The Ever Expanding History of the Front Load Refuse Truck

1960-1969: The Decade of "The Big Threes" (East and West)

Left: early model Cobey used Aldredge-designed lift arm based on the Holmes-Owen Loader,
Right: 1962 E-Z Pack featured Milton Clar's unique top-hinged over-the-cab (OTC) arm

    Dempster's only eastern competitor had been Lodal, until late 1960 when a central Ohio truck body company called Perfection Steel entered with a new front loader. Perfection badged this new refuse body as Cobey, a trade name previously used only on their line of farm equipment. The Cobey "Pak-Tainer" used the Aldredge patented arm with a horseshoe type container connection. Another contender arrived in 1962, when Hercules-Galion began manufacturing the E-Z Pack front loader, which was a mating of their established side-load packer body with an ingenious lift arm design patented by Milton Clar. In an effort to get around Dempster's OTC arm patent (which hadn't yet been successfully challenged in court), 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. The E-Z Pack front loader soon became the their flagship product, remaining relatively unchanged until the 1980s when it was fitted with the industry-standard OTC arm.

    Dempster continued to refine their popular 1957-version Dumpmaster, and soon left yet another lasting mark in the development of the front loader. Since its inception, the lift arms had been actuated by short stroke cylinders mounted under the body, operating a common torque tube connecting the lift arms. Dempster moved the cylinders on the outside of the body, using smaller diameter pistons with a long stroke, directly connected to the individual OTC lift arms. This modification allowed for a greater mechanical advantage through better leverage, greatly reducing stress on all components, and was easier to access when servicing. Dempster initially used both styles at first, retaining the underbody cylinders on the model CA60-30DB, but eventually went to outboard cylinders across the board. By and large, the West Coast builders remained loyal to the faster-acting, short-stroke underbody lift arm rams into the 1980s, although some builders did offer both styles.

Another Dempster first: direct-pull lift arm cylinders mounted to the sides of the body, introduced in 1963

    George Dempster died in 1964 of a heart attack and was succeeded by his nephew James Dempster, who had been with the company since 1937. So common is the term "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 over fifty 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.

    During this period, the "big three" major rear loader manufacturers (Heil, Gar Wood and Leach), were mostly staying out of the front load market. This left Dempster, Cobey and E-Z Pack with a virtual lock on the eastern half of the United States. Gar Wood was the lone exception, which fielded their ambitious T-series trucks in 1965. These were complete, unit-construction vehicles made entirely by Gar Wood with diesel engines and front wheel drive, and capacities up to fifty cubic yards. The T-FL series could be ordered as a front loader, or as a combination front and rear loader. The T-Series Gar Woods conquered neither the front or rear load market, and appear to have actually driven the company into bankruptcy. Bausenbach in Buffalo was probably the only true eastern "micro builder", but never seemed to be able to break big into the national level. The Big Three rear loader firms would eventually field competitive front loaders, but not until early in the next decade.

Over engineered: 1965 Gar Wood T-Series front loaders were available up to 50 cubic yards, and 30 and 40 yard models
could be ordered with a rear packer tailgate! Complex and incompatible with existing systems, it floundered and nearly sank the company

    Many manufacturers offered a residential option with their front loaders, in the form of a detachable container for hand-loading refuse on residential routes. These were sometimes equipped with hand-holds and riding steps for the crewmen. Customers were essentially getting two trucks in one, allowing them to easily shift from a commercial to residential routes. A new method of residential collection using front loaders was developed in the 1960s, which saw moderate success in the communities where it was implemented. The "Trash Train" system consisted of several dumpster-like trailers hitched to a pick-up or other small truck. The train was driven along neighborhood routes and hand-loaded by a crew of several men. When full, a front loader "Mother Truck" either met them on the street to empty the filled containers, or they were simply dropped off at a pre-coordinated location, where waiting empty containers were then hooked up. The train system actually dates back to earliest days of collection, when horse-drawn refuse trailers were used in a similar fashion. Using this system, only one truck had to make the trip to the disposal point, allowing the train crews to keep working, maximizing man-hours and saving fuel. In the modern system, the front load trucks could also be used on commercial containers routes if necessary. Fewer packer trucks were needed. Several manufacturers, notably Lodal, Dempster, and Cobey, marketed this system nationally.

Top row: Late 50s Bowles with bucket for hand-loaded routes, Dempster detachable bucket featured handholds for crewmen
Enhanced safety resulted since loaders were always in sight of driver. With bucket detached, commercial container routes could also be served

Bottom: Lodal was first to advertise Container Train system in 1962. The equipment shown belonged to Jack Young Inc. of Daytona Beach, Florida

    Back on the West Coast, Bowles and Western were joined by upstart Bemars Inc. Ed Kouri had begun as a sales manager for Bowles in the 1950s, before founding Bemars with two other gentlemen in Montebello, California in 1962. Bemars offered products similar to their competitors, and these three companies mostly locked-up the refuse market west of the Rockies during the decade. West coast builders often worked closely with a customer to build bodies customized to their individual collection needs. While the full-pack style body dominated on the East Coast, the "big three" emerging in the west strived to create bodies that were light enough to carry high tonnage loads, while still remaining under the gross vehicle weight limit. Bowles continued to market his unique pull-type half-pack body, yet also offered a packer with the cylinders mounted vertically, pushing the blade from behind. The cylinders were anchored on one end to the upper front of the body, and on the other end to the lower portion of the packer blade. These push-type packers soon became popular throughout the industry, and were typically built as a half-packs (with single-stage packing rams) with tilt-to-dump unloading. However, they were easily configured as a full-pack/full eject models by using multiple-stage telescopic rams. Western, which had absorbed A&P Body, offered the A&P "Fist-Packer", a full-pack design with a single telescopic ram mounted parallel with the body floor. The Western Full-Pak was advertised to have the same body weight as a competitive half-pack body, and had moderate success among regional haulers.

    Another weight-saving packer design emerged from California during the 1960s, and has since been almost exclusive to the western states. The "Top-Pack" style was a half-pack with a blade roughly one-third the height of the body, and located at the upper front of the structure. It functioned to clear the hopper opening, powered by a single ram located within a reinforced cab-shield. Not only did it drastically cut down on the overall weight of the body (up to 1500lbs), but it also eliminated the need for the driver to periodically enter the body to clean out refuse from behind the blade, as is typical with full-height blade designs. It also advertised a quick packing cycle of 15-20 seconds compared to the 30 and 60 second cycle of the half and full pack models 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 only the top of the hopper causing the "roll-over" to occur at the front of the body, reducing pressure at the rear doors.


Clockwise from top: (1) East Coast builders such as Dempster and E-Z Pack used massive, heavily reinforced blades to both clear hopper and compress refuse in back of body (full pack) with angle-mounted telescopic ram which also ejected load (2) West Coast builders made lighter blades that traveled just enough to clear the hopper (half pack), compressing refuse in the body only after it became filled. Single stage pack cylinders were far less expensive and easier to repair. Unloading was by tilting body. (3) Bowles experimented with many styles, including some full pack models with twin angle-mounted rams. (4) A&P/Western full pack design had a horizontally mounted telescopic ram which required protrusion in blade structure to house the collapsed ram. (5) Detail of the Western Full-Pak ram shows five-stage cylinder with sliding supports, which prolonged the life of the seals between each section of the ram

Below: Video of a Bemars "Top-Pack", which has a shorter blade that only clears the top of the hopper opening

Video courtesy of Bill Tetreault

    In Southern California, more than any other part of the country, the preferences of the haulers shaped the nature of front loader development. California haulers remained steadfastly loyal to the "bottom channel" style of hookup, derived from the common forklift truck used in material handling. Bowles and the other builders nevertheless offered side channel forks, which were especially practical on conventional cab trucks for which they were originally designed. Similarly, many haulers still ordered their trucks with the old "over the wheel" style lift arms, even after the Dempster patent infringement case against OTC arms had been overturned and they became more universally available. Among the drivers, this style had come to be known as the "suicide arm", since it passed inches away from the cab door and had enough force to take the limb off a distracted operator. The rearview mirrors of the typical cab-over-engine truck were also in the path of those suicide arms, so a clever automatic retraction system was designed and patented by an engineer named Roy Augustus in 1959. This invention folded the mirrors in away from the path of the arms during the loading cycle through a cable and pulley arrangement, and returned them once the arms were clear. While the OTC arms obviously 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.

California builders continued to offer bottom channel (flat) forks, over-the-wheel lift arms and retractable mirrors even after these features
had become practically obsolete. Preferences of their customers likely drove the builders to keep them on the option sheet.
Shown here is a Full-Pak by Western Body & Hoist on International CO chassis, delivered to Granada-Sanchez Disposal Co.

    Gar Wood was not the only company to experiment with complete refuse vehicles. George Morrison, owner of Western Body and Hoist, collaborated with REO Motor Trucks in 1965 to design a radically new front loader called the Wesco Jet. 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, bisecting 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 bought several of these front loaders, and in the early 70's, teamed up with Morrison to create a truck specifically for picking up smaller cylindrical refuse containers. 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." The project was subsequently abandoned by Western/Maxon, but Scottsdale continued to refine the design on their own during the 1970s, paving the way for regular production models by the end of that decade.

    The close of the 1960s saw Texas-based Pak-Mor Manufacturing expanded their lineup of refuse equipment with the introduction of the Load-Liner series front loaders in 1967. These were probably best described as reduced-weight full-pack models, incorporating a unique channel brace for the body sides. Lodal revised the lift arm on their Load-a-Matic front loader in 1962, using a unique rigid arm with four lift/control cylinders and a mounting point between the cab and front axle. The triangle coupler was retained, and the old E-Z Pack (converted) side-load bodies gave way to new Lodal-built packers by 1968. At this time, it was probably obvious that the front loader was here to stay, gaining in popularity year by year. No major manufacturer of refuse equipment could afford to ignore it any longer.


Rare video of the second-generation Lodal front loader in action

Video courtesy of Michel Ferro

The unmistakable Wesco Jet was a Western Full-Pak with center-mounted lift arms on a specially designed REO short-wheelbase
truck chassis. This example was owned by the City of Scottsdale, Arizona. Scottsdale used the Jet as the foundation for their
revolutionary 1970s experimental Automated Side Loader (ASL) known as "Son of Godzilla"


© 2012 Zachary Geroux and Eric Voytko
All Rights Reserved
Photos from factory brochures/advertisements except as noted
Logos shown are the trademarks of respective manufacturers