True believers

Unhappy with a 1998 model truck, Jim Randall traded it in 2004 for a nearly two-decade-old truck, a 1985 Marmon, and hasn’t looked back. It’s demanded little maintenance, has almost 3 million miles and draws attention wherever it goes. “A lot of younger guys come up and say, ‘Who makes Marmon?’ he says. “They have no idea.” One special feature: The hood’s Marmon emblem plate folds down to allow filling the radiator without opening the hood. Randall is leased to Rochester Cartage of Rochester, Minn.

Marmon front ends are about as boxy as they come. But it’s not just the classic look that is treasured by owners of this defunct brand. They swear by excellent craftsmanship, smooth ride and extraordinary reliability. Not to mention the distinction of piloting a rig that draws the admiration of their peers.

The small band of Marmon evangelists is so fervent that for six years they have gathered at a Texas truck stop to spend a weekend exhibiting their rigs, showing Marmon memorabilia, and kicking back with a little refreshments and entertainment, including presentations by Marmon historian Don Chew.

Ken Matuszak, who’s organized these annual revivals, this year chose a TA Travel Center just east of Dallas. The April 20-21 event drew 15 trucks, including one owned by Matuszak. It’s his second Marmon, following a truck of another brand that gave him serious problems. “I decided I needed to get back to something with some workmanship,” Matuszak says.

That legacy of handcrafted quality dates to 1961, when Marmon Trucks of Indianapolis introduced its first highway tractor under the name Marmon-Herrington. The first trucks had Cummins power; Caterpillar was added later.

Marmon-Herrington was sold in 1963 to an investment group that changed the name to Marmon Motor Co. and moved production to Denton, Texas. Space Corp. bought it the next year and moved production to Garland, Texas. In 1969, the company made its first conventional tractor and added Detroit Diesel to the engine mix. Cabover production was phased out by 1988.

The long train of Marmon production ended in 1997, and Matuszak has the caboose. “The Last Marmon” brims with graphics that publicize that milestone in trucking history.

“My biggest thing,” Matuszak says, “is I want to keep the name alive.”

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