DIVCO – America’s favorite Milk Truck_Intro 101

A graphic I created from a photo of a Divco nameplate

Along with my obsession with diners and long-time passion for the music of Tommy James & the Shondells, there is another interest that has held my attention for a good portion of my life. I am going to call it the little truck that could! I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s and as many of my contemporaries would remember, during that time period there was still plenty of home-delivery happening. I recall the Cushman Bakery delivery cars, usually Ford or Chevy panel station wagons. Here is an image I found of the great Cushman logo I remember from those delivery wagons…..

I  found the above image on this website…… http://diggingdowneast.blogspot.com/2010/09/those-places-thursday-cushmans-bakery.html

But most of all, I remember the many local dairies delivering milk and other dairy products to my neighborhood. Most of the milk delivery trucks were built by a concern originally known as the Detroit Industrial Vehicle Company which became more universally known as DIVCO. One of the things that made these the coolest vehicles coming down the street every day was the fact that the drivers could either sit in a seat or stand to operate the vehicle!

Back in the late 1990’s I became a member of the Divco Club of America (DCoA) check out…..  http://www.divco.org/ . My interest in Divcos was renewed by a couple of things which I explained in an article I wrote for the November 1999 edition of the DCoA newsletter, the Divco News. Here is that resurrected article…….


Hot Times with a Cool Truck

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I have great recollections of the many dairies delivering their wares in what seemed like an armada of Divcos throughout the metropolitan Boston area. On my street alone there had to be 3 or 4 dairies delivering to not only my family’s house but to many of my neighbors as well. I can remember Whitings (they delivered to our house), Buttrick’s Dairy, United Farmers and of course Hood’s Milk, the largest in the area! I thought these were the neatest trucks especially because the drivers could drive them standing up! I have talked with other people of my age group who have the same memories of going up to a driver on a hot summer’s day and asking for a piece of ice to cool you down. It wasn’t the same when the trucks became refrigerated, no more ice!! !

Well of course as time went by, these milk trucks started disappearing, when more and more people started buying their milk, butter and other dairy products at the supermarkets. By the late 60’s there just didn’t seem to be a great need for these home deliveries anymore. In fact, Hood was probably the last of the dairies in my area even offering home delivery and they were not using Divcos anymore but GMC or other make refrigerated trucks were and still are in service.

In 1971 I graduated from high school and was friendly with someone who happened to be a member of the Medford Auxiliary Fire Department. I was interested and decided to join. The Auxiliary Fire Dept. is an all volunteer unit that comes under the Civil Defense jurisdiction and helps the regular Fire Dept. in usually any fire situation over a second alarm. When I joined in 1971, the Auxiliary had 2 trucks at their disposal, Engine #9 was a 1950’s Ford which was more for forest fires (it did not have a large capacity pump). The second vehicle they had was Lighting Unit #22 an old Divco one of 2 donated to the city (probably from Hood Milk) for use as they were needed. I don’t know what happened to the 2nd one but the Divco that became Lighting Unit #22 was in service from 1970-73.

edford Auxiliary Fire Department Lighting Unit # 22
photo courtesy of the archives of the late Edward Woodbridge
past Captain of the Medford Auxiliary Fire Department

It was a riot to see this thing come down the street with all it’s flashing lights and siren going, (it had the loudest siren in the city!). The truck was equipped with a large generator, at least 5kwatts and all sorts of waterproof lights with cables to light up fire scenes at night. It was used quite a bit. I rode in it to a couple of fires and at least one large parade. Unfortunately I never got to drive it! By 1973 the Auxilliary Fire Department was offered another used truck, this one was a newer Dodge Stepvan which was larger than the old Divco. The Divco was phased out of service when the new truck was being rehabbed. The last time I saw the Divco it was sitting in a junk yard in Charlestown, MA not far from the old Hood Plant! It was sad to see it there and I know it probably did not live too long after that.

I did not think too much about Divcos for many years, in fact I got deeply involved with what I like to call an ongoing personal research project on that ubiquitous American restaurant, the Diner. Since 1980 I have been documenting with photographs diners throughout the eastern US. At last count the log has over 766 entries of diners from Maine to Florida and as far west as Chicago. In my collecting of diner memorabilia I managed to get the set of 7 model diners Danbury Mint put out a few years ago, which put me on their mailing list.

Of course I was excited 2 years ago when Danbury Mint put out the Borden’s Divco Model and had to get it! This past January I got a Classic Motorbooks catalog in the mail and for the first time saw Bob Ebert and John Rienzo’s Divco book advertised. I was amazed! I quickly sent away for it and was not disappointed when it finally came. It spurred me on to become a member of the DCoA.

In reading the book, I was intrigued to find out that we even had a Divco dealership in my hometown in the 1930’s. I called John Rienzo and asked him about this fact and he got right back to me with the answer, it was called Teel Truck Sales at #4 Mystic Avenue. I personally know that this address has not existed since the late 1950’s when all the buildings in that block were tom down to make way for the new Fire & Police headquarters that was built circa 1960.

Since becoming a member of the DCoA, I thought more and more about the old Lighting Unit #22 and decided to see if I could obtain a photo of it. I myself had never photographed it, so I turned to the former Captain of the Auxiliary Fire Dept., Ed Woodbridge. I went and visited Ed a few months ago and went through his photo collection. I was rewarded with a decent driver’s-side view of the truck parked in a local shopping center parking lot. I estimate the shot to be 1972 or 73 because on close examination I could see an old friend, Richard Pelland in the driver’s seat. I borrowed the picture and scanned it as well as made a couple of slide copies for my collection. I don’t know if it was the only Divco ever used in a Fire fighting capacity, but it’s the only one I know of!

During the time period that I was a member of  the DCoA (1998 thru 2010), I had managed to photograph quite a few Divco trucks. I even attended a local car & truck show about 3 years ago that a number of my fellow DCoA members from Massachusetts attended with their vehicles.

Around 1998 or so when Denise and I had bought some flowers to plant at a farm stand/garden center located on Lynn Street in South Peabody, Massachusetts I was surprised to see this old Divco milk truck on the property. It obviously had not moved in years. I asked a lady who worked there (I assume she was an owner) about the old truck, she told me the reason it was there was that they still used the refrigerated back compartment of the truck for storage as the compressor was still working. So I snapped 2 shots of the old truck and we went home.

old Divco in Peabody, Mass. – photo by Larry Cultrera

old Divco in Peabody, Mass. – photo by Larry Cultrera

On the way home I started thinking of this Divco I just took the photos of and thought of another photo I took back in the early 1980’s of a building that was on the adjacent property to this same garden center we were just at. This building was very unique, it was the L.K. Newhall Filling Station, an old fashioned style of gas station that was still operating at that time. It was the type that sat hard by the sidewalk and had 2 gas pumps virtually on the street. I drove by it a lot in the 1980’s and even recall getting gas there once, just for the novelty. One day I decided to finally take one photo of this place from across the street for posterity.

L.K. Newhall’s Filling Station – circa early 1980’s photo by Larry Cultrera

To continue,  when we were driving home from picking up the plants I thought of this photo and realized that the angle of the shot as I remembered it was worth looking at again as the Divco truck should have been visible in it. Sure enough once I got home and dug up the photo, there was a small portion of the Divco peeking out from behind the filling station…

As you can see, there is the Divco truck peeking out from behind the filling station. Interestingly, the old filling station building is still there but it is no longer used. – circa 1980’s photo by Larry Cultrera

Another local Divco I knew about was owned by the late Chris Kiley of Saugus. Chris bought the used truck from a concern located in the Brockton, Mass. area (as I recall) back in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s (I’m not sure of the date he bought it). He wanted to do a minor restoration to the truck in homage to his family’s former dairy that was once located in nearby Melrose. I called him up one day and asked him if I could come over and shoot some photos of the truck and he gave me his approval!

Chris Kiley’s –  Kiley Farm Divco, photo by Larry Cultrera

Chris Kiley’s –  Kiley Farm Divco, photo by Larry Cultrera

Chris Kiley’s –  Kiley Farm Divco, photo by Larry Cultrera

Chris Kiley’s –  Kiley Farm Divco, photo by Larry Cultrera

Not long after I took those photos, Chris drove the truck in a parade that took place in Melrose……

Chris Kiley’s truck in a parade….. photo by Larry Cultrera

I was saddened to hear that Chris passed away suddenly this past year. I understand that his son and some friends got the old truck running after being in storage for a few years and it was driven in the funeral procession in his dad’s honor!

Just the other day my good friend Beth Lennon (aka, Mod-Betty) of Retro-Roadmap blog (www.retroroadmap.com) did a post on Christiansen’s Dairy of North Providence, RI and mentioned their fleet of Divco Milk Trucks in daily use, check it out here…… http://www.retroroadmap.com/2012/10/26/christiansens-milk-glass-bottles-delivered-vintage-milk-trucks-north-providence-ri/

I was also happy to read a blurb about Beth’s blog in the Travel Section of today’s Boston Sunday Globe……  http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/travel/2012/10/27/the-tip-retroroadmap-com/JJuMQfoOxevmObm8LJptAI/story.html

Congratulations Beth, you deserve it!

I went thru the archives and realized I have so many photos of Divco trucks that this post will serve as an intro to a separate page that will be accessed at the top of my blog under the header, right next to the link for my “Tommy James and the Shondells” page. I will be creating that page in the next few days in honor of the 5th Anniversary of the Diner Hotline blog, (this coming Wednesday, October 31st). Here is the link for the new Diner Hotline DIVCO page….