Heavy-Duty Collectors Breathe Life into Classic Big Rigs

When Steve Skurnowicz drives his 1956 Mack cab-over-engine truck, he gets a lot of attention.

It’s easy to understand why. The Model H cuts a striking figure, with its classic fender-mounted headlights and snub-nosed cab painted fire engine red. And when Skurnowicz drives it, he isn’t hauling anything.

“I don’t know that people recognize an antique truck for what it is, but people recognize it as something odd,” Skurnowicz said. “I’ll drive down the road and a woman working in her garden (will) turn around.”

The 58-year-old owner of a ready-mix concrete business in Lennoxville, Pa., owns about 20 classic trucks, including 1950 and 1967 Brockways. And he’s hardly the only truck fanatic with a lot of storage space and a passion for 18 wheels. Tens of thousands of big rig collectors around the U.S. belong to specialized clubs and attend vintage truck shows, where they swap parts and stories.

ANTIQUE TRUCK CLUB

Like the 3,500 other members of the Antique Truck Club of America, Skurnowicz considers the trucks nostalgic. “In my youth, there were several guys in my neighborhood that drove these trucks, and I always admired them.”

  • 1950 Brockway model 148W
  • 1967 Brockway 359
  • 1967 Brockway model 359

When he was an adult, he got one as soon as he had the chance, Skurnowicz said.

Mark Schroyer counts 40 restored antique trucks in his collection, including models from International, Peterbilt, Kenworth, GMC, Ford, Chevrolet and Mack.

“You name it, we’ve got it,” Schroyer said of the collection his dad started years ago as the owner of a small trucking company in Ohio. Now Schroyer is following in his father’s footsteps. He is a driver and runs a small trucking company. He also collects trucks along with his two brothers. They have 40 still unrestored trucks.

MUSEUM

It costs a lot to buy and restore these trucks, Schroyer said, whose family now has so many that they’ve opened a small museum.

“I don’t really have a favorite,” he said, though one he really “enjoys” is a 1957 GMC 700 he brought out of California years ago from the factory. That truck had an air ride suspension rarely seen at the time. “It was unique and different, so if I had to pick one, that would be it.”

Schroyer is first vice president of the American Truck Historical Society. While collecting trucks he’s connected with people from all over. “It’s pretty neat to get to different parts of the country and see the different trucks and different applications – what they did with them in their areas.”

1980 Peterbilt 359, 1964 International DC 405 and a 1949 International W3042.

Dennis Chan drives trucks in his collection from his Sacramento, Calif., home to shows around the country. From left are a 1980 Peterbilt 359, 1964 International DC 405 and a 1949 International W3042. (Photo: Dennis Chan)

The American Truck Historical Society is dedicated to preserving and saving the history of the trucking industry. Its 19,000 members drive a mix of vintage Internationals, Kenworths and other makes to the group’s annual Memorial Day showcase. Last year’s it was held in Lexington, Ky., and drew 900 trucks.

CROWDS

Other groups’ events draw similar crowds. The Antique Truck Club of America will hold its 39th annual meetup this June. Last year 800 trucks came to its annual meet in the tiny town of Macungie, Pa. (population 3,000). Even Brockway, which built trucks from 1912 to 1977 in Cortland, N.Y., has such a following that there’s a Brockway in its hometown that puts on its own annual parade and show.

Most states recognize antique trucks as being at least 25 years old and will grant them a historic license plate that allows for occasional, rather than daily, driving and participation in such events.

Dennis Chan is a regular.

1953 Peterbilt 280

Dennis Chan owns this 1953 Peterbilt 280. (Photo: Dennis Chan)

“The only driving I do is driving to truck shows,” said Chan, 74. He lives in Sacramento, Calif., and has about 30 trucks in his collection. Most are Peterbilts dating as far back as 1944. But the ones he takes to shows are from the early 1980s because “they’re roadworthy,” Chan said. “We run (them) all the way across the U.S. going to national conventions.”

Chan is especially fond of cab-over-engine styles, where the engine sits under the driver. He appreciates the style because in the 1960s he drove one professionally. He now has both Peterbilt and International cab-overs in his collection.

As president of the Central California chapter of the American Truck Historical Society, he finds most of his trucks through its quarterly magazine and word of mouth. Once he gets them, he stores them in a 15,000-square-foot building on his property whose sole purpose is housing the collection.

SPACE IS AN ISSUE

The size of the trucks is a downfall of collecting them, Chan said. “The younger generation is into collecting cars – not big trucks – because you can’t keep (them) in your garage.”

But for those who have the space, they’re paying tribute to a mode of transportation that is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, at least in terms of the general public’s daily consciousness.

“No matter what you use, whether it’s anything you eat, wear, or use it in your household, business or workplace, everything was somehow delivered by truck,” said Schroyer, of the American Truck Historical Society.

Trucks.com March 8, 2019
Ford filled out its lineup, Navistar showed its versions of medium-duties it makes for GM, and Freightliner tested interest in electric trucks with the eM2.

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