died in 1964 of a heart attack and was succeeded by his nephew James who had been with the company since 1937. So common is “dumpster” in modern vernacular that it is difficult for many of us to imagine what life was like before Dempster made it a household word. Few other inventions had a more sweeping and positive impact on public health and sanitation practices than his original Dumpster Container System, which introduced many communities to a new concept in bulk refuse storage. By the time of his death, countless municipalities and contractors were using his system with more than 50 U.S. cities also using the Dumpmaster front loader. Even though Dempster hadn’t invented the front loader, his critical improvements to it have become industry standards, further adding to his legacy. For these reasons, George Dempster “was and will remain one of the all-time greatest individual figures in refuse truck history.”1
As stated previously, many manufacturers offered a residential option with their front loaders usually in the form of a detachable container, allowing their trucks to quickly shift from a commercial to residential route. Customers were essentially getting two trucks in one and with the advancement of technology; today’s haulers get that same benefit with Curotto, Perkins and other companies automating front load containers. Another form of residential collection was developed in the 1960s around the front loader that saw moderate success in most communities until the Automated Side Loaders made it obsolete. The “Trash Train” system consisted of several dumpster-like trailers pulled behind a pickup or other small truck chassis throughout residential streets and was hand loaded by a crew of men. When full, a front loader either met them on the street to empty the dumpsters, or they were dropped off at a pre-coordinated location with empty ones, which were then hooked up. By using this system, it meant that only one truck had to make a trip to the landfill, allowing the “train crews” to remain on route, maximizing time and saving the company money in fuel and multiple trucks. This system was marketed all across the nation with many body builders offering a specialized train system for their specific type of container hook up. This often contributed to creating a loyal customer base due to the “one stop shop” ability for all the haulers’ refuse equipment needs.
Back on the West Coast, Bowles and Western were joined by Bemars Inc. in 1960. Ed Kouri had begun as a sales manager for Bowles in the 1950s before splitting off and starting Bemars with two other gentlemen in Montebello, CA, offering a similar truck line to Bowles and Western. These three companies took over the refuse market west of the Rockies during the 1960s often working with a hauler to build bodies customized to their needs. While the full-pack style body dominated on the East Coast, the “big three” on the West Coast strived to create bodies that were light enough to carry high ton loads while still remaining under the gross vehicle weight.
Bowles continued to market his unique “pull-type” half pack body, yet still offered a “standard” packer with the cylinders mounted vertically, pushing the blade from behind. These either had one or two cylinders depending on customer’s preference, were anchored at the top of the body, and applied the pressure to the bottom of the blade, moving it forward and back. A full-pack method was also offered with this style of cylinder set up by adding a multi-stage ram and reinforcing the body walls. Western, which had absorbed A&P Body, offered the A&P Body “Fist-Packer” full pack with a multi-stage ram located on the floor of the body. Literature reported that it had the same body weight as a normally lighter half-pack body, which had a moderate success among local area haulers.
Another packing style, born out of the need to minimize weight, was developed in the early 1960s and called the “Top-Pack” front loader. This design, unique to the West Coast, consisted of a blade roughly one-third the height of the body driven by a single stage ram located at the top of a reinforced cab-shield. Not only did it drastically cut down on the overall weight of the body (up to 1,500lbs.), but there was also no longer a need for the driver to climb into the truck and clean out any packer overspill from the day’s route. It also advertised a quick packing cycle of 15 to 20 seconds compared to the 30 and 60 second cycle of the half and full pack’s respectively. While every other packer was designed to cause trash to “roll-over” at the back of the body maximizing the amount of trash compacted, the Top-Pack cleared off the top of the hopper causing the “roll-over” to happen at the front of the body taking the high compaction wear off the rear doors.
In Southern California, more than any other part of the country, the preferences of the haulers shaped the nature of front load development. Many haulers preferred the “bottom channel” style of hook up because they thought of the front loader as a “fork-lift on steroids.” While Bowles and the other builders offered side channel forks, which were especially useful on conventional cab trucks and the main reason they were designed, the original bottom channel style remained a commonplace sight and is still only found in Southern California to this day. Even though the Dempster patent infringement on OTC arms had been overturned and the “big three” were offering that style for their bodies, many haulers still ordered their trucks with the “over the wheel” arms. Among the drivers, this style had come to be known as the “suicide arm” since it passed inches away from the driver’s door and had enough force to take the limb off a distracted operator. A factory built Cab-Over-Engine’s side mirrors were also in the path of those suicide arms, so in 1959 a clever cable and pulley system was designed and patented by an engineer named Roy Augustus. This invention folded the mirrors in away from the path of the arms during the loading cycle and returned them once clear. While the OTC arms clearly avoided the need for this elaborate modification, the customer’s demand continued to see this modification in use on trucks newly delivered through the late 1960s.
George Morrison, owner of Western Body and Hoist, teamed up with Diamond Reo in 1965 to design a radically new front loader around their new Wesco-Jet chassis. The Wesco-Jet consisted of a split or single telephone booth style cab adjacent to the engine, which sat ahead of the front axle, giving it a superb turning radius and excellent weight distribution. Morrison created a lightweight, 35 yard full-pack body with the arms mounted in the center splitting the cab and giving the driver excellent visibility. Capable of handling up to 8-yard containers and available with side or bottom channel forks, it is probably one of the most unique front loaders ever built. The City of Scottsdale in Arizona (long time Western customers) bought several of these front loaders, and in the early 1970s, teamed up with Morrison to create a truck specifically for picking up specially designed cans. Morrison modified his Wesco-Jet Front Loader body with a special arm and after some trial and error; the first Automated Side Loader was created called the “Son of Godzilla.”
1970-1979: End of the Golden Era
The 1970s saw little change to front loader technology, but as manufacturing methods evolved and improved, stronger bodies with higher compaction ratios came onto the market, yet for the most part, little change was seen from East Coast companies who had established their front load design in the previous decade. The U.S. economy was hurting; the post-war “golden age” was over and America had entered a period of ‘stagflation’ that saw many companies struggling to survive. After the death of George Dempster in 1964, the Dempster Company strived to continue as a family run business; however, in 1970, it was purchased by Carrier Corporation, ending 35 years of family ownership.
This decade also saw the last two major refuse body companies, Leach and Heil, join the front load market in an effort to increase their already vast customer base. Heil Company had initiated talks with Vincen Bowles to collaborate on a front loader since they were already distributing the Bowles transfer trailer under the Heil name. The idea ultimately fell through, and in the mid-1970s they added the F8000 front loader to their lineup, which featured a full-pack design with the hydraulically actuated top door prevalent on most East Coast bodies. In 1976 Leach marketed their 2-F front loader, a creation of Cyril Gollnick who designed the extremely successful Packmaster rear loader. “Quite conventional in many ways, the full-eject packer body had a three-stage telescopic cylinder with hydraulic hopper doors and a bustle tailgate for increased capacity. Then they added an automatic ‘parallelogram’ self-leveling fork system very similar to Milton Clar’s 1962 E-Z Pack. The system used a pair of bell cranks to which the fork cylinders were mounted. The cranks were actuated by twin links on each lift arm, the rearmost on each side being pivotally attached to the packer body, to impart mechanical movement of the forks as the lift arms were raised.”
In December of 1970, Maxon Industries of Huntington Park, CA joined the refuse body industry with the purchase of Western Body and Hoist after George Morrison’s partner had been killed in an airplane accident. Two years later they also bought Bemars and continued both companies’ front load lines, rebadging them as “Western/Maxon” and “Bemars/Maxon” due to the solid reputation of each name. Many engineers from both companies continued to work for Maxon; however, a few branched off on their own and started small body building companies in the SoCal area. Most of these engineers sub-contracted a lot of the bodywork to local metal shops, calling for basic bodies, often copies of Bowles or former Bemars and Western trucks. A lot of these small “micro-builders” are still relatively unknown because the companies that bought their trucks were usually smaller haulers that got absorbed and, in turn, had their assets sold off as scrap. Some are known by name only, with no pictorial reference known to exist.
Brothers Jose and Eduardo Ghibaudo (former Bemars engineers), continued to work for Maxon after the buyout for a few years until leaving in 1976 and starting Amrep Inc. in Ontario, CA. Their first front loader, similar to those they built for Bemars, had a scissor type packing ram set-up never before seen in the industry. While unable to patent the style of cylinder placement, they were the first company to build this packer design that is now used on every modern front loader.
Ed Kouri, after selling his interest in Bemars, moved up to the San Francisco Bay area with his son Matt and started Able Body Company, focusing on the Northern California and Oregon markets. Their new lightweight, curved, “broad-radius” ribbed front loader boasted a more streamlined approach to bodybuilding. In an industry where the square body style had dominated since 1952, it offered a glimpse into the future of body design.
1980-1989: Sign of Things to Come
For most companies, the 1980s saw a continuation of the same success the previous 10 years had brought. Many companies had a strong and dependable reputation, while others were still new and trying to establish one of their own. Still, the deep recession of the 1970s did not leave the refuse industry untouched, with national business bankruptcies rising to more than 50 percent from previous years. Harsco Corporation, parent company of Cobey, closed down their refuse line and sold the truck designs to Athey Product Cooperation in North Carolina. The Cobey refuse line remained relatively unchanged under the Athey badge; however, by the close of the 1980s both the front and rear load lines were cancelled with only the Tite-Pak side loaders continuing before a few years later disappearing all together. Another company who had clouds on the horizon was Dempster, which was sold for a second time to Technology Incorporated, a company that traded as Krug International. California builder C&O was absorbed shortly after and served as Dempster’s western headquarters. “During a 1987 strike, Krug International permanently closed the Knoxville factory, abruptly ending over 50 years of production in that city. Dempster’s eastern operations were moved south to Toccoa, GA and in the early 1990s, the ownership was transferred yet again to Toccoa Metal Technologies. They changed the name to Dempster Inc. and continued to build refuse equipment for another 15 years under this badge. Despite a last ditch effort to rescue the company by outside investors, Dempster collapsed under the weight of its mounting debt in 2003. Once a leader in commercial refuse systems, the company had become a shell of its former self and disappeared without great fanfare.”3
By 1980, Maxon had dropped the Bemars and Western name out of their product line in an effort to solidify their presence within the industry. They took the expertise learned from those acquisitions and quickly grew to be on par with Bowles as a major SoCal builder with their new light weight “Eagle” half-pack front and side loader. By 1985 they had patented an octagonal style half pack body, which, in a few short years, became a commonplace truck in the Western U.S. For reasons still unknown, Maxon decided to suspend their refuse line in the 1990s and closed their manufacturing facility in Los Angeles, focusing on their successful tailgate lifts, which are popular today on many delivery trucks.
Amrep continued to grow and prosper in the early 1980s, building trucks for many of the bigger LA area haulers and municipalities. They patented their own front load octagonal design in 1984 using their scissor style packing system with a “quarter-pack” blade. Unlike the Top Pack design where the blade is located on top of the body, this new blade design was located on the bottom of the hopper and required a follower plate which slid into the bottom of the cab shield, which prevented material from falling behind the blade during the packing cycle. Once again, Amrep had brought a new design to the body industry, yet this one never took root outside of the SoCal builders whose customers favored its lightweight design and ability to load trash while simultaneously packing. Amrep still offers their “Original” octagonal front loader with either a quarter, half or full pack packer body.
The last great attempt to radically change the front loader came in 1984 from the Crane Carrier Corporation in Oklahoma, which was mostly known for their chassis designed specifically for the refuse industry. Their Integrated Front Loader (IFL) offered a chassis-less truck, merging the body and chassis into one structure with a mid-mount engine and rear wheel drive. The IFL also offered the first new, successful method of a container lifting mechanism since 1957 and the over the cab packing cylinder on its circular body eliminated the wasted body space taken up in traditional front loaders. Seeing moderate success in the Midwest and East Coast market, the IFL had a 15 year run spawning an integrated rear and side load counterpart before being discontinued and Crane Carrier shifting its focus back to their chassis line.
During the 1970s, Bowles had dropped his “pull-type” packer design from his active line (a few haulers in the area still favored it though) in favor of the traditional push type cylinder placement. He had also introduced his second generation “horizontal brace” front loader with a very basic bracing scheme. Instead of narrow vertical ribs that ran down the length of the square body, two wide box-like braces ran down the length intersected by a vertical brace that separated the hopper and body. In 1984, Bowles was visited by Claude Bovian, owner of Quebec-based Labrie Equipment Ltd. Bovian was looking to manufacture a front loader in Canada and bought the rights to build the Bowles horizontal-brace design. Around this time, in his continuing effort to offer the best body on the market, Bowles designed a front loader with a cylindrical body much like that of a steam locomotive. While the “boiler” design was not a new sight in the refuse industry, having been used on side loaders since the 1950s, this was the first time it had been mated with a front loader. This offered a super lightweight body with a high body strength using a lower gauge steel. The cylindrical front loader was the last new body design to come off of Bowles drawing board as his health had started to deteriorate.
In 1984, Vincen Bowles suffered a heart attack followed by two strokes a few years later in 1989, leaving him without the ability to speak. In 1992, Samuel Vincen Bowles passed away at the age of 82. It is hoped that the contributions made by Bowles to the waste hauling industry will someday be fully appreciated. A mechanical engineer whose designs revolutionized the collection of commercial refuse, Bowles’ early front loaders became the first fully automated refuse trucks in the world and helped the industry realize the full potential of a detachable container on a multiple-stop collection route. Once mostly a California phenomenon, his half-pack body eventually caught on in an increasingly weight-conscious national industry some 30 years after the original design hit the streets in 1955. If one person could be called the “Father of the Front Loader,” S. Vincen Bowles would certainly be that man.
1990-Present: The Culmination of Design
By the 1990s an industry standard front loader had unofficially been established and included the over-the-cab arms pulled by cylinders located on the outside of the body with either a half-pack or full-pack blade. Full-pack trucks were still a favorite of east coast haulers who were not affected by strict weight laws while the half-pack body was marketed to the western states. Welding and better manufacturing techniques continued to be developed and the ribbed square bodies soon became a relic of the past in favor of the smooth side bodies with bubble tailgates. Cable driven controls had given way to “air-over-hydraulics” and ergonomic joysticks with the focus on driver comfort and simplicity of operation becoming a major company selling point.
Waste companies had always been bought and sold in the competitive American capitalist economy, but the mid-20th century saw the apex of small private haulers throughout the U.S. Often these small “mom and pop” companies would purchase trucks from the same truck builders, creating decade long personal relationships where your word and a handshake was considered a binding contract. Through this, a builder’s customer base was often built through the reliable word of mouth advertisement. As more waste haulers found it more profitable to go public and start trading on the open stock market in the latter half of the century, they started buying out the private companies in an effort to expand their territory. Another factor that contributed to the rise the large waste haulers were the many cities and counties moving away from hauling the trash themselves in favor of franchising it to private haulers in an effort to drive down costs. With haulers now having to bid for their contracts, many ended up selling their businesses because they could not compete in the closed market. While the number of haulers across the nation shrunk, so did the body builders’ customer base. The days of customers ordering one or two trucks a year were gone, replaced by the large haulers’ request for 10 to 20 trucks at a time which the smaller builders didn’t have the resources to under-bid their larger counterparts, forcing most to close their doors.
With the turn of the century looming, some of the larger truck builders, which had been around for decades merged with foreign companies in an effort to boost their finances to keep ahead of the competition. Heil Company was acquired by the Dover Corporation in 1993, ending almost 90 years of family ownership while broadening their European footprint. The Leach Company, family owned since 1887, began selling its shares to Federal Signal Corporation in 2002 with the transaction complete by the next year. Their successful rear load refuse line was moved from Oshkosh, WI to the recently acquired Wittke facility up in Alberta, Canada in 2004, while the rest of Leach’s products were discontinued. Under Federal Signal, the Leach rear load line was updated with a curved shell body and the Wittke Front Loaders were produced under the Leach badge having secured a lucrative contract with Waste Management. However, only a year later Federal Signal was fed up with the refuse industry and the entire refuse line was sold to Labrie Environmental by 2006. Labrie re-organized their company, dropping their own front load body in favor of the well-known Wittke brand. Along with this latest acquisition they had also secured the license to use Hardox, a lightweight steel that allowed the entire side of the truck to be made with a single sheet of metal versus welding several pieces together causing weak points in the body of the truck and increasing its weight.
From its humble beginnings as an open body dump truck with straight arms on an engine forward chassis, front loaders have evolved today into a high compaction, easy to operate vehicle by offering an effective way for companies to handle both their residential and commercial accounts using a fully automated truck. The options refuse companies now have available for their front loaders are endless. They have the ability to see and record individual customers’ trash weights through the use of on-board scales and accurately depict the gross vehicle weight to remain compliant with bridge weight laws. With cameras mounted around the body feeding images into a monitor inside the cab, the operator can have a 360-degree situational awareness of potential dangers and obstacles, reducing safety incidents across the board. While today’s society is becoming ever more concerned about the environment and Earth’s sustainability, the government realized a need to reduce the amount of garbage sent to the landfills. Without the visionary men of yesteryear creating a safe, economical and clean way to collect people’s trash, who knows in what dire condition we would find our planet.
2017 marks the 65th anniversary of the front loader, and it is hard to argue the fact that no other refuse truck has changed the way companies collect garbage. While we have many pieces of the puzzle, there is much that is still unknown about various body builders, especially in the Southern California region. With some companies dedicated to one or two haulers, there was no need to advertise in the media, which would have left a trace of their existence. Save for the memories of individuals that have worked in the industry, they will continue to remain unknown. Given the purpose of design, old garbage trucks are rarely preserved and quite often worked to the point of resembling nothing more than welded scrap metal. Every truck, hauler, manufacturer and driver has a story. By leaving no stone unturned in our quest for answers we may, someday, finally have a complete picture of the people and trucks that forever changed the waste industry.
Zachary Geroux is a videographer, photographer, historian and owner of Refuse Truck Media and Consulting, which focuses on media and marketing for the Waste Industry. He lives in Western Washington with his wife and young son who will soon fall in love with garbage trucks. He has been driving garbage trucks off and on for the past 10 years and considers it the best job he’s ever had. He can be reached at (541) 301-1507, via e-mail at Zachary@refusetruckphotography.com or visit www.refusetruckphotography.com.