October 27, 2021

Brockways reunite fans over the decades

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

People walk along Main Street in Cortland to look at Brockway trucks and chat with the truck owners. On Saturday, more than 100 Brockway trucks were parked along Main Street for the 21st annual Brockway Truck Show.

Bruce and Linda Whitney, of West Granville, traveled nearly six hours to bring one of their two Brockways to the National Brockway Truck Show on Saturday in Cortland — as much a family reunion as a gathering of massive trucks.

“I went to college in Ithaca, and I used to travel home and we’d go through Cortland and drive by the factory, where they were all brand new sitting in the lot,” Bruce Whitney said, amid more than 100 Brockways on Main Street.

His admiration for Brockway trucks began more than 40 years ago before Mack Trucks closed the Brockway factory in 1977. Brockway trucks were known to be tougher than Macks, but the best part was you could customize your Brockway, Whitney said.

“You could order a Brockway with three different engines, a different transmission, then with different front and back ends. You could kind of custom order a Brockway, whereas a Mack at the time you couldn’t,” Whitney said.

“Because they were a smaller company, they would pay more personal attention to each truck,” Clarence Ritchie, of Middle Granville, chimed in.

Ritchie has attended every National Brockway Truck Show for the past 20 years.

“I owned an old truck, but I’d never had a Brockway — and I was hooked once I got here,” Ritchie said. He now owns 35 Brockway trucks. “I have eight of them registered historically.”

While people milled about Main Street, stopping to check out Ritchie’s Brockway and flip through the scrapbook he’d made showing it’s renovation progress over the years, Ritchie walked around hoping to chat with fellow Brockway enthusiasts.

“A lot of people come here the same day, so you can catch up with them,” he said. Earlier that day, he’d met a 90-year-old man who had worked at the original Brockway factory. “I would ask him specifics about different urban myths, stuff that we’ve heard over the years about the company that’s no more, and he would straighten us out on different things.”

“We need the trucks here to draw the people, to have a show,” Ritched added. “But when the trucks come in, the people come. That’s when the friendship start and the stories get told.”

Lynn Buddenhagen, a member of Cortlandville Fire Rescue, may not be a Brockway truck owner, but he enjoys experiencing a part of Cortland’s history.

“I’ve been here since when Brockway was in business, and I knew a lot of the people who worked on the trucks,” Buddenhagen said. He walked over to a bright red Brockway tanker labeled for the McLean Fire Department. “I remember when that truck was first put into service — I was a fire chief in Cortlandville out there — now the truck is brand new, but that sure was a while ago.”

“This whole thing started because we were doing it to celebrate the centennial and we were highlighting businesses that were important to Cortland at one time or another,” said Shirley Randolph, treasurer of the Brockway Truck Preservation Association.

“Brockway employed well over 1,000 people at one time, that’s how important Brockway was.”

“There was such a camaraderie of people, they get caught up each year and every year you’re meeting somebody new,” Randolph said. “We’ve even got a lot of trucks this year that have never been here before. You can just feel the excitement when they come onto Main Street that morning, revving their engines a little more, excited to be back together. It’s like a family reunion.”

The Brockway Truck Preservation Association always invites past employees to the show, Ritchie said, but as the years go by, fewer attend.

“You’ve got to think about it, it was 1977 when it closed up, so these folks are moving on,” Ritchie said. “But like this 90-year-old gentleman, he was so thrilled that this show was happening. He was involved in it and didn’t even realize it back then. That’s why it’s great to have people visiting and catching up.”