How did Don Schumaker end up working 58 years for Mack Trucks?
“I’m in a rut,” the Pennsylvania native jokes.
At age 80, besides delivering a surprising joke or two, Schumaker is also quick at recalling interesting facts from the company’s 116 year history.
For instance, he’ll tell you that during World War I, Mack AC trucks went to work on the front lines in Europe serving British, French and U.S. troops.
While other trucks were getting stuck on challenging terrain, the Macks kept rolling. The British were so impressed with the trucks’ tenacity that they nicknamed them after their country’s beloved mascot, the English bulldog. Playing off its popularity, Mack adopted the Bulldog as its company icon in 1922.
Knowing Mack’s history has come in handy the last 20 years for Schumaker who, among other things, has served as curator of the Mack Historical Truck Museum.
Six months after retiring as the company’s test lab manager in 1995, Schumaker went to work at the company’s non-profit museum where some of the world’s rarest Mack vehicles are on display.
About 9,000 visitors paid their respects last year. About half of the museum’s vehicles are on loan from proud owners. There’s a waiting list for others eager to participate in this vehicular display of American history.
A few years ago, the National Geographic Channel filmed Schumaker inside the museum talking about the trucks that helped win wars and build the nation. Though he won’t mention it, he’s been the subject of other media reports.
Even Pennsylvania State Representative Justin Simmons couldn’t resist sitting Schumaker down for a televised interview and pick his brain on the history of one of the state’s most influential companies.
But now Schumaker won’t be around as much to conduct interviews or to lead his popular tours. He’s retiring…sort of.
Schumaker is scaling back his hours at the museum as he prepares this year for his final retirement, or at least that’s the plan. He’ll be taking on a personal history project by renovating a Mack EE that’s a few years his junior.
“I want to get this EE done, which is one model higher in capacity than the ED,” Schumaker says. “And I think that will probably be the last truck that I tackle.”
Schumaker has already restored a 1941 Mack ED with a 209 cubic inch, 6-cylinder Continental engine.
That truck and the EE awaiting restoration in his garage come from a time when Mack trucks were making a big impression in his life.
Growing up near the company’s longtime headquarters in Allentown kept him in touch with Mack culture, where his father drove a Mack and other relatives owned a fleet of Bulldogs. It’s easy to see why Schumaker calls his longtime career a calling.
“I had a lot of neighbors and relatives who worked for the company. That was back in the 40s and 50s. Mack earned a terrific reputation. I just thought it was a great company, a great place,” Schumaker explains.
During nearly four decades in the test lab, Schumaker got very familiar with Mack trucks. During the fuel crisis of the 1970s, fuel economy was all the rage. Ongoing driving tests kept him in tune with vital variables like powertrains and gear ratios.
When asked to name his favorite Mack truck, Schumaker demurs.
“It’s very difficult to pick one favorite,” he says. “I came in when we were building B models. Bs and Hs and G models, things like that. I guess if you look at Mack’s history, certainly the B series would be a very large part of our success.
“Of course the B61, being the workhorse that it was, was well received in a lot of applications. I guess I would probably go to the era.”
Not surprisingly, his favorite Mack engine is the hard-working heart of the B61—the Mack Thermodyne 673 diesel.
“It certainly earned a reputation for being a very durable and high performing powerplant for many years,” Schumaker says. “It kind of set the standard for over-the-highway conventional diesel.”
Online manufacturing records available through Mack’s museum website reveal that the B61 remains as one of the company’s most widely produced trucks. From 1953 to 1966, 47,459 B61s rolled off the assembly line.
Having quick access like that to records has helped make the Mack museum a treasure to enthusiasts around the world. The museum has vast amounts of original paperwork and publications, including rare technical information, which can be shared upon request.
Though he appreciates how much faster truck information can be shared by computer, Schumaker is under no illusions about digitizing piles of printed material.
“We will never digitize all of the old records,” he says. “That would be such a costly exercise and time consuming.”
The only printed material that the museum is copying currently are old photographs. A volunteer stays busy each week transferring the images to a computer.
“That certainly preserves photographs and makes it easier to respond for requests for images,” Schumaker says.
Other retired Mack employees like Schumaker are the life-blood of the museum. Some even volunteer to help with vehicle restoration.
Given his loyalty and his nearly 60-year-long career, it’s easy to see why Schumaker still talks as if retirement is nowhere on the horizon. While he restores his Mack EE, he’ll be visiting the museum to talk to other enthusiasts and get the inside track on important information and parts.
“The Mack Museum is the ultimate source for collectors and restorers,” Schumaker says. “We’re at an advantage here. We’ve developed a list of parts suppliers, people we know who either have salvage yards or have reproduction parts or whatever—sources for chassis components, drivetrain, sheet metal, whatever. That’s a big service that we provide, too.”
Doubtless, Schumaker provides a legacy of service and loyalty that’s hard to beat.