Detroit’s Divco trucks delivered the goods

Years ago, Detroit's Divco trucks were a common sight delivering milk and other goods to the doorsteps of millions of homes.
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By David McCormick

1964 Divco model 206 before restoration

1964 Divco model 206 before restoration courtesy of Daredevil Brewing Company. It previously served as a Pabst Blue Ribbon delivery truck.

Many years ago, milk was delivered to the doorstep of millions of homes—in glass quart bottles. On warm summer mornings, neighborhood children would follow behind those distinct snub nose delivery trucks. As the milkman stepped away from his truck to make a delivery the kids would converge upon the open double doors at the rear of the van. They would abscond with handfuls of ice chips that were used in keeping the milk bottles cold—crushing the cold, crystallized pieces between their teeth as they ran from the truck.

At each delivery, the milkman picked up the empty milk bottles to be cleaned and refilled. (Without realizing it people were going green, even back then.)

To many, those signature snub nose milk trucks with their bi-fold doors were synonymous with the term DIVCO. D.I.V.C.O is the acronym for the Detroit Industrial Vehicle Company. The odds are the milkman of days gone by made his home deliveries in a Divco truck.

The first Divco-style truck

The first prototype of a Divco-style-truck was an electric-powered vehicle designed in 1923. This first multi-stop delivery vehicle was intended to replace the horse and wagon for house-to-house milk delivery.

1970 Custom Divco truck

1970 Custom Divco truck, sold on eBay in 2014 for $8,800 by eBay seller, 2_g_2_b_true.

According to Les Bagley, executive director of DCoA, the Divco Club of America [divco.org], it was the brainchild of George Bacon. He developed it while he was chief engineer for the Detroit Electric Vehicle Company. The truck offered the option of being operated from either running board, front or back. This allowed the driver to step in or out of the truck from either side.

Although the battery power allowed for ease of operation, it lacked the physical capability to ferry heavy cases of bottled milk, especially up hills and in winter conditions.

Within a few years, George Bacon, after a number of trials, developed a successful gasoline-powered delivery truck. Subsequently, he, along with a group of investors, created the Detroit Industrial Vehicle Company. From its inception in 1926 until production ceased in 1986, Divco underwent a series of financial, corporate and company name changes. Although the Divco delivery vans serviced other businesses, such as bakers and launderers, the four-cylinder gasoline powered, four-speed transmission trucks were first known as Divco milk trucks.

Divco truck modifications

Divco Model U Rosenberger’s Dairies Delivery truck

Divco Model U Rosenberger’s Dairies Delivery truck, courtesy, LECOM.com, Truck Wheels.

During the first decade of manufacture, the Divco trucks had several modifications. In 1928, the Model G was produced. The vehicle offered a short hood and was available in two body styles: one a van, the other with open sides. It could be controlled while sitting or standing—and from either running board by means of an upright, manual tiller.

The Model H added a walk-through aisle for greater ease of movement. This improvement became a permanent standard in the Divco milk trucks. Other models followed.

In 1937, Divco developed a body-style change that was maintained throughout the years until production ceased. Within a short time, this Divco Model U was put into service. It employed a welded steel body and what became its signature snub-nosed-hood. Thousands of local dairies made millions of home deliveries using those multi-stop vans.

Postwar Divco trucks

In the early post-war years, upwards to 7,000 units were built annually. Some later models were equipped with more powerful six-cylinder engines. And in 1954, refrigeration was offered as a standard basic option.

It is estimated that Divco built about 50,000 units during its 60-plus-year tenure.

The milkmen made deliveries from late night and through the early morning hours into the next day. The brightly colored vans proudly advertised their dairies with hand lettering and stenciling, as well as company logos. A white body with red lettering was a favorite — another was a cream color combined with red or green details.

1938 Divco twin delivery truck

1938 Divco twin delivery truck, restored and used as a hot dog truck, courtesy, Cullen328.

Today there is a large, ever-growing market for those vintage Divco milk trucks. These vividly colored vans are prized by classic car enthusiasts. The 1954, a Divco milk truck housed in Jay Leno’s huge classic-car garage is a testimony to their popularity.

A number of enthusiasts opt for a certain style or year, while others seek that original look that can cost upwards to $30,000 to achieve. Those with that classic car appetite might turn their Divco into a muscle-milk-truck — mag wheels and all. Quite a few Divcos have been lost to time and the elements — many claimed by rust, resulting in dwindling numbers. But Daredevil Brewing Company did wonders with a decrepit 1964 Model 206 Divco truck. Ironically, it had served as a Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer delivery truck.

Where to find Divco trucks

Vintage Divco milk trucks may be found at car shows. They are also advertised by classic car dealers and are listed in online auctions. A 1966 Lakeside Dairy milk truck was offered for sale at Chicago Classic Cars with an asking price of $12,900, in its original as-is-condition and needing a bit of work. A customized deep yellow 1946 Divco milk truck was listed on amclassiccars.com. And a 1970 custom Divco Truck Sold on eBay in 2014 for $8,800 from eBay seller 2_g_2_b_true.

A number of these vintage, workaholic trucks are still moving down the road. A restored 1954 Divco refrigerated milk truck, dressed in the Rockview Farms logo, has made deliveries for several years.

1964 Divco model 206 after restoration

1964 Divco model 206 after restoration, courtesy of Daredevil Brewing Company tap truck. It previously served as a Pabst Blue Ribbon delivery truck.

In the 1950s, to plug their new models, Divco commissioned a smaller version of the full-size trucks. The Robel Corporation manufactured a number of those ‘mini-vans’ for dealerships. The smaller versions were just the right size for a child to handle. These replicas are prized by collectors.

For those interested in learning more about Divco milk trucks, they can turn to the Divco Club of America (DCoA). According to Les Bagley, former executive director, the club has members all over the U.S. and Canada. The organization is a valuable resource for information on all types of Divco delivery trucks, as well as a portal for connecting with other Divco truck enthusiasts. Two of its members, Dr. Robert Evert and John S. Rienzo Jr., have written a comprehensive history. The title is “Divco: A History of the Truck and Company.”

Small-scale Divco trucks

Not everyone has the desire, pocketbook or storage capacity to get involved with the Divco trucks themselves. For those so inclined, there is a huge array of scale-model Divco milk trucks available today. They are manufactured by a number of companies.

The price of a diminutive Divcos is easier to manage as opposed to the cost of one of its big brothers. These ever-popular scale models comprise a huge part of the Divco milk truck collectibles’ market. Fairfield Collectibles offer a 4” die-cast-scale model of a Twin Pines Dairy truck with working doors in green and yellow, complete with the milkman, for $49.99.

Contemporary Divco collectibles

Danbury Mint offered a 1950s Borden milk truck with its trademark yellow and red graphics for $135. A number were advertised by Geller Toy Trains: A Mayfield Dairy Farm’s truck and a truck, offered by Welsh Farm, are offered at $49.95 and $59.95, respectively. They are quite popular, and at times, out of stock. Their limited edition of 50 Dairylea logo milk trucks listed at $55.95. Die-cast models may be ordered online from DCoA, usually in the $20-$40 price range.

Although these may be only small-scale-models, adult collectors find them entertaining. Kids also comprise part of the market. Along with the go-cart-style Divco milk truck and scale models, a book for young children is also available; “DIVCO: The Little Milk Truck.” The brightly colored mini-tome is offered for sale at $7.99. 

Sales brochures featuring the latest truck models are presented for sale on eBay and Amazon. They cover several years of Divco trucks. The price range runs about $20-$25. Vintage photographs of Borden and Hood Milk trucks, as well as other dairies, are also advertised.

Divco milk trucks are popular among collectors. Thousands have followed the journey of the Divco truck through the years in one form or another; collecting full size vintage trucks, die-cast models, as well as related ephemera. 

Divco truck sources:

  • Article: Shulman, Jim, “Baby Boomer Memories: Fresh Milk Via Horse Drawn Wagon; Then DIVCO” The Berkshire Eagle, December 6, 2017. Article: Caldwell, Dave, “Delivery Trucks That Do a Standup Act,” New York Times, November 26, 2006. Article: Donnelly, Jim, “Got Milk,” Hemmings Motor News, April 1, 2004. DIVCO Club of America, divco.org. DIVCO, Evert, Dr. Robert & Rienzo John S. Jr. “History of the Truck and Company” 1997.

David McCormick holds a master’s degree in Regional Planning from the University of Massachusetts. He was employed by the City of Springfield, Massachusetts, for several years. Now retired, McCormick works as a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Naval History, Elks Magazine and Wild West Magazine.

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