Searching for Refrigerated Truck Bodies

In a trade derived from the blacksmith's shop and carriage builders, truck body building has long been a local occupation. Only in recent years have many body builders begun to spread their sales efforts nationwide as the industry consolidated into the hands of fewer manufacturers.

Contrary to the image portrayed by Western movies, blacksmiths did much more than shoe horses; in fact, one whose primary function was shoeing horses was known as a farrier. The job of a blacksmith was to fabricate metal such as nails and hinges and to provide the fittings needed by coach builders. This heritage has been reflected in the logo of many body builders, especially the carriage that was the insignia of Hackney Bros Body Company throughout its distinguished history.

In the 27 years that Refrigerated Transporter has published its Trailer, Truck Body, and Refrigeration Guide, the list of body builders has changed markedly from a high of 33 entries in 1979 to only 17 in 1999. In that big list, the majority served primarily regional markets. Only Hackney and Murphy could be truly said to reach a national market, because of their prevalence in the dairy industry. Johnson, Kidron, Morgan, and Supreme were all still in their growing stages. In today's market, Hercules, Johnson, Kidron, Morgan, and Supreme are national in scope with Kidron having acquired Hackney and Supreme purchasing Murphy.

The web sites maintained by body builders with national sales offer a broad range of information from the basic to highly detailed. What follows is a look at the refrigerated truck body builders on the Internet.

Next page: the web sites Hercules Manufacturing Company in Henderson, Kentucky, takes a straightforward approach to its web site, which is essentially a single page. It opens with the Hercules logo at the top of the page followed by a description of Hercules as a specialized builder of refrigerated equipment. The site notes that Hercules was founded in 1902 to build buggies for sale by Sears. The company produced its first truck body in 1912 and its first mechanically refrigerated body in 1932. The buggy business took awhile to decline. In 1921, the company built 84,000 buggies. Today it specializes in refrigerated truck bodies and trailers for the foodservice industry.

The web site includes a series of thumbnail photos along the left edge of the screen. Clicking on these small photos results in a large version of the same image. Johnson Truck Bodies' web site makes the claim that the company is the original manufacturer of fiberglass refrigerated truck bodies and trailers. The site opens on a page dominated by a reach-in ice cream body decorated with the Johnson logo.

Navigation through this extensive site is provided by a tool bar at the top of the page. Select Company Profile on the tool bar for a description of Johnson's current products and markets served. The company pioneered the use of molded fiberglass for truck bodies with seamless interiors.

Clicking on the History link provides a history of Johnson Truck Bodies, which began business in 1932 as Johnson Welding & Manufacturing Company. The original business manufactured farm wagons, snowplows, and general freight truck bodies. Later the company began retinning milk cans, and the name was changed to Johnson Truck Bodies & Retinning Service. At its peak, Johnson was retinning 1,500 milk cans a day. By the 1950s, the company began to concentrate on refrigerated truck bodies, developing the Cold-Con, a detachable body mounted on a trailer frame that allowed distributors to move multiple loaded containers to remote distribution sites.

Select Truck Bodies on the tool bar for a list of 14 different market categories that Johnson serves. Clicking on one of those categories takes the visitor to a page with photos and descriptions of equipment for that industry. Visitors can move to the next category by clicking the Forward button at the bottom of the page. Selecting the Insulated Self-Contained button on the tool bar results in a description of self-contained insulated boxes that slip into compact vans. Select Refrigeration for a complete discussion of Johnson's eutectic plate refrigeration systems. This page provides photos and a large table comparing the advantages and disadvantages of eutectic plates to mechanical refrigeration.

In addition, the web site includes a parts catalog. The parts page, which is reached by clicking Parts Catalog on the tool bar, contains 25 separate parts categories. On the Contact Us page, visitors can use an e-mail form to describe products needed and to request vehicle specifications from Johnson. Kidron Inc provides a wealth of information on a web site that is notable for its simplicity. The site opens on a page of graphics with navigation buttons around the perimeter of the company logo. Small photos of trucks along the bottom of the page lead to product descriptions.

Click About Kidron for a short description of the company, its history, and its manufacturing facilities. Clicking Products leads to a list of Kidron's line of truck bodies. Select a product category for a more detailed description on a page with a photo that matches one of those across the bottom of the home page. In addition to a description, the product pages provide a clickable cutaway drawing that enlarges to provide details of specific products. The product pages contain additional links for truck body Specifications and Options.

Click on Kidron Parts for an online parts order form. The button Dealer Locator leads to a clickable map to find the nearest Kidron dealer. If Kidron has a dealer in that state, the name, address, and phone number of the dealer are displayed. The company does not have dealers in several of the Western states. Clicking on a state that does not have a dealer refers the visitor to Kidron's central customer service office in Ohio.

The Contact Us button leads to a conventional contact page with e-mail, telephone, and fax contacts. It also has a link to Kidron's inventory of new and used truck bodies. Clicking on New or Used leads to a list of equipment available for sale with the unit stock number, the specifications of the item, its location, and a clickable thumbnail photo that expands to a large image. Morgan Corporation maintains a simple web site packed with information. Navigation through the site is accomplished with five links across the bottom of the opening page. The History link leads to a page tracing the company's development since its founding in 1952. This page also follows company growth and the addition of manufacturing plants across the country.

The Latest News link leads to an archive of news releases about Morgan Corporation and its products. Clicking the Products link on the main page results in a page with thumbnail photos of Morgan's six main product categories. Two of these categories are for refrigerated bodies. Clicking on the photo for Refrigerated Van leads to a page of detailed specifications and a list of available options. Click on Cold Star on the products page for a description of Morgan's 10-, 12-, and 14-ft refrigerated bodies for Class 3 and Class 4 truck chassis.

On the home page, follow the Sales & Service link to a clickable map that provides the address and telephone and fax numbers of the local dealer when a state is selected. The Request Info link from the home page leads to an e-mail form that allows visitors to request product literature. Supreme Industries, the parent company of Supreme Corporation, provides a complex web site loaded with detailed information. Navigation is with eight buttons across the top of the page. As an indication of site complexity, selecting Company Profile leads to a page with four additional buttons. On the profile page, select 26 Years of Quality for a history of Supreme. Clicking the Who Is Supreme Corporation leads to a description of the company and its plants in six states. Click the Why Do Business With Supreme button for a clickable map with company locations highlighted. Selecting one of the locations leads to a page that lists contact names, address, and telephone and fax numbers. On the profile page, select Supreme Manufacturing Plants for a page with thumbnail photos of the company's eight plants. Clicking on the photo leads to a contact page.

The Dealer Locator button on the main page tool bar leads to another clickable map and dealer contact information. The Financials button provides recent press releases and copies of the 1998 and 1999 annual reports, which require Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

The Links button on the main tool bar leads to a detailed page of links to web sites maintained by industry associations, chassis manufacturers, related publications, regulatory agencies, and Internet portals. The Employment button allows visitors to follow another link for jobs available and to upload a resume to Supreme. The Contact Us button provides company addresses and an e-mail form. This page also provides visitors with an opportunity to order brochures and request price quotations. The contact page offers an e-mail directory and lists trade shows where Supreme is scheduled to exhibit.

The Products button leads to a page of thumbnails of Supreme's 28 product categories. Clicking on a thumbnail leads to a page with a photo of the product and a short description. Three buttons on the description page allow a visitor to view detailed specifications, look at more photos, or download high resolution photos. The high resolution images download in ZIP format and require an unzip program that can recognize long file names.

Below the toolbar on the main page is a button labeled MVP dealer. This button can be used by dealers to place orders online, quote prices, check order status, check the availability of chassis, gather warranty information, and submit warranty claims.

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