America's Refuse Truck
The History of Gar Wood Industries
By Eric Voytko
It would be impossible to document the history of compaction refuse bodies without telling the story of Gar Wood Industries. Indeed, the Gar Wood story reads like a history of the industry itself, as the founder, Garfield Arthur Wood developed the first hydraulic hoist, and the company that bore his name was a key player in the development of compaction bodies. Introduced just before the Second World War, their Load-Packer was America's first hydraulic rear-load refuse body, and it dominated the domestic market well into the 1950s. Even in its last years, Gar Wood was a leader in innovation, if not in outright sales. Few would debate the importance of their contributions to the refuse body industry. However, it has now been thirty-five years since the last Load-Packer was built, and with the passage of time, their many accomplishments have been almost forgotten. Thus, accurate information on the history of Gar Wood refuse trucks has been difficult to find, compounded by the fact that Garfield Arthur Wood is remembered more for his boat racing exploits than his industrial achievements.
For the first time, this comprehensive history documents the Gar Wood story, from the groundbreaking hydraulic hoist invented by Wood in 1912, through the last Load-Packers of the late 1970s. In between, there is a rich history for the reader to partake of, beginning with the early hand-loaded bodies. Then there is the nearly-forgotten story of the New York City escalator-loaders, a turning point for the industry in the United States, and a unique period when Gar Wood and their arch-rival, the Heil Company both produced identical bodies. Several chapters are devoted to the famous Load-Packer, the all-hydraulic rear loader that broke open the American market and eventually became Gar Wood's most visible product. Three distinct versions of this body are described in detail. The popular Cyclomatic series are also here, leading into the disastrous T-Series unitized refuse truck of the 1960s, when the company nearly folded.
The final chapters recount Gar Wood's rebirth in 1970s under Sargent Industries, and the amazing technical renaissance that not only saved the company, but also ushered in a host of developments that would profoundly influence the refuse body industry, even after the company was voluntarily dissolved in 1979. Additionally, there are many other models documented, as well as interesting facts about the company and its namesake. Chapter seventeen features a large section devoted to the multitude of non-refuse related products made through the years by this manufacturing colossus. Finally, there is a chapter on the short-lived Ten Hundred, which will be of particular interest to the die-hard enthusiast. To my knowledge, this is the first time that this obscure chapter in Gar Wood history has ever been documented anywhere.
Those old enough to remember the glory days of Gar Wood will enjoy a trip back down memory lane. For those a bit younger, this history should be equally fascinating and there are over 300 images, including photos and technical drawings, to illustrate each Gar Wood product in detail. Along with commonly known facts are some lesser-known firsts, such as the curved-shell body design, introduced by Gar Wood in 1977, almost a decade before the concept began its sweep through the rest of the industry. Some oft-repeated myths about Gar Wood will be clarified as well, such as that the Load-Packer was the "world's first" hydraulic rear-loader (that honor goes to Fernand Rey of France), and that The Heil Company "bought out" Gar Wood in the 1970s (they did not, as chapter 22 will explain).
It is my hope that this work will at last provide a definitive reference for the company that contributed so much toward making the refuse packer a part of our lives.
July 26, 2014
My sincere thanks to all the refuse truck enthusiasts who have shared memories, photos and literature with ClassicRefuseTrucks.com over the years, many of which appear in this history. Especially helpful have been the contributions of Scott Blake, who provided brochures for the Load-Runner and LP-900, and Dana Gregory who supplied a fantastic brochure on the rare Ten Hundred, which I have never been able to find anywhere else. I would also like to thank Zachary Geroux, whose primary interest is West Coast equipment, but has nevertheless been instrumental in recently uniting some of the few surviving examples of Gar Wood Load-Packers with organizations that are willing to restore and preserve them for future generations.
I am also grateful to Keith Alexander for sharing information about his father Harold's roll-offs, which were marketed by Gar Wood in the 1960s, and especially to Fred Smith, who took the time discuss his groundbreaking refuse body designs and his experiences at Gar Wood during the 1970s.
DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF
LAWRENCE ROGER "L.R." STUART
© 2014 Eric Voytko
All rights reserved
Photos from factory brochures/advertisements except as noted
Logos shown are the trademarks of respective manufacturers