The early 1900s brought dramatic change to the Northwest as Model Ts began challenging the horse and carriage in the transportation race. It was during this time that Seattle businessman Edgar Worthington was managing his mother's building, occupied by a car and truck dealership. Edgar took a special interest in his tenant, the Gerlinger Motor Car Company, watching as they worked to sell and repair cars and trucks. He never imagined that someday the company would be his.
For many years, Edgar looked on as the dealership went through growing pains. business was slow in this era of change, as Gerlinger mechanic Ed Hahn recalled:
"In those days there were so few trucks and cars, and there was no union, so as a mechanic, you had to stand around the garage—or in this case, the repair shop—and wait for work to come in. Sometimes you made five dollars a week and sometimes you didn't hardly make your board; then you'd have to leave and go do other work—sawmill work or something else. So we started building that first truck to keep help around."
That first truck, unveiled in 1915, was called the Gersix, a six-cylinder vehicle which was framed in structural steel, making it ideal for the rugged Northwest. According to Hahn:
"It took us nearly a year to complete. There were just two of us as mechanics, and as soon as something came in, we'd drop it and go overhaul a man's truck or reline some brakes. As soon as we finished all that, we'd go back to working on the first truck again—sometimes nothing would come in and we'd work all day on it."
Edgar's tenant was doing quite well, or so it seemed, and the Gersix became a popular fixture in the Northwest. However, the company, which had offices in Seattle and Portland, was struggling and in 1917, was offered for sale. Edgar jumped at the opportunity. Together with his partner Captain Frederick Kent, he acquired the company and renamed it the Gersix Motor Company.
In 1919, Frederick Kent retired from the business and his son, Harry Kent became Edgar's new partner. As the company grew, so did its need for capital. Although sales were strong for the Gersix—53 trucks were sold in 1922—they decided to reincorporate, capitalizing on a $60,000 infusion of cash. In 1923, the transaction was completed, and it marked the beginning of a new era. The company became Ken-Worth, named after the two principal stockholders Harry Kent and Edgar Worthington. The Kenworth Motor Truck Company was born, and headquarters were established in Seattle.
In 1924, Kenworth sold 80 trucks and production a year later neared two trucks per week. Even in those early years, Kenworth was dedicated to the custom truck. Under the guidance of Vernon Smith, a master salesman responsible for building sales in the region, the custom truck became the hallmark for Kenworth. Kenworth's John Cannon recalled:
"It wasn't falling into an idea or creating something, it was simply because Vernon Smith would go out and sell some trucks with this or that specification, and then he'd come back to the plant and say, 'Here, I have the sale, now we have to build them.' So, it came not as a designed thing, but more or less as the state-of-the-market at the time. Everybody else was building standard stuff, and we were building anything that Vernon could get an order for."
Production jumped to three trucks per week in 1927. As the company's production began to increase, so did its marketing prowess. Kenworth began manufacturing trucks in Canada, eliminating expensive duty charges, which made Kenworths more affordable in Canada.
1929 marked the start of a new era as E. K. Worthington was succeeded by Harry Kent as president. As the company continued to experience steady growth, lack of space became a major problem. That problem was soon remedied with the opening of a new Seattle factory; a factory which positioned them for future growth.
The Great Depression put the brakes on Kenworth's outstanding growth of the late 1920s. Production was down and complicating matters even more was the large number of defaults on loans.
Even with the depression and an uncertain future, Kenworth stayed aggressive in its marketing and found new opportunities. They began production of fire trucks in 1932, catering to the special requirements each fire chief seemed to have. Kenworth's Murray Aitken recalled:
"Every fire chief felt that he was the world's leading designer of fire trucks, and he wanted some of his ideas incorporated into the fire trucks. As a result, there was a market that Kenworth could satisfy that some of the other manufacturers weren't able to comply with."
Good fortune came to Kenworth in 1933 when it became the first American truck manufacturer to install diesel engines as standard equipment. It was a major development that allowed Kenworth to develop a powerful and durable line of diesel trucks.
The new trucks proved to be a big hit with customers, who also reaped the benefit of fuel savings—diesel was a mere third the price of gasoline.
However, diesel engines were not the only advancement Kenworth made in 1933. The company also sold its first sleeper cab to Central Grocery, in Yakima, Washington.
The year 1935 marked a challenge for Kenworth with the passage of the Motor Carrier Act. New regulations meant stiffer weight and size restrictions, prompting Kenworth engineers to develop aluminum components. Kenworth trucks began to sport aluminum hubs and cabs. Kenworth trucks also featured six-wheel drive, hydraulic brakes, four-spring suspension, and rear axle torsion bar suspension.
In 1936, the "bubble-nose," Kenworth's entry into the cab-over-engine (COE) truck market, was unveiled. These trucks proved extremely efficient and were able to carry a maximum amount of cargo in a minimal overall length.
In 1937, Phil Johnson became president of Kenworth, replacing Harry Kent who had died suddenly of a heart attack. Production continued to rise, and 1940 saw 226 Kenworth trucks leave the factory.
The United States, caught off guard by the bombing of Pearl Harbor, quickly prepared for war. One month after the attack, Kenworth joined the war effort and began production of 430, four-ton, heavy-duty M-1 "Wreckers." An additional 1500 were ordered by the end of the year. These six-wheel-drive vehicles were equipped with powerful cranes, fore and aft winches, cutting and welding equipment, and special floodlights. Sergeant Cpt. Christofferson of the 780th Amphibious Tank Battalion recalled:
"The real test came in actual combat when, after 40 days at sea, they were put aground in the Philippine Islands on "A Day," October 20, 1944. Day after day through sticky mud which covered to the top of the wheels, our Kenworths toiled, recovering tanks from shell holes under Japanese mortar fire, keeping traffic moving along almost impossible roads, and fording rivers with water around the driver's feet..."
To handle the dramatic increase in production, Kenworth streamlined the factory and created a moving production line.
The year 1943 saw even more activity for Kenworth in support of the war. The company began producing components for the Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber and the B-29 "Super Fortress" at its Seattle plant. Since Seattle was declared a "critical labor area," the Government required Kenworth to move its M-1 Wrecker production inland, in order to retain its contracts. Kenworth obliged and set up an additional "factory" in Central Washington, at the Yakima fairgrounds.
When company president Phil Johnson died in 1944, the widows of Johnson, Kent and Frederick Fisher (former company director) were left with controlling interest in the company. They decided to offer their shares to Kenworth employees. Financing for the transaction never materialized, however, and Paul Pigott, president of Pacific Car and Foundry, began negotiating with the widows.
A deal was struck, and Kenworth became a wholly owned subsidiary of Pacific Car and Foundry.
With war production winding down, Kenworth still managed to produce 427 commercial vehicles and 484 military units in 1945.
During this time, Hawaiian plantations became large Kenworth customers, ordering specially designed trucks to transport sugar cane. Overall, 1946 proved to be a banner year with the completion of 705 trucks—a peacetime record. In an effort to consolidate its business, Kenworth brought all manufacturing back to Seattle and opened a new facility.
By 1950, Kenworth's distribution had grown to 27 locations outside the contiguous United States, and foreign sales accounted for 40 percent of total sales.
Still dedicated to custom trucks, Kenworth had more than 30 different models operating in almost every state west of the Mississippi.
The year 1951 marked the time when Kenworth "struck oil." The company designed the Model 853 for the Arabian American Oil Co. (ARAMCO). The truck was so successful that eventually 1,700 were ordered. Everywhere you looked, Kenworths were at oil sites, playing a major role in the development of the Middle Eastern oil reserves.
While the 853 was moving over sand in the desert, Kenworth developed the Model 801, which was designed to move earth in America. The 11.0 cubic yard capacity vehicles proved to be rugged and powerful.
By 1952, trucks were hauling 16 percent of all land-moved freight, an indication of steady growth and increased competition with the railroads.
Further expansion into Canada occurred in 1955 when production began in Burnaby, British Columbia. Canadian Kenworth Limited was formed, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pacific Car and Foundry.
During the same year, Kenworth launched a radical new line of trucks which featured the cab beside the engine. The new design was an instant hit. Its lighter weight allowed an additional half ton of cargo. In addition, the new truck provided driver visibility far greater than any other truck on the road.
Kenworth's existence as an independent corporation ended in 1956 when Pacific Car and Foundry dissolved the independent charter. Kenworth officially became Kenworth Motor Truck Company, a division of Pacific Car and Foundry. Kenworth's custom philosophy and dedication to quality remained intact.
Hot on the heels of the reorganization came the announcement of the new Model 900 series. This new truck featured a new frame design with dropped front section, which shortened and lightened the chassis.
A fleet of 923s were used in a quest for oil in the northern Yukon Valley. More than 3,000 tons of equipment and supplies were required to get to the site traveling over 385 miles of ice and tundra.
When construction was complete (path bulldozed) "White Pass and Yukon Route" Kenworths took over. Powered by Cummins NH 200 diesels with compression brakes, they worked around the clock, never shutting off the engines in the subzero cold, which often reached minus 60 degrees. Low temperatures had no noticeable effect on performance, and no major engine breakdown occurred during the entire construction and freight operation. And they did work hard. The collapse of fresh surface glacial ice would sometimes drop the tractor into ice and water four feet deep. The application of power under those conditions was extremely hard on the running gear and powertrain. Glaciers also played havoc with bumpers and fiberglass fenders. An assessment of performance revealed that the only major problems were broken springs and dirty fuel filters (due to refueling from 46-gallon drums).
The following year, 1957, Kenworth delivered a full-tilt COE cab, which enabled the engine and transmission to be easily serviced. This marked an important step in Kenworth's goal of complete serviceability for its products.
Expansion in 1959 came once again to Kenworth, this time south of the border. With new Mexican regulations overseeing imports, production facilities were built to handle the large post-war Mexican market.
In 1961, two new models were introduced by Kenworth: the W900 conventional (W for Worthington) which provided larger cabs and a redesigned instrument panel; and the K100 (K for Kent) cabover which was designed for maximizing cargo within the overall length restrictions imposed by eastern state regulations.
The new trucks became very popular, making production expansion capabilities imperative. In 1964, a new plant was developed and opened in Kansas City, Missouri. By the end of the year, the company produced 2,037 trucks, a new Kenworth record.
By 1966, there were 46 domestic dealers selling Kenworth trucks throughout the country. Combined with international sales, Kenworth sold over 3,900 trucks during the year, a new high.
With this increase, Kenworth realized the need to reorganize its record storage and retrieval system. In 1967, with "custom" chassis records taking up more and more space, Kenworth developed a system using microfilm—a decision which dramatically helped the dealers' record keeping.
Once again, tariffs played a role in Kenworth's decision to expand. Kenworth opened a plant in Melbourne, Australia, in 1968. Within two years they were producing right-hand drive conventionals and COEs for the Australian market.
The 50th Anniversary of Kenworth in 1972 marked the first year in which the company hit the five-digit sales mark. To commemorate the year, Kenworths featured gold-background hood ornaments (Kenworth Bug), replacing the normal polished aluminum ornament.
Chillicothe, Ohio was the location of Kenworth's next expansion, bringing its production capability to 16,000 trucks in 1974.
Kenworth celebrated the Bicentennial in grand fashion when it introduced the VIT (Very Important Trucker) Series. Both the W900 conventional and K100 cabover featured plenty of standing room, luxurious double beds, clothes closets, refrigerators and hot plates. To recognize the Bicentennial, each truck bore the name of a different state, making the trucks a limited edition and in subsequent years, collectors' items.
However, not only did Kenworth bring luxury to over-the-road, it also brought added durability and reliability to tundra transportation. The Arctic Transporter (ATX) featured six-axle steering using torsion bar suspension, making it ideal for the fragile environment encountered in Prudhoe Bay and the Alaska tundra.
One of the biggest challenges for a Kenworth came in 1979 when a W900 was selected to transport a "High Resolution Spectrometer Magnet," which could produce a magnetic field 36,000 times stronger than the earth's. Special one-time permits were granted allowing the 140-foot-long load, weighing some 107 tons and measuring 18-1/2 feet in diameter and 13-1/2 feet in height, to be transported from Illinois to Palo Alto, California. The custom-built Kenworth featured a CAT 3408 PCTA diesel rated at 450 horsepower and Spicer 24-speed transmission. A specially constructed convertible trailer was built featuring adjustable axles and optional steering in the rear.
Once the trip was underway, there were lots of stops to accommodate TV and radio interviews. The biggest stop almost happened while climbing the 8,640-foot Laramie Summit as 60-mile-an-hour winds ripped through the area. Stan Jones, driver of the Kenworth recalled:
"You're squinting into a blizzard, shifting with both hands, steering with both knees, pulling a 110-wheel trailer with more angles and dangles than the Golden Gate Bridge. Then you begin to feel ice on the road. That's when you thank the man upstairs that you're driving a Kenworth."
The Kenworth and magnet arrived in Palo Alto, fully intact, 19 days after it left Illinois.
In 1985, Kenworth rolled out a truck which changed the industry forever. Called the T600A, the truck was a sloped-nose conventional with a set-back front axle—a combination which gave drivers the comfort of a conventional and the maneuverability of a cabover.
Not only was the T600A sleek looking, it was also incredibly aerodynamic. The T600A cut through the wind like no other truck before, saving customers up to 22 percent on their fuel bills. Testing showed an aerodynamic improvement of 40 percent when compared to the company's W900 conventional.
Larry Orr, then Kenworth chief engineer recalled:
"When we were developing the T600A, we decided to incorporate everything we could come up with to reduce drag. As it evolved, we managed to do that, but we were a bit concerned about its appearance. It didn't look like our traditional long-nose conventional."
"Radical" styling proved to be no obstacle, however. The truck became widely accepted throughout the industry. Today, it has become the company's all-time leading seller.
Engineering prowess paid off again in 1986 when Kenworth launched the T800, a truck with a set-back front axle for maximum payload and maneuverability, geared for more heavy-duty operations and suitable for on/off highway applications.
Kenworth unveiled the C500B construction truck during the first part of 1988—a truck that combined the rugged durability of its predecessor, the C510, with the looks and cab comforts of Kenworth's T800. In addition, the Spring of 1988 saw the company unveil the T400A, a tractor designed especially for the regional-haul marketplace. Further solidifying Kenworth's commitment to product advancement was the 1989 first quarter introduction of the Kenworth T450 construction truck with a 112" BBC, as well as the company's second generation T600A.
The new T600A offered improved fuel economy over the original T600A, and a 1990 cross-country fuel economy run, "Tour America," provided customers with "real-life" fuel economy numbers. Three different T600s were used, each equipped with different sized engines. The results were impressive: using a Cummins L10, 330 HP engine: 8.21 mpg; Cummins N14, 370 HP engine: 7.99 mpg; Cummins N14, 460 HP engine: 7.68 mpg. "We used routes our customers typically used and faced the same obstacles that occur in everyday driving—poor weather, road construction, traffic jams, and steep grades," recalled Gary Moore, then Kenworth general manager. "In fact, 30 percent of the terrain we covered consisted of either hills or mountains."
"During the overall trip, we ran into just about everything that a driver would encounter during a year's worth of driving," said Kenworth's Gary Ziebell, one of the drivers during the tour. "There wasn't one segment where a driver could say this wasn't real world—because it absolutely was."
In 1990, Kenworth also brought to market the W900L, a 130" BBC, long-nose conventional with extended hood. It soon became one of Kenworth's most popular models with owner operators.
The fall of 1991 saw still more Kenworth innovation. The T884 was introduced offering customers dual steering. By utilizing two steering axles (front and rear) the new truck could make sharp turns—better than most conventional trucks. And, with all-wheel drive, the truck could go over difficult terrain better than any other truck in Kenworth's history. Targeted toward off-road applications, the T884 found customers primarily in the mining and construction industries.
That same season, Kenworth also accepted a most unique transportation challenge—the moving of a rare SR71 Blackbird spy plane. Kenworth, along with long-time customer Schmitt Lowbed Services (Redding, Calif.), handled the move. The Blackbird measured 98 feet in length by 23 feet in width.
Seattle's Museum of Flight contacted Kenworth asking for help in getting the giant plane to the museum from its hanger in the Mojave Desert. The question: Was it feasible—even legal—to haul the Blackbird back to Seattle? Legal, yes. Difficult? Exceedingly. A normal freeway traffic lane is 12 feet wide, meaning the Blackbird would take nearly two lanes of traffic. Variances from states were required for anything over 8-1/2 feet in width or 80,000 pounds in weight. In many cases, the Kenworth team knew traffic would have to be shut down in both directions to allow the Blackbird to move up I-5 and other roadways. But it could be done.
Five Kenworth trucks were required for the job. A Kenworth T800 with Caterpillar 460 horsepower engine and a specially-made 73-foot Trail King trailer transported the fuselage. Four Kenworth T600As handled the engines and wing sections. Twelve days after loading, the Kenworths and Blackbird arrived at the Museum of Flight, where the Blackbird is now the museum's star attraction.
More than 500 over-the-road drivers joined the Kenworth team in 1992. Called the Kenworth Drivers' Board, drivers from across North America contribute time as "consultants" to provide input to Kenworth's next generation of trucks. Focus groups are conducted at trade shows, and surveys go out to Board Members on a regular basis to gain feedback on a variety of truck topics.
In June, the company announced the availability of its new K300, Class 7 cabover. The K300 also represented a change in Kenworth's manufacturing, as Class 7 production moved from Brazil to Ste. Therese, Quebec, giving the company the ability to better handle truck customization, and parts and service.
One month later, Kenworth introduced its B-Series of trucks, which provided improved driver amenities, plus a "Quiet Cab" package and new cab/sleeper suspension. "Our new noise reduction package and cab/sleeper suspension pay big comfort dividends to drivers," said Gary Moore, Kenworth's general manager and PACCAR's senior vice president. "Now our truck cabs are as quiet inside as many passenger cars. Plus, our new cab/sleeper suspension helps reduce road vibrations in the sleeper compartment. We think we have created an optimum driving environment which is unmatched by any other truck manufacturer."
At the same press conference, Kenworth and Chevron introduced the industry's largest privately funded safety program, called, "Sharing the Road." More than 6 million brochures, offering driving tips to motorists from a trucker's perspective, were provided at Chevron stations throughout the country. The program was widely endorsed by trade publications.
A new production plant was unveiled in Renton, Washington, with opening ceremonies conducted on June 4. The first truck off the assembly line was a T600B, destined for Stevens Transport, located in Dallas, Texas.
The Renton plant joins two others in the United States—Seattle, Washington, and Chillicothe, Ohio. The new Kenworth-Renton plant clearly demonstrates Kenworth's strategy to expand its leadership presence in the trucking industry.
Just a month after the plant introduction, Kenworth unveiled a new truck designed to keep Kenworth plants busy—the T600 AeroCab. The AeroCab was Kenworth's first truck to combine an integrated design with modular construction, offering drivers more stand-up room, improved storage space and many new driver amenities. It also represented the first truck designed in part by Kenworth's Drivers' Board. With the contoured cab roof, integrated side panels, and re-designed chassis fairings, air flow is improved, which reduces drag by an additional 3 percent as compared to Kenworth's T600B. The added gain in aerodynamics can mean hundreds of dollars in fuel savings per year.
During the same press conference at the International Trucking Show, Kenworth and Chevron introduced Phase 2 of their safety and image campaign—the Trucker Buddy program. Founded by Gary King, a Kenworth Drivers' Board Member, and his wife Carol, the program matches truck drivers with classrooms in a pen-pal arrangement. The program would go on to win the Truck Writers of North America's most significant new service award, at the 1994 Mid-America Trucking Show.
In October, Kenworth again broke new ground, this time introducing the largest and most luxurious OEM sleeper ever offered in the trucking industry—the Studio Sleeper. The 74-inch sleeper creates an apartment-like environment, thanks in part to a couch which doubles as a bed—something never before seen on an OEM sleeper. Along with the new couch comes 30 percent more storage capacity versus Kenworth's 60-inch AERODYNE. Two full-length closets with doors are standard, plus a driver's side drawer unit—with one deep compartment, one shallow—provides ample room for clothes. Shelves are also available to store a variety of items. A fold-down table (16-inch by 22-inch) was added to the sleeper which provides work space for the driver, plus a place to eat meals. In addition, a built-in TV installation package provides easy set up for drivers wanting an entertainment system on the road.
On the heels of two significant product offerings in 1993, Kenworth again made news in the first quarter of 1994 with the introduction of its first ever medium-duty conventional—the T300. Designed for the premium end of the market, the T300 features a modified T600 cab, plus has all the durability common in all Kenworths. "We developed the T300 over the past several years with one mission in mind," recalled Paul Skoog, Kenworth's marketing manager. "And that was bringing to market a new standard in Class 7 quality." The T300 truck has a standard 30,000 GVW rating (with higher axle ratings available), and the tractor has a 65,000-pound GCVW rating. The T300 has features such as huckbolt fasteners for long-lasting and cost-effective operation, plus it's custom-engineered to match specific applications in the medium-duty market. To help make maintenance easier and less expensive, the T300 was designed using readily available components.
At the International Trucking Show, Kenworth continued its AeroCab evolution by taking the AeroCab across its main product line. A new 62-inch AeroCab, which is expected to be very popular with fleets, provides a weight and cost savings over the 72-inch model and provides the large sleeper opening and cab/sleeper air suspension that has become so popular on the AeroCab. Kenworth also addressed the flat-bed and bulk-hauler market by introducing a 62-inch and 72-inch FlatTop AeroCab. However, unlike other flat-top sleepers, the AeroCab sleepers were designed to allow a 6'-1" person to stand straight up. In addition, it was announced that the entire lineup of AeroCabs are now available on Kenworth's T800.
In 1995, two of the three oldest Kenworth dealerships in North America reached the 50-year milestone—Williams Equipment of Spokane, Wash. and Kenworth Sales Company of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Both dealerships were established at the close of World War II and founded as family businesses. Today, both continue to operate as family-run operations and have expanded beyond their local markets to include branches in Idaho, Nevada and Montana.
While Kenworth dealers were celebrating, so was Kenworth as the company was recognized with the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Award for the Advancement of Motor Vehicle Research and Development. The award was presented to Kenworth for its T600A tractor, originally introduced in 1985, primarily for its contribution in the areas of fuel efficiency and safety.
1996 started off quickly in new product development for Kenworth.
The biggest news from Kenworth came in May 1996 as the all new T2000 was unveiled to the public at the International Trucking Show. The truck was shown in 112 and 120-inch BBC configurations with 75-inch AERODYNE sleepers. The T2000 represents nearly 20 years of work in aerodynamics by Kenworth engineers and it sets new standards in comfort, performance, and reliability. It was also designed to reduce life-cycle costs and downtime for the owner.
The T2000 is totally new from the ground up. In the design process, Kenworth kept in mind that the person buying the T2000 was not the driver, the mechanic or the owner; it was a combination of all three. Goals were set to be ‘best-in-class’ in all the key areas.
While the T2000 was groundbreaking, so was Kenworth’s premium component package which comes with a three-year, 350,000-mile basic vehicle warranty. The premium option package requires less maintenance, allowing operators to extend service to every 25,000 miles, versus the industry norms of every 10,000 to 15,000 miles.
The Extended Service Interval (ESI) program, which is possible thanks to the upgraded system and component option, helps set Kenworth apart from others when it comes to reducing maintenance costs for its customers. The technology is here to confidently stay on the road longer without fear of maintenance-related breakdowns or reduced total vehicle life.
The company’s commitment to product advancement and customer service through its dealers will continue as we near the year 2000. Input from drivers and fleets also will continue, enabling the company to have a better understanding of customer needs, resulting in products to meet their specific requirements. Kenworth’s heritage is quality. It’s something Kenworth customers have come to depend on; something Kenworth will continue to deliver.
Kenworth is an American manufacturer of medium and heavy-duty Class 8 trucks based in Kirkland, Washington, United States, a suburb of Seattle. It is a subsidiary of PACCAR, and is also a former manufacturer of transit buses and school buses.
Kenworth began its history in Portland, Oregon. In 1912, the company was founded by brothers George T. and Louis Gerlinger, Jr. as a car and truck dealership known as Gerlinger Motor Car Works. In 1914, they decided to build their own truck with a more powerful inline six-cylinder engine. This was the first ever put into a commercial truck. The Gersix, as it was known, unveiled in 1915, was framed in structural steel, which along with its power, made the truck ideal for the rugged Northwest, where it was used for logging.
In 1916 the Gerlinger Motor Car Company moved to Tacoma, Washington. Seattle businessman Edgar K. Worthington was managing his mother's commercial building, where Gerlinger became a tenant, and became intrigued by the Gerlinger company. Worthington's tenant was doing quite well, or so it seemed, and the Gersix became a popular fixture in the Northwest.
In 1919, Kent retired from the business and his son, Harry, became Worthington's new partner. In 1922, Gersix made 53 trucks at its factory on Fairview Avenue at Valley Street. Under the new name, the company moved to 506 Mercer Street and later to 1263 Mercer Street. Trucks and motor coaches were assembled in individual bays rather than on a conventional assembly line.
Some popular North American Kenworth models include the T600, T800, W900, and T2000. In 2007, Paccar introduced the T660, a more aerodynamic version of the T600.
In the early 2000s Kenworth (KW) introduced to Mexico the T604, based on the Australian T604 with a few modifications, mostly in the hood.
Australian models are assembled at Kenworth's Bayswater facility in Victoria, Australia. Popular models include the T600, T604, T650, W925, T900, T904, T908, T950, T350,T400/ T401/404S/T404ST/404SAR, K124, K100E, K100G, K104G, K104B, (COE) and C500, C510, C540. With the T range being the Bonneted Models and the C for Heavy Haulage, Mine, Off road and Road Train use and the K range being the Cab over models. Several "Twin Steer" Models were produced through the end of the 20th Century. Most notably was the K100E Twin Steer.
Kenworth Australia have started building the new range of trucks tying in their 2008 Release with the model range being the '08 Series'. This includes the following conventional (bonneted) models; in approximate order of smallest to largest: the T358/A, T408SAR, T408, T608, T658, T908, C508, C510. The only Cabover truck built is the K108, which is very popular in the B-Double market segment owing to its shorter length.
In 2011 Kenworth Australia release the next model range this includes the K200 T609 T409 T403 T409SAR T359 T659 T909 and the C509.
Bus production was a mainstay at Kenworth for much of the company's early years, and at one time was the company's most lucrative form of business. When the company was known as Gerlinger Motor Car Works, their first two full-chassis vehicles ironically were school buses based on the Gersix truck chassis. In 1926, Kenworth developed a chassis specifically for school and transit bus operators, known as the BU. The BU model sported a wheelbase of 212 inches (5,400 mm) that was expanded two more inches in 1927, and could be fitted with bodies ranging from 21 to 29 passengers. The BU model also heralded the return of the Buda six-cylinder engine, and remained the company's principal offering through 1931. The new model became so popular in the Pacific Northwest that production rose from 99 units in 1927 and 127 units in 1927, to 230 units by 1930. By that time, the predominant number of BU models produced were sent to school bus body builders, and were built for use in school districts throughout the Seattle and Puget Sound area of Washington State.
Kenworth continued expanding into bus production throughout the 1930s, despite the Great Depression being a major influence. To assist Kenworth's 80 factory workers - who were idled by the Depression, the company undertook a bold move by introducing a new line of buses in August 1932. Known as the KHC-22 (Kenworth - Heiser - City), the 23-passenger bus was developed by Kenworth engineers as a stock demo vehicle to help aid a glum sales picture, and to jumpstart the local economy. At a time of mild economic recovery, the KHC22 proved to be very popular and sparked a renewed interest in Kenworth buses. Major operators of the KHC-22 (later expanded to a 225-inch (5,700 mm) wheelbase, 33-passenger KHC-33, in September 1933) were the Portland Traction Company of Portland, Oregon, and Spokane United Railways.
In that year, Kenworth also released its most popular and successful line of transit bus, a conventional styled bus based on their Model 86 heavy duty truck. Powered by a Hercules JXCM engine, the model 870 as it was known, would soon be replaced by a model 871, which became Kenworth's standard line of buses throughout the early and mid 1930s. Experiments with "deck-and-a-half" buses would soon follow, as well as the company's very first experiments with rear-engine coach-type buses in 1936.
Production of Kenworth buses continued throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s, and during this time Kenworth was manufacturing bus chassis for body builders such as Wentworth and Irwin (later renamed Wentwin), and Heiser. Heiser, long an often chosen body for school buses bearing Kenworth chassis, would later be purchased by Pacific Car and Foundry Company in 1937.
Kenworth changed its production line early in 1939, reflecting a desire to remain "in tune" with market forces. The conventional bus chassis, which had become poor sellers, were dropped altogether, and Kenworth focused its designs on more transit or "coach-type" buses with engines being located either underfloor or at the back of the bus.
By this time, Kenworth was a major force in transit bus production, and nearly every major transit company in the Pacific Northwest were running Kenworth buses. Seattle Municipal Railway purchased several new model 601s to replace the previous model H30s, which were powered by a Hall-Scott 135 engine underfloor and had bodies built by the Pacific Car and Foundry Company. Kenworth also built a model 612, which became the company's most widely distributed underfloor coach. 27 were built with 14 wheelbase variations (and seven engine variations), and all 27 were sold by as many as 15 different operators.
At the onset of World War II, Kenworth's bus production waned again, but Kenworth was able to remain afloat because orders were now larger than before. This was possible because the early effects of the war forced the amalgamation of several smaller, more regional operators into larger, territorial ones. These conditions meant more bus orders for Kenworth, only there were fewer buyers. Bremerton Transit purchased several buses in 1940 to accommodate the increase in ridership due to the preparations for the war itself.
In the face of these conditions, Kenworth still maintained production at about 40 units annually. In 1940, Seattle Municipal Railway purchased 30 buses in a single order, assisting Kenworth in breaking a production record. With low volume production, Kenworth was more than willing to build special order coaches. Gray Line affiliates Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver purchased several of these special coach orders known as Grayliner or Grayliner Junior buses, and the bodies for these buses were all built by PC&F. When wartime ensued, Kenworth found itself once again focusing its efforts towards war production, producing troop transports and a number of military variations of their commercial truck line.
Near the end of World War II, the company would become part of the Pacific Car and Foundry Company. In 1944, the passing of Kenworth president Philip G. Johnson meant that the major stockholders, the widows of Johnson, and Kenworth founders Kent and Worthington - could sell their controlling shares and stake of the company. Foreseeing a drastic downturn at war's end, Kenworth and PC&F believed bus production would play a pivotal role in jumpstarting the economy. It also saw an opportunity to hire former military truck and aircraft workers, and began a major push of four primary postwar models set to be relaunched in 1946.
The postwar Kenworth buses were part of a small group that included small intercity or interurban buses, dubbed the model K; a trolley coach known as the model E; a city transit bus known as the model N; and a model W - an intercity bus. Ironically, the choice of model designations derived from the first four letters of the name KENWorth. Later on, a one-door transit bus dubbed the Model O and a prototype school bus dubbed the model T, which was the early forerunner of nearly 3000 model CT and LR buses produced by Kenworth from 1949 to 1957.
The Model K and Model W buses looked quite similar, but all similarities ended there. The differences were their length, side window design, and the choices of available engines. The model W had a pancake underfloor Hall-Scott 190 engine, while the K was powered by an International Red Diamond RD450 in the rear of the bus. The shorter model K was capable of hauling 25-33 passengers, while its bigger brethren could haul anywhere between 31 and 41 passengers depending on configuration. The Model N, as announced, would have seated 36 to 44 passengers in an underfloor engine configuration, but in 1947 it was downsized to a 32 to 36 passenger bus when the original design found no takers. After 1947, Kenworth began assigning numerals to the model designations to signify evolutionary variants in the design.
As production orders for the interurban model Ks and model Ws waned, Kenworth focused its attention on special orders including an order of 10 "Brucks" for Great Northern Railway in Montana, (an earlier version was built for Northern Pacific Transport, but was a split-level coach) and several Highway Post Office coaches. These "special order coaches" were based on the model T school bus, which entered production in early 1949, after additionally test-marketing a small 20-passenger bus known as the Carcoach (only one was built, but none entered full production).
A retired 1955 Kenworth T126 "Pacific School Coach", seen here in Cathlamet, Washington. Compare with image below, of same bus, taken after restoration has commenced.
The Model T school bus, which entered production after the last bus was built for Great Northern in April 1949, was an immediate hit with many school bus operators in the Pacific Northwest. The T-126 as it was known, boasted a unique four-pane windshield that offered unheralded forward visibility in any school bus at the time, and was the first school bus ever built to feature a roof escape hatch. (now required equipment). Production of the T-126 averaged over 375 buses per year, making it Kenworth's most lucrative bus offering in the company's history up to that time. Shortly after its launch, Kenworth renamed the line the model CT. The model CT also came in several varying passenger capacities ranging from 55, 61, 67, 73, and 79 passengers. The model CT "Pacific School Coach" was powered by an International Red Diamond 450 inline six-cylinder gas engine placed at the rear of the bus, and a LeRoi H540 engine was made available for an LR-73 model that was produced in August 1950. Some orders for modified model CTs were made available and sold internationally, with variants being sold to Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as the Middle East.
After the boon of school bus production, and to focus more on truck production due to a rising number of heavy duty truck orders, all bus production was shifted from Kenworth over to Pacific Car and Foundry in the middle of 1956. After some final cleanup, PC&F wound up completely outstanding orders for the Pacific School Coach in early 1957. Shortly afterwards, PC&F sold all rights, tooling, and equipment to Gillig Bros., a school bus manufacturer based in Hayward, California. Gillig would later incorporate many designs of the model CT "Pacific School Coach" into their own Transit Coach line of school buses, starting with the 501- and C-series models in 1958 and 1959, respectively.
Kenworth was a relatively latecomer to Australian road transport but soon proved itself a worthy workhorse for Australian conditions. The first Kenworths arrived in 1962 when several were imported by truck operator Ed Campbell, although it would be 1974, and the birth of the SAR that would give Kenworth its lead into the heavy truck market. The “S” stands for short, and the “AR” for Australian Right Hand Drive. The SAR was king of the road on the long hauls for quite a few years. The K120 series of cabovers and the rare K 140 cabover twin steer, also proved to be popular with Australian operators as did the W900 series. Usually fitted with Detroit or Cummins engines, and a 15-speed Fuller Roadranger transmission, Kenworth soon proved its worth in many different applications. Today, Kenworth enjoys a large share of the Australian market and is used in a variety of applications, including those of the logging, interstate and roadtrain industries.
Mention the names Kenworth or Volvo and sooner or later, the names Brown and Hurley are sure to follow. The well known partnership grew out of a friendship between two army mechanics during WW2. Jack Hurley was 25, and Alan Brown just 21 when their army jobs first brought them together in Sydney in 1942.
The enterprising duo decided when the war was over, they would start a business. They began a low key operation in a shed on a farm run by Jack’s wife’s parents at The Risk, 20 km from Kyogle. In 1946 they rented a bicycle shop in Kyogle, with the added attraction of a petrol bowser and house at the back. The first job that came the way of the now famous Brown and Hurley partnership, was to fix a punctured bicycle tyre for a local kid.
In 1947, the business was formed into a partnership and the young mechanics literally struggled for survival, at one stage even considering sending one of them out to work for wages to subsidise the business. Fortunately this desperate step was not necessary although hard times continued for several years. Not to be beaten, the partners worked on with a determined commitment and loyalty to their dream. Another milestone was reached in 1963 when Brown and Hurley was contracted to sell American Kenworth trucks in Queensland. Priced at around £13,000 they were by no means a cheap truck, but sturdy construction and reliability soon had it well accepted by the logging industry. Kenworths are now seen in every sector of the road transport industry and there is no doubt that the hard work and commitment of Brown and Hurley have contributed to this. Their 2000th Kenworth was sold in 1995.