In the year 1868, a Civil War Veteran by the name of Jonas Swab went into business for himself in the community of Elizabethville, Pennsylvania.
Mr. Swab was a blacksmith by trade, and in the early years he repaired wagons, wagon wheels, and harnesses for farmers in the area. He often worked in the fields to pay for the lumber and other materials needed for his small business.
In December of 1868, the entry appears in Mr. Swab’s ledger “Making a sleigh”. This sleigh was sold to a Daniel Matter for the sum of $10.00. This was the apparent beginning of the manufacturing operation.
By 1899, the average output was five wagons a day, and in 1902, the company was incorporated with capital of $50,000.
The Chilled Box Solid Steel Axle & Early Manufacturing
Ninety years ago the company advertised “Wagons That Wear,” a phrase that still applies today, thanks to Jonas Swab’s own invention, the “Chilled Box Solid Steel Axle”. As Mr. Swab wrote to prospective wagon owners in 1910, “Thirty years ago I conceived the idea that if the wearing surface of the spindles of a wagon could be chilled or hardened like the point of a chilled plow, it would add much to the wearing and lasting qualities of my output and make an easier running wagon”. Mr. Swab was correct, and his customers agreed with him. There has never been a report of a Swab axle wearing out.
Early manufacturing included hub and wheel wagons of various types: Two and four horse wagons (such as the one pictured at the top of the page), drag and timber wagons, covered platform spring wagons (such as the one pictured at left), butcher, ice, baker, berry, fruit delivery and “pleasure” wagons, dump and farm carts and wheelbarrows.
Swab Wagon Works also produced sleighs and one third size “Jr.” hand wagons for children. Many of these wagons and wheelbarrows still survive today and are sought after by collectors. An original Swab Wagon in nice condition can sell for several thousand dollars at auction. Swab Wagon Company has even managed to keep several of these wagons.
The Advent of the Motor Car
With the advent of the motorized vehicle, the company began the transition from horse drawn wagons to motor truck bodies and equipment. Alongside of the wagons that were being produced, Swab also started producing bodies for early trucks (such as the truck pictured at right), which served many of the same purposes that the wagons were used for. Note the similarities in body design of the spring wagon pictured above and the delivery truck pictured at right.
Swab Wagon Co. Car Sales
In 1916, Swab made the decision to enter the automobile business themselves. In the early years of the operation, Swab sold Saxon, Chevrolet, Plymouth and Studebaker cars and trucks, such as the 1917 Studebaker “Big 6” Touring shown at left. After several years, Swab elected to continue with only the Studebaker line. Studebaker, who also got their start in producing wagons, later merged with the Packard Corporation in 1954, marking the arrival of the Packard line to Swab’s dealership. Several years later, Studebaker-Packard secured the rights to distribute Mercedes-Benz cars in the U.S., and thus Swab Wagon Co. added the Mercedes-Benz nameplate to its showroom. Swab president, Jonas Margerum (who remained Swab president until his passing at age 89 in 1998), foresaw the demise of Studebaker and in 1960, Swab obtained a Chrysler-Plymouth franchise. Swab continued to sell Studebakers up until 1966, the year the last Studebaker rolled off the assembly line. Swab Wagon Co. was a Studebaker dealer for exactly 50 years, and sold and serviced Chrysler, Plymouth, and Dodge cars and trucks until May 2003 when the Dealership was closed.
Entering the Fire Emergency Industry
Aside from the car business, Swab’s manufacturing business continued to grow despite a period of peril. In the post-depression years of the 1930s, Swab Wagon Co. was on the verge of bankruptcy. However, Jonas Swab’s grandson, Jonas Margerum, took over the company in 1932, and through his efforts, Swab Wagon survived and continued to grow into the company it is today.
From the early 1900’s, Swab continued to shift more and more of its production to truck bodies. In 1937, Swab made its first venture into fire emergency vehicles with its first squad body. This was the beginning of Swab’s heavy fire equipment production. Swab produced a number of fire emergency vehicles during the 1940’s and 1950’s, including this 1957 1250 Gal. Swab tanker body built on a Studebaker chassis. Although the automobile had taken over as the primary source of ground transportation, Swab continued to produce wagons up until World War II.
Game Changing Designs
Between the early 1930’s and 1960’s, Swab continued to produce a variety of commercial truck bodies, including buses, poultry transportation bodies, refrigerated delivery bodies (such as the truck shown at left), and other custom “one-off” truck bodies. This particular truck was built for Yuengling’s Ice Cream, owned by the same Yuengling family of Yuengling Brewery. Located in Pottsville, Pennsylvania (about 20 miles from Elizabethville), Yuengling Brewery is the oldest brewery in the United States.
Two of Swab’s greatest design concepts occurred in 1963 and 1973, both of which were to revolutionize their respective fields of work.
In 1963, Swab Wagon Co. designed and built what is now known as the Type I ambulance body (shown at right). This was the first of its kind ever made by any manufacturer. Before this time, ambulances were limited to station wagon conversions which simply served the purpose of transporting the patient to the hospital. Swab’s new ambulance was termed the “operating room on wheels,” for it allowed paramedics to perform medical procedures on the patient while enroute to the hospital. The new ambulance design launched Swab Wagon Co. into the forefront of the ambulance manufacturing industry. Orders for the new Swab ambulances poured in, and in 1974, Swab delivered their 300th ambulance. The success of the ambulance also help to shift Swab’s focus to fire rescue bodies. The year 1974 also saw the production of the 100th Swab rescue truck. Swab’s historic first ambulance has been preserved in its original condition.
Swab’s other great design was its fiberglass animal transport body in 1973. The original design was the ARF-12, for it had 12 animal compartments. The ARF-4 and ARF-5 designs (four compartments and five compartments, respectively) followed shortly. The ARF-5 was recently re-designed in 1995, which is now the ARF-95. The 100th copy of the ARF-95 was delivered in the summer of 1998, just three years after it went on sale. Swab also developed the ALSF-96 in 1996. This body offers first response medic organizations a cost effective alternative to expensive Suburban and SUV conversions. The ALSF-96 has since been renamed the “Pioneer Series,” and has proven to be one of Swab’s most popular trucks.
Today and Now
Today, Swab continues with production of new fire rescue bodies, ARF and ALSF bodies, custom cab canopies for fire and rescue bodies, and a limited number of ambulances. Swab also specializes in the modification and refurbishment of all makes of fire and rescue vehicles. Swab also does a limited production of specialty, totally custom truck bodies for commercial uses. The ARF and ALSF bodies are distributed nationally, though the rest of its sales area is limited to the northeast United States. For over 150 years, Swab Wagon Co., Inc. has remained a family owned business, and is currently in its fifth generation. It is a company which has survived the Great Depression, two World Wars, and a 1978 fire that destroyed Swab’s corporate offices and main production plant. Swab Wagon Co. is one of the oldest continuously operated manufacturers of transportation vehicles in the world! Nobody knows what the future may bring, but chances are Swab Wagon Co. will still be doing business in the small town of Elizabethville, Pennsylvania.