Imagine the driver shortage we'd have today if trucks hadn't evolved from what we were running back in the '50s and '60s.
Tight clearance for trailers back in the 1950s meant drivers had to give up precious cab space to make room for extra cargo. (Photo by Jim Park)
Tight clearance for trailers back in the 1950s meant drivers had to give up precious cab space to make room for extra cargo. (Photo by Jim Park)

I've been in Allentown, Pa., for the past couple of days, sharing in the opening of Mack's new Customer Center. It's a combination of museum and new product showcase, a conference center, mod center and test track.

The facility is actually Mack's former engineering development and test center, but you'd never know it. I'd been there several years earlier, and can recall walking through labs and garages where new designs were wrung out on various testing rigs, and in-service trucks were dismantled to see how well they had held up to the test track. The smell of grease and diesel fumes pervaded. Of course, ultra-low sulfur diesel, passed through a DPF and an SCR catalyst, has no smell, so even the fumes will become the stuff of memory.

Outside, assembled for the opening celebrations, was a collection of a few dozen vintage trucks, some dating back to the 1920s. There were also many trucks on hand that had earned their keep during our lifetimes, and if drivers think they are hard done by today, a few laps around Mack's test track in 1956 B-Model might put them straight.

Not picking on the venerable B-Model, but the drivers of such trucks would have thought they had died and gone to heaven had they ever found themselves at the wheel of a Pinnacle or a Granite. The difference is all the more striking when you compare the two - 1950s vs. 2010 - side-by-side. You could fit an entire B-Model cab into some of the sleepers out there today. Heaters were optional. Air conditioning didn't exist. Nor did power steering or any suspension to speak of. The old trucks had two gear shifters; today the transmissions do the work and the thinking for you.

And as small as the cabs were in those days, there was one on display that had concave cut in the back of the cab to make room for the trailer to swing around in a turn. The clearance was so tight, even a B-Model cab had to be altered to make it fit. I guess that's not unlike the challenge finding a place to hang all of today's EPA hardware and staying compliant, but can you imagine the reaction from drivers if you were to put that DPF/SCR device on the passenger seat instead of under the cab? I don't imagine drivers would have been too happy about losing 6 or 8 inches of already precious cab space to make room for trailer swing.

I love old trucks, but I'm glad I never had to drive them. But what they lacked in driver comfort, They sure made up in style.