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Mack marks 100 years with birthday bash

June 17, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

Mack Trucks Inc. on Saturday threw itself a 100th birthday party to remember, with dozens of mighty trucks, a fistful of dignitaries and one giant birthday cake.

With horns from heavy-duty trucks blaring in the background, a general, a senator, a congressman and other elected officials paid tribute to the company that employs about 1,400 people in Hagerstown.

"Over the century, Mack has truly defined the American trucking industry," said Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md.

Sarbanes recalled six years ago, when Mack received the U.S. Senate Productivity Award for its amazing turnaround.

The quality of the engines being built at the Hagerstown plant improved by 65 percent, time spent in manufacturing was reduced by 30 percent and the accident rate dropped by 51 percent, he said.

Mack has continued to thrive, increasing its operating profits from $105 million in 1998 to $204 million in 1999, he said.

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Mack has helped the country get through each of this century's wars, said Gen. John G. Coburn, commanding general of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, which has a fleet of a quarter-million trucks.

"You ought to feel good about your country, your Army and Mack Truck," Coburn said.

Thankfully, Mack has bucked the recent trend of manufacturing jobs going overseas, said U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md.

Mack has also stood the test of time in a fast-paced, knowledge-based economy, where dot-com businesses come and go, said Maryland Secretary of Business and Economic Development Richard C. "Mike" Lewin.

"There are some products, and some companies, that we know we can count on to always be there and to always perform at the highest level," Lewin said.

The anniversary celebration was more personal for Gregory I. Snook, president of the Washington County Commissioners, who married into a family of Mack Truck employees.

His father-in-law moved here in 1961, when Mack moved its engine plant from Plainfield, N.J.

The occasion drew a visit from Michel Gigou, Mack's president and chief executive officer, who was in the middle of a whirlwind tour of Mack plants in Winnsboro, S.C., and Macungie, Pa., which conducted simultaneous celebrations Saturday.

"It's a good feeling," said Robert Shoop, shop chairman for United Auto Workers Local 171, as he ate a piece of the birthday cake that was cut after the ceremony ended.

Things are going well at the engine manufacturing plant, despite a planned layoff of 60 in mid-August due to an industry-wide decline in truck orders, he said.

The number of people laid off will be lower than 60 because of retirees that won't be replaced. The rest have volunteered, he said.

The birthday party was part of Mack's seventh annual Bulldog Roundup, which is usually held in the fall but was moved up for the special occasion.

An estimated 10,000 people withstood the heat to eat food, drive a Mack truck for a dollar and get a glimpse of the plant. Temperatures were in the mid-80s, but the humidity made it feel like the 90s.

A dozen Washington County Lions and Lioness clubs sold food. The lines were longest at the tents selling ice cream, hamburgers and pork barbecue sandwiches.

Patti Hull of Sharpsburg said she remembers coming to the plant when she was a little girl and her father worked there. Saturday, she brought her 15-year-old son, Jeremy Angle, to see her friends who now work there.

Mack is to trucks what Harley Davidson is to motorcycles, said Mack engineer Walter Edwards.

"When they say Mack's been around longer than some countries, that means a lot," said Edwards, 40, who lives in Berkeley Springs, W.Va. "People are rabid Mack Truck owners."

Others are simply Mack fans. Among those are George Tracey and his father, G. Fulton Tracey, of Lutherville, Md.

Both father, who worked for Railway Express Agency, and son, a former firefighter, have fond memories of working with Mack trucks.

The first Mack was a tour bus in New York City. The 20-passenger sightseeing bus, powered by a Mack 40-horsepower gasoline engine, operated continuously for 17 years and more than a million miles in and around New York City.

Mack also made the first hook and ladder firetruck in 1910.

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