H.A. DeHart Celebrates 120 Years of Outfitting Trucks

Wed October 06, 2004 - Northeast Edition

H.A. DeHart recently celebrated 120 years in business when it hosted several hundred customers at an open house.

Considering the event was on a Wednesday, Sept. 22, DeHart drew a good crowd. (It helped that the event occurred on one of the first sunny days following almost two weeks of cloudy and rainy weather.) DeHart sales and service people were joined by representatives from 37 of the firm’s suppliers of equipment and services.

DeHart bills itself as one of the largest transportation equipment distributors in the Mid-Atlantic region, not only for bodies, attachments and components for trucks, but also self-propelled equipment. Lines include aerial lifts, buses, cranes, construction equipment, dump bodies, hydraulic systems, lift gates, recycling equipment, service/stake and utility bodies, snow removal equipment, sewer/vacuum equipment, sweepers, trailers and van bodies. Within these product categories, the company offers an array of product options and custom features. DeHart also has full parts, service and repair facilities.

DeHart may easily hold the record as the oldest continuously operating truck/construction equipment dealership in New Jersey. The company also is the oldest distributor of Great Dane trailers in the United States and has the exclusive license to market Great Dane’s product line in central and southern New Jersey, Delaware, the eastern shore of Maryland and eastern Pennsylvania. The company also has the exclusive license to distribute Thomas buses in the state of New Jersey. Typical equipment lines include Freightliner truck chassis; Meyer Products snow and ice control equipment, G-S refuse collection bodies and Schwarze sweepers.

Principal customer groups are municipalities and other government bodies, contractors and other equipment dealers.

Harry A. DeHart originally founded the company in1884 as a blacksmith shop. This included the repair of farm wagons, which led the company into manufacturing of new wagons. The first wagon produced led to manufacturing of ice units and furniture vans. With the advent of the automobile, the company altered its product line by selling truck chassis and building a truck body to fit.

Starting in 1890, DeHart sold Brockway wagons and then trucks, bringing in chassis to be outfitted with DeHart’s own bodies. (Brockway was one of the original truck manufacturers in the East — Autocar and Mack were the other two — specializing in heavy-duty chassis for construction and on-off highway applications.) DeHart continued to carry Brockway until the line was absorbed by other manufacturers and disappeared.

The company stayed in the DeHart family for three generations until Harry DeHart III retired from the business in 1987, selling the company to the employees under an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP), according to Dennis Noon, chief financial officer and trustee of DeHart.

“Each of our employees has an interest in the company,” he noted. (The company currently has 60 full-time employees.) President and general manager of the company is Philip “Cliff” Clifford Jr.

DeHart also runs a separate company for school bus transportation, employing 80 part-time drivers for an equal number of buses. The school bus company transports 7,000 pupils a day, mainly in the West Deptford NJ, area.

While DeHart’s home of Thorofare is a typical South Jersey hamlet, it’s centrally located just off Interstate 295, 10 minutes from the New Jersey Turnpike, 15 minutes south of Philadelphia, and 25 minutes north of Wilmington, DE. A satellite facility is located on the Delmarva Peninsula for both sales and service.