Speedlined Delivery: A milk truck mystery

Is this Dodge milk truck a product of DeKalb Body Corp.? Is it a milk truck at all?

“Aerodynamic” and “sleek” aren’t terms normally associated with delivery trucks,
but this circa-1939 one-ton Dodge wears a slick body believed to have been built
by the DeKalb Commercial Body Corp.

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By Angelo Van Bogart

Dodge already offered a panel truck in its truck line, but DeKalb Wagon Co. of DeKalb, Ill., one-upped the automaker around 1940 with a milk body as slick as butter on a hot cob.

Despite the “corn country”-based body builder’s ancient-sounding name, its circa-1940 Dodge panel truck carried a sleek, modern shape that did away with separate fenders and incorporated a wrap-around windshield and rear-wheel shields.

The truck was built for briskness, as designers left corners and edges off the shape wherever they could. Speed lines down the sides enhanced its modern appearance, and a two-tone paint scheme gave the truck added glamour and ensured it would twist necks and earn a pointing figure or two. So advanced-looking was this truck, it could very well have been more easily confused for a flying saucer than a milk truck.

Little is known of the DeKalb Wagon Co. body builder, but it was recognized for its history of building bodies on Dodge truck chassis. In 1934, the company built a Step-Go milk body on a Dodge chassis, according to coachbuilt.com. That website also noted that the company was founded in 1904 as the Sycamore Wagon Works and then underwent a name change in 1912 to DeKalb Wagon Co. Perhaps realizing its name sounded as old as a Conestoga, the company became the DeKalb Commercial Body Corp. in 1941, right around the time this sleek body was built. By the early 1970s, the company had disappeared from local business listings.

It appears entry and egress from the rear of the delivery truck was gained through
two doors that opened in the center and a panel above that could be raised. Note
the curvature of the rear and the step plate built into the curved rear bumper.
Round tail lamps complement the curvy overall theme.

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While little is known of the DeKalb Commercial Body Corp., even less is understood about the truck pictured here. In fact, the truck in the accompanying photos may not be a product of the DeKalb Commerical Body Corp., and it may not even be a milk truck. The photos, along with the DeKalb Commercial Body Corp. blueprint also shown here, were discovered together by Old Cars Weekly reader John Hambrock. Presumably, both illustrations came from the same source. Other clues indicating the wild vehicle was built by the DeKalb Commercial Body Corp. come from the truck’s 1940 Illinois dealer license plate, and the fact that the company seems to have built many milk delivery trucks before and after 1940. Since other milk trucks of this era have a similarly tall body, it’s believed this truck was probably designed to accommodate a milkman dropping off fresh dairy, doorstep after doorstep.

Questions may remain as to the identity of the pictured delivery truck’s body, but the maker of its chassis is clearly Dodge. The style of this delivery’s disk wheels are found on one-ton Dodge trucks built in 1939 and after, and each wheel is with a bold “D” in its center. More obvious is the “Dodge” emblem in front of the right-side door; this emblem is found on the leading edge and above the grille of production “Job-Rated” 1939 Dodge trucks and on the sides of their hoods in 1941 and thereafter.

This blueprint accompanied the photos of the delivery truck also shown here. It is
labeled “De Kalb Commercial Body Corp., CB-550 Series, Milk Body Stand-Drive,
Drawn JTM (presumably the artist’s initials) 10-31-44, M-536.” Like the photographs,
this delivery vehicle is Dodge truck-based. It is noted as being of all-steel construction
with an opening rear door and a capacity of 42 cases of milk.

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For 1939, Dodge offered one-ton trucks on a 120-inch wheelbase (Model TD20) or 133-inch wheelbase (Model TD21). Because the pictured delivery truck’s body was built using no or few production components, it would have been purchased from Dodge as the least-expensive truck available in the one-ton line: a chassis and flat face cowl for $580 (120-inch wheelbase) or $620 (133-inch wheelbase). Before a body was fitted, each unit had a weight of 2,625 or 2,650 lbs., respectively. In 1939, a total of 6,587 one-ton TD20 and TD21 Dodge trucks were built in all varieties (panels, chassis-and-cab combinations, pickups, etc.). Of those, there’s no way to tell how many would have been fitted with bodies such as this, but perhaps a Dekalb- or Chicago-area Old Cars Weekly reader can shed more insight on the past of the DeKalb Commercial Body Corp. and its commercial truck bodies.

And maybe, just maybe, someone even remembers getting fresh milk via one of these trucks, surely the sleekest Dodge milk truck to ever run a milk route.

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