The Larrabee-Deyo Motor Truck Company
Just four years earlier the Larrabee-Deyo Motor Truck Company was incorporated. Starting with four employees in the old Sturtevant-Larrabee plant on Charles street, the new company would manufacture heavy-duty commercial motor trucks to meet a growing demand for replacing horse-drawn vehicles.
One month after establishing the business, the Larrabee-Deyo “Standardized Motor Truck” was promoted at Binghamton’s annual Auto Show at the State Armory. The first production 2-ton model was completed the following March and sold to dairy farmer John Southee. As reported several years later, that original truck “still runs every day, bringing great loads of milk into town from Norwich.”
From the start, the goal was to produce a high quality, durable truck, assembled from standard parts. It would be an assembly plant, and as Deyo said at the time, “we use what other specialists have made for us.”
During the first full year of operation the factory produced nearly 50 trucks. As orders increased the company needed more room and moved to the former Deyo-Macey building on Washington Street. With many of its sales to New York City, production more than doubled the following year, and when the Federal Government placed a large order in 1918, production doubled again, requiring another plant to be built. The next year the factory complex was enlarged again, now stretching from Washington to Water Street, and with a workforce of nearly 100 employees, up to fifteen new trucks were rolling out of the plant each week.
In 1923, nationally known cartoonist Johnny Gruelle came to town. The creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy characters, and the comic strip Yapp’s Crossing, Gruelle was in Binghamton to take delivery of a custom Larrabee Speed Six Wagon “Coach De Lux.” Outfitted with seats that converted into bunks, mahogany cupboards, window curtains and a short-wave radio, it would serve as a house on wheels for Gruelle and his family as they embarked on a highly-publicized cross-country adventure. While waiting at Hotel Bennett for his vehicle to be completed, Gruelle spent time putting his impressions of Binghamton on paper in the form of a Yapp’s Crossing cartoon, complete with a caricature of his new Larrabee mobile home.
Business peaked for the company in 1924. At that time more space was needed – certainly to support production, but there was another reason. A new “Memorial Bridge” over the Chenango River was in the works, and part of the factory sat right over the site of a planned Spanish War Veteran Memorial at the easterly approach to the bridge. The City of Binghamton began condemnation proceedings to clear buildings from the area. Meanwhile, Larrabee-Deyo announced plans to move to Hillcrest where it would lease space in what was then the Universal Can Factory, makers of Nestle ice cream.
As it turned out, this would be the beginning of the end. Following a large order in 1925 to produce Majestic taxicabs for New York City, sales steadily declined. Production of trucks continued, but the company was losing money. At one point a merger with other manufacturers and relocation to Poughkeepsie was announced, but the deal fell through.
Finally, in 1930 the factory was taken over by a large firm, and in March of that year the Larrabee-Deyo Company was dissolved. Headlines proclaimed that the plant would be retained and “the new concern will continue to manufacture trucks at Hillcrest,” – but it was not to last. In 1932, during the height of the great depression, production came to an end.
Today Larrabee-Deyo Motor Trucks can still be found. Local moving and storage company owner James Kocak has a large collection of company memorabilia, as well as several trucks including a 1923 fire truck. “My grandfather always had Larrabee trucks on his farm,” said Kocak. “As a boy my father used to ride along as he picked up milk from farms and delivered it to Crowley’s.”
A restored fire truck now sits in a garage of the Binghamton Fire Department. Originally purchased in 1929, it was finally retired in the mid-1960’s. Later owned and restored by Jim VanHart, it was eventually donated by the VanHart family back to the fire department. Assistant Chief Richard Allen remembers taking delivery of the truck prior to the 2011 flood. “At the time it didn’t run, so to protect it from the flood we pushed it onto a hydraulic lift and raised it several feet,” said Allen. Luckily, flood water peaked near the bottom of the tires. Today the “Larrabee” is the pride of the fire department and is often seen in parades, but Allen is quick to add, “only if there is no chance of rain or snow.”
All but one of the old Larrabee-Deyo assembly plants are gone. The remaining Hillcrest building has seen a variety of businesses, most notably Link Aviation – but still today, around the back, painted on a brick wall facing the railroad tracks, a faded “Larrabee-Deyo Motor Truck Co.” can still be seen.
Shiny new trucks with trademark red wheels once drove out of those buildings to spread “the fame of Binghamton to the far corners of the earth.” Nearly a century later some of those trucks are still running – testament to the high quality of design engineering, material and workmanship that went in to these vehicles.
One hundred years ago there was a lot happening in this growing community, and for a period of 15 years, along with Larrabee-Deyo Motor Trucks, a small piece of automotive history was being “Made in Binghamton.”