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Mack fans will find plenty to savor at the Mack Customer Center and Historical Museum

By on December 31, 2012

If you’re a motor head, especially a truck fan, Allentown, Pa., should be on your must-see list. It’s the home of the Mack Trucks Historical Museum and the Mack Customer Center. There’s a lot of trucking history to take in.

Built for Mack fans

The Customer Center covers 159,000 square feet, with a product showroom, a modification center and a proving ground with a two-lane, 0.79 mile test track. There are multiple grades up to 20 percent, a skid pad and both on- and off-road durability courses.

Customers can meet with Mack representatives or mix with visitors in the Mack Museum and Heritage Center. As you enter the museum, the first vehicle you see is the oldest remaining bus first built by Jack and Augustus Mack. The 25-seat open-sided vehicle is more than a century old. This bus racked up more than a million miles over a span of 25 years, carrying sightseers in Chicago in summer and New Orleans in winter. It then went on tour to show the durability of Mack Trucks.

Another truck on display helped Mack earn its worldwide reputation of rugged dependability. A 1918 AC model was one of 4,100 built for the U.S. and its allies in World War I. Because the trucks went virtually anywhere in all sorts of weather, in conditions where roads as we know them were non-existent, the British started referring to the coffin-nose rigs as “Bulldogs.” The name stuck, and the bulldog became the mascot and symbol of Mack.

The last truck designed by the Mack brothers before investors took over the company in 1911 was the Mack Jr. These were used primarily for city delivery, hauling everything from produce to dry goods, sharing the streets with horse-drawn wagons.

AC model Macks were manufactured from 1916 through 1932. On a personal note, I remember chain-drive ACs operating in New York City when I was growing up during World War II. These 10-20 year old trucks ran on wood-spoke wheels with solid rubber tires. They rode hard, but with rubber being rationed and tires almost impossible to get, they got the trucks through the war years. ACs carried everything our modern trucks do, just a lot less of it. My favorites were the dump trucks unloading coal to be shoveled down chutes to basement coal bins.

Inside story

From the museum’s lobby, I wandered down a hall with one of every engine Mack ever made on display. For a motor head (emphasis on the “motor”), this is a trip to paradise. The first engine was a gasoline-fueled four-cylinder with an updraft carburetor. The last — the latest generation MP8. On the wall is the Bulldog Gallery, a collection of paintings and artifacts highlighting Mack’s canine mascot.

Halfway down the hall, an opening takes you to a huge anechoic (echo-free) chamber. The soundproof room is where Mack engineers did their noise testing and development of everything from cabs to exhaust systems. Soundproofing was done with a series of foam wedges, arranged to absorb sound waves and prevent them from being reflected.

In a corner of the chamber sat what is arguably the most beautiful truck Mack ever made, the iconic B-61, built from 1953 to 1966.

The next hall, the largest in the museum, houses a variety of historically significant vehicles. Along with an assortment of wreckers, dump trucks, fire trucks and other representative vehicles, there’s a turbine powered research truck conceived in 1979 and used as a test bed in the early 1980s. The CruiseLiner cabover had a 550 hp Garett turbine engine. Its most distinguishing feature was its huge, centrally mounted, well- insulated exhaust stack designed to lift copious amounts of hot exhaust away from traffic and over cargo in the trailer.

Trucks and artifacts are just part of the museum’s story. It also serves as the repository of corporate knowledge. Starting in 1905, the company kept extensive records on every truck it built, many with photographs. There are more than 80,000 photos in the collection. If you were lucky enough to come across a model AB or AC, or a more modern B-61 under a tarp somewhere, the museum’s library probably has the truck’s original build list on file, showing every part, component and even fastener used in its construction.

Museum tours are conducted when the building is open to visitors, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The hour-long tours are conducted at 10 and 11 a.m. and 1, 2 and 3 p.m.

Occasionally, the museum hosts special events arranged by chapters of the American Truck Historical Society or various local historical and regional enthusiast groups.

Mack Trucks History

The Mack brothers started building gasoline-powered buses in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1900. Their first, an open roof vehicle, was used to carry sightseeing passengers around Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Soon, they started building buses without seats — their earliest trucks. By 1905, the truck business included seven-ton dump trucks used in building New York City’s new subway system. They outgrew their facilities and moved to Allentown.

There, the company thrived, merged and was eventually purchased by investors. It was later owned by Renault, which was bought by Volvo. When Volvo Trucks North America decided to consolidate operations in North Carolina, Mack converted their technical and engineering facility into the Mack Customer Center. It’s only 20 minutes from Mack’s manufacturing location in Macungie, Pa.

Another Motor Head Delight

While in Allentown, consider visiting America on Wheels auto museum. The featured exhibit through April is American Classics of the 1930s. Among the regularly featured vehicles are sports cars, muscle cars, pony cars, luxury cars and race cars. And, of course, this is Allentown so there’s a gallery devoted to historic trucks from Mack. There are even displays of motorcycles and bicycles. It if has a place in America’s history of road transport, it is either in the museum or soon will be.

Plan your trip to Allentown carefully. In Autumn, the colors are spectacular. Springtime brings the beauty of emerging greenery, and in summer, the Pennsylvania forests are in their glory. But be careful in winter. Most often, the roads are clear, but a snowstorm can make the hills and curves treacherous. No matter when you choose to visit, you’ll enjoy two of the nation’s finest motoring museums.

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