When the founder of Corbitt Co. moved to Henderson, N.C., in 1895 as a buyer/seller of tobacco, he foresaw that the larger companies would dominate the tobacco industry, so he decided to start his own business.
Richard Corbitt built his first buggy in 1899 and continued to build buggies through 1907. During that time, there were four buggy manufacturers in Henderson, and Corbitt was the only survivor. In 1907, he manufactured his first automobile, called a “horseless buggy.” In 1912, he built 13 automobiles. He had imported some labor from Detroit to have workers knowledgeable about automobiles, but he was losing money on every automobile.
In 1913 he decided to build trucks instead of automobiles. In 1916 he built his first intra-city bus. In 1917 he built his first dump truck. The Corbitt Co. always made money, except when it was building automobiles. During World War I, Corbitt supplied 4,000 trucks to the Army and Navy. In the 1930s, Corbitt built 4x4s for the U.S. Army. It was a Corbitt that pulled Howard Hughes’ huge airplane, the “Spruce Goose,” from its hanger at Long Beach, Calif., in the 1940s. At the time, it was the largest bulk load ever moved over the highway.
When the Auburn Automobile Co. folded, Corbitt bought up all the 1934 Auburn sheet metal parts and used Auburn fenders, hoods, and grilles on the 11,000 lb./13,000 lb. GVW Corbitts for two or three years. They were extremely handsome trucks. None of these are known to have survived. Every major fleet in North and South Carolina bought the pre-1940 Corbitt tractor.
During World War II, Corbitt built 5,500 six-ton 6×6 prime mover trucks for the U.S. Army. White and Brockway built the same model truck for the Army. Corbitt built five prototypes of a truck for the Army whose looks were modern, even by today’s standards. It was 48 inches tall with one-quarter inch armor plate. A Hercules engine in the rear drove through a transfer case and had a cab design that would fit right into the 1980s.
A new engineer in 1942 was told to design a truck with this transfer case, and he asked “What the hell is a transfer case?” The designer said he could not remember a day when Corbitt did not have an Army contract. Corbitt was a small enough company that it could make quick modifications for the Army. When the Army demanded an all-steel cab, Corbitt discontinued the wooden-frame cab from the 30s and built nothing but all steel cabs from World War II WII on.
Corbitt made its own frames, buying the rails from Parish, and drilling the frames and fabricating them. The assembly line moved quite slowly, with the first truck pulling the rest up the line by chain.
During World War II Corbitt made 5500 trucks. The biggest production month after the war was 130 trucks.
The complete engineering department consisted of five men. The maximum number of employees was about 325.
Every Corbitt went through a dynamometer test and a road test, ready to pull freight without any further preparation.
The State of North Carolina had 550 Corbitt 4×4 trucks still in service in 1954 when Corbitt went out of business. Corbitt had made crane carriers, Model C666, with both I-beam frames and frame rail frames. Corbitt made 25 big cabovers for Turner Transfer, a specialized machinery mover in High Point, NC. They sat four to five men across the cab, slept three and had a bed over the engine under the hood. They were powered with the big English Gardener diesel engine. Corbitt built lots of freight trailers, for most of the fleets in NC, SC, and VA. The longest trailer built was a 30 foot unit. Mel showed a slide of a prototype bus from the late 1940s, but it was just a dream on paper and was never produced. The most popular color in the 40’s were red and black.
Corbitt used many Cummins JB6 120 HP diesels. Corbitt got the first 50 JTS supercharged 150 HP diesels from Cummins and had so many problems it was discontinued. Fleets tried to haul freight with the smaller engine and they just did not hold up against the heavier models.
“Geraldine” was a 1951 Corbitt that had run more than 2 million miles at the time. The tractor was sold to The Daniels Company by dealer R. E. Daniels. It has been in all continental 48 states. It was still running in 1981 and had more than 2.6 million miles at that time. In 1984 it was sold to another trucker who made it into a dump truck.
In the early 1950s Corbitt built farm tractors in Henderson, very similar to the Cockshutt in design. There were three versions – running on kerosene, gas, or diesel. Most all were imported to Brazil.
In 1952 Richard Corbitt was more than 70 years old and in poor health. He had two sons. The son who he had hoped would carry on had died. The Corbitt family owned more than 90 percent of the company stock. Mr. Corbitt, discussed the continuation of the company with many employees, and it was agreed to sell the company, as no one was really ready to run the company.
The company was sold in 1952 to United Industrial Syndicate, New York City. They specialized in liquidating companies and liquidated the equipment and the buildings.
In 1954 Corbitt built only 40 trucks, a few farm tractors, and some travel drills.
After Corbitt closed, Wallace White continued to service Corbitt trucks already produced, for seven years in one of the former plant buildings. Wallace even built five or six Corbitt trucks from the parts he acquired, although he did not have the machinery to make new parts.