Monday, May 13, 2019

For 70 years the green livery of Geo M. Brewster & Son Inc was synonymous with road infrastructure projects in the US North East. Sadly the famous machines and Bulldog fleet would not stand the ultimate test – time.

Photo: In 1946 the family firm invested in 30 new gasoline powered Mack dump trucks.

Geo M. Brewster & Son Inc. of Bogota, New Jersey, is a name closely connected with a number of last century’s large road building projects in the Eastern United States. The family firm was founded in 1894 by George M. Brewster from Alpine, New Jersey. When George died in 1930 his son, William J. Brewster, became the president of the company. Under William’s direction the general contractor grew to become one of the largest in New Jersey and the neighbouring states. Before the turn of the century George had worked with horse teams and carts, but by 1918 the company already possessed a whole fleet of ‘motor trucks’ to transport the gravel, rock and sand. When Brewster won a number of important road building contracts in the 1920s, the purchase of motorised equipment was further accelerated. One of those contracts was a multimilliondollar job in 1927/28 working as a contractor on the building of the toll plaza and slip roads for the George Washington Bridge across the Hudson River. By the 1930s and 40s, Brewster, among others, was busy on a number of large dam and causeway projects in the states of Ohio, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Photo: A Mack BX dump truck of 1937 vintage.

Photo: For a large contract in 1951 Brewster bought another 33 Mack LJSW trucks, but this time diesels.

Over the years, Mack trucks had played an important role in this success story. The first Bulldog dump truck was purchased in 1928. The 7.5-ton AC model had chain drive, a 7-speed transmission, double chassis rails, and a steel Heil rock body. Within two years the Brewster fleet comprised almost a hundred motor trucks. Almost all were dump trucks and, surprisingly for the time, they were each washed after a tough working day. Quality was a hallmark of the Brewster company, and only the best equipment was good enough. For excavating and crane work, diesel-electric Marion machines were the preferred option, but not unusual for the 1930s, steam diggers were also still in use.

Photo: A Brewster tyre truck in 1946 at work in Avoca. [Poor bloody fleeties! What’s changed in 73 years? We hope ol’ mate didn’t eventually lose his scone – Ed]

Around 1936 much of this equipment and more than a hundred Mack trucks were put to work bridging the Hudson River in New Jersey. Brewster machines and trucks removed nearly two million cubic metres of rock and stones. The AC Macks played an important role in this. William J. Brewster remarked: “The Bulldogs kept on going when they ploughed up to their axles through the mud and had to conquer the steepest inclines."

Following the great Depression in the US the lucrative contracts came in again, prompting Brewster to buy new plant and construction equipment continuously. Forty-five Lorain excavators, cranes and draglines joined the fleet up to 1939. The company also invested in new bulldozers, shovels, graders, compacters and asphalt machines in various sizes and from different manufacturers. To speed up off-highway shale, clay and rock hauling, a number of big articulated Euclid Bottom Dumps and Rear Dump trucks appeared in Brewster colours. World War II meant a halt to proceedings as nearly all equipment was called upon to help build new airports, depots and defence grounds for the army and navy. The most talked about project after the war was their participation in the construction of the New Jersey Turnpike that opened in 1951. In those days Geo Brewster & Son possessed more than 600 pieces of equipment and vehicles, and at the firm’s home in Bogota, New Jersey, there were modern offices, workshops, and storage depots, plus a large asphalt and concrete plant. Post-war Mack continued to be the preferred choice for new on/off-highway trucks. In 1947 30 new LJSW model dump trucks with gasoline 6-cylinder engines were bought, plus two LMSW-M heavy haulage diesel tractors and one 3-axle LMSW flatbed truck. Also purchased around this time were a number of EQU model semi-forward control chassis that were employed as fuel tankers and small equipment transporters. For infield maintenance of construction machines, a heavy 3-axle EQSW conventional with special bodywork was put into service. When Geo Brewster in 1950/51 became the leading contractor for the New Jersey Turnpike, another 33 Mack LJSW dump trucks were purchased, but this time with diesel engines. In addition, 10 6x4 White WC-series chassis with 10-yard Heil dump bodies joined the dark green painted Brewster fleet.

Photo: A view from 1954 of Brewster’s modern workshop in Bogota.

It all looked like the family firm was in for a bright future, but after decades of constant growth the New Jersey contractor ran into serious financial problems around 1953 during the construction of the Palisades Interstate highway on the border of New York State and East New Jersey. In May 1956 a new company was formed as a subsidiary, called Equipment Company. Under its wings also operated the transport division EF Trucking. The latter had taken over part of the wheeled Brewster fleet. However, until 1959 the three affiliated companies could still be seen working together on the new George Washington Bridge. What exactly happened thereafter is poorly documented, but records show that in 1964 all Brewster shares and equipment were auctioned off in the cities of Bogota, Camden and Teterboro, New Jersey, and so ended the story of the once so successful general contractor and Mack truck operator.
Author’s note – With special thanks to Thomas Gatens.

Photo: At one point also some White WC series dump trucks joined the fleet. This one is seen working from a quarry in Oriskany Falls.

Photo: In the late 1940s a 35-ton Mack LMSW-M flatbed truck was bought for heavy on/off-highway work. This Mack ad from 1954 gives a good impression of Brewster’s involvement in the construction of the Garden State Parkway