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    0.8%
BusinessEquipmentFreightWaves ClassicsInsightsNewsTrucking

FreightWaves Classics/Fallen Flags: Crown Steel Products pioneered sleeper cabs and other innovations

Overview

Between 1928 and 2001 the town of Orrville, Ohio, was the home of Crown Steel Products, which supplied day cabs, sleeper cabs and quad cabs to many of the nation’s truck manufacturers. It also manufactured “enclosed operator cabs for regional manufacturers of farm and construction equipment and also offered utility boxes and other types of truck equipment and accessories.”

Crown Steel Products was founded in 1940 by Julius Fejes (February 14, 1910 – March 24, 2001) to supply pressed steel parts and subassemblies to the Orrville Body Co. In 1947 another Crown subsidiary (the Orville Metal Specialty Co.) began production of quad cabs for Ford and International. Ford was a major customer of Crown; it eventually established a satellite facility adjacent to Ford’s Lorrain, Ohio, assembly plant. Crown also upfitted Ford Econolines for tradesmen and constructed compartmentalized service bodies on Econoline cabs and chassis.

Although Crown’s former plants in Orrville are gone, one division of the company remains in business. Located in Apple Valley, Ohio and Chicago, the Crown North America division of Leggett & Platt upfits police vehicles for the Ford Motor Co., Dodge (Fiat Chrysler) and the  Chevrolet division of General Motors.

An advertisement for Orrville Metal Specialty Co. features a 1953 Chevrolet and its sleeper cab. (Image: coachbuilt.com)
An advertisement for Orrville Metal Specialty Co. features a 1953 Chevrolet and its sleeper cab. (Image: coachbuilt.com)

The start of Crown Steel Products Co.

Julius Fejes was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of two Czech immigrants. In 1937 he answered an advertisement seeking a ‘hammer man’ at the Orrville Body Co. and was soon working a power hammer in the firm’s Wayne County factory. By 1940 Fejes had become so capable at assembling sleeper cabs, he convinced the company’s management to hire him as a subcontractor. He began a small metal fabrication shop in nearby Riceland, Ohio. He hired two assistants and then formally organized the company as the Crown Steel Products Co. in 1941. In addition to sleeper cab sheet metal, Fejes supplied additional stamped steel parts he manufactured using a metal stamping press of his own design. 

World War II ended in September 1945. With the end of the war, Fejes realized he would need additional space in order for Crown Steel to handle increased post-war demand. He found additional investors and leased a closed manufacturing plant in Orrville, Ohio. He established the Orrville Metal Specialty Co. and relocated the presses, cutters, brakes and power hammers from Riceland to the Orrville facility.

The cab of a 1955 Autocar, equipped with a "sleeper." 
(Photo: coachbuilt.com)
The cab of a 1955 Autocar, equipped with a “sleeper.”
(Photo: coachbuilt.com)

In late 1946, two Orrville Body Co. directors (brothers Al and Wallace Vetter), joined Fejes and Crown Steel Products Co. was incorporated. Construction of a new 21,000-square foot manufacturing facility in Orrville began in November 1946. 

This was followed by the 1947 incorporation of the Orville Metal Specialty Co. This company began offering its own line of sleeper cabs – in direct competition with Orville Body Co., where Fejes had started his career a decade before.  

Orrville Metal Specialty was a dedicated truck cab manufacturing company, while Crown Products handled more varied (and often more lucrative) projects. For example, the Orrville Courier Crescent reported in its March 21, 1949 edition that Crown Steel was building 300 aluminum ladders for Western Electric. 

All-steel truck cabs

Autocar, a manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks, introduced a new steel cab in 1950 that was manufactured by Crown Steel. Called the ‘Autocar Driver Cab,’ the Crown-built cab replaced a composite structure built using a wooden frame covered by pressed-steel panels. (To read more about Autocar, follow this link to an earlier FreightWaves Classics article.)

The ‘Driver Cab’ had a welded steel frame built from heavy-gauge steel channel sections. Stamped steel panels, including a one-piece roof, were welded to the frame, creating a sturdy “home” for the truck driver. The all-steel cab was so popular that it was in production until 1987. The new cab also had an expansive two-piece windshield with curved sides that provided increased visibility. Beginning in 1952, the ‘Driver Cab’ was also available as a sleeper cab. 

White Motor Co. purchased Autocar in 1953. White adopted the ‘Driver Cab’ across its entire line of trucks, replacing the composite cabs the company had been using since the 1930s. Crown Steel’s cabs also were used on White’s Western Star and Diamond T/Diamond Reo truck lines. (To read a FreightWaves Classics article about White Motor Co., follow this link.) 

International Harvester Corp. was also a customer; Crown Steel built day cabs, sleeper cabs and hood and fender stampings for International Harvester. (To read a FreightWaves Classics article about International Harvester’s trucks, follow this link.) In addition, Crown Steel also built cabs for Brockway Truck and enclosed operator cabs for Clark and Terex, manufacturers of heavy-duty construction equipment.

Crown Steel Products logo, circa 1950. (Image: coachbuilt.com)
Crown Steel Products logo, circa 1950. (Image: coachbuilt.com)

Expanding the company’s holdings

Crown Steel Co. acquired a majority of the stock of the Orrville Metal Specialty Co. in 1955. The company was reorganized as a wholly owned subsidiary of Crown Steel. By the early 1960s, Orrville Metal Specialty was the largest manufacturer of all-steel sleeper and specialty cabs for truck and earth mover manufacturers in the U.S.

The original Crown Steel Products plant later housed Flo-Tork, which was incorporated in 1957, and also became a wholly owned subsidiary of Crown Steel. Flo-Tork’s principal product was a “leak-proof oil-pressure actuator” that was used in U.S. nuclear submarines and other sea-going vessels. The actuator was also an integral part of every Polaris missile launching mechanism.”

In 1958, DEK, which was a pioneer in the manufacture of Fiberglas reinforced plastic (FRP) automotive and industrial products, became a Crown subsidiary. DEK manufactured FRP sleeper cabs, engine covers, fenders, and route delivery bodies. It also produced bowling lane equipment for AMF such as “seats, benches and AMF pinspotter components.” 

Crown Steel Products purchased United Steel Fabricators in 1962. It was a Wooster, Ohio-based manufacturer of steel buildings and structural steel. The March 22, 1962 edition of the Orrville Courier Crescent reported: “Orrville’s biggest employer has extended its operations into Wooster, according to an announcement made Friday by Julius Fejes, president of Crown Steel Products Co. Crown Steel’s purchase of the well-known United Steel Fabricators could be a real boon to the industrial development of Wayne County.” 

The larger windshield of a 1955 Autocar is featured in this photo. (Photo: coachbuilt.com)
The larger windshield of a 1955 Autocar is featured in this photo. (Photo: coachbuilt.com)

During World War II United Steel Fabricators had 800 employees building “airplane landing mats, Quonset huts, pontoon bridges, ammunition dumps and Bangalor snakes.” In 1962 the company had about 350 employees who manufactured “steel doors and frames for commercial buildings and public housing.” The company’s Highway Products Division manufactured “corrugated metal pipe, guard rails, bridge flooring and special engineering items.”

The Orrville Courier Crescent also reported, “Crown Steel, the ‘mother’ company, displays a versatility and completeness in equipment which enables it to shear, form and assemble steel and aluminum up to one-quarter of an inch thick. Primary products have been truck bodies and equipment for utility companies.”

Continued success

As a pioneering company in commercial van conversions, Crown Steel Products established a satellite facility located near Ford Motor Co.’s Lorain, Ohio, Econoline van assembly plant. The July 3, 1962 edition of the Elyria Chronicle Telegram reported that “The largest overall contract ever awarded by the Federal Government for economy buses and trucks today went to the Lorain Ford Division Assembly Plant. Calling for $12 million worth of equipment, the series of three contracts provides for 977 Econoline vans, 694 Falcon station wagons, 954 B-500 buses and 266 Econoline truck-ambulances.” 

Crown Steel’s Metals Specialty Co. was contracted by Ford to convert the trucks to ambulances. The company installed “special fittings for cots, medical cabinets and emergency equipment.” The Crown Steel subsidiary also worked for Ford on an order from RCA to install shelving and special equipment in over 700 trucks. 

Decades before pickup trucks with second seats, Crown Steel modified pickups and added second seats like the one in this 1957 Chevrolet. (Photo: coachbuilt.com)
Decades before pickup trucks with second seats, Crown Steel modified pickups and added second seats like the one in this 1957 Chevrolet. (Photo: coachbuilt.com)

By the way, the new Specialty Metals manufacturing facility was built by another Crown Steel subsidiary – the United Steel Fabricating Co.

In July 1965, United Steel Fabricators purchased a manufacturing facility in Drew, Mississippi, that became Southern USF, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the company. This new facility gave United Steel Fabricators the opportunity to expand its sales area throughout in the South.

The new facility had 63,000-square feet of floor space for the production of standard hollow metal doors and frames, panel products (including blackboards for educational institutions), and steel and aluminum bodies for the automotive industry.

Also in July 1965, Crown Steel acquired the M&H Tool and Mfg. Co. of Wooster, Ohio. M&H Tool was located across the street from United Steel Fabricators. It manufactured “tools, dies, jigs and fixtures and custom machine work.” The facility employed 45 and had a 25,000-square feet production area.

A 1958 advertisement for International Harvester sleeper cabs (built by a Crown Steel Products subsidiary. (Photo: coachbuilt.com)
A 1958 advertisement for International Harvester sleeper cabs (built by a Crown Steel Products subsidiary. (Photo: coachbuilt.com)

Selling the company and its subsidiaries

Julius Fejes agreed to the acquisition of Crown Steel Products Co. by the Allen Electric & Equipment Co. in early 1967. According to the February 16, 1967 edition of the Orrville Courier Crescent, “Crown Steel Products Co., employer of more than 950 persons in Orrville, Wooster and Drew, Miss., will be sold to Allen Electric and Equipment Co. of Kalamazoo, Mich., according to an announcement Monday by Julius Fejes, president of Crown Steel, and Henry Kohorn, president of Allen Electric.

“Allen Electric, a company approximately the same size as Crown Steel, is listed on the Midwest Stock Exchange. Agreement in principle has been reached for the acquisition by Allen of all assets, property and business of Crown Steel. The purchase price was not disclosed.”

In 1966 Crown Steel Products and its subsidiaries had consolidated sales of approximately $15 million. At that time, the description of the company was “a manufacturer of vehicle cabs and bodies for leading automotive manufacturers and utility companies, rotary hydraulic actuators and a broad line of highway construction accessories, bridge components and sheet metal buildings.”

The formal acquisition of Crown by Allen Electric took place on July 25, 1967.

 

 A 1964 advertisement for Crown Steel Products shows the range of products manufactured by the company. 
(Image: coachbuilt.com)
A 1964 advertisement for Crown Steel Products shows the range of products manufactured by the company.
(Image: coachbuilt.com)

Julius Fejes’ death and legacy

The son of immigrants, Fejes began his career as a laborer and went from that position to build and acquire businesses that generated $15 million in revenues at the time of their sale. Combined, those companies employed approximately 950 men and women.

Fejes died at the age of 91 “following a long period of declining health.” He was the epitome of an American success story, and his life had an impact on the lives of many more.

Another advertisement from the mid-1960s for Crown Steel Products. (Photo: coachbuilt.com)
Another advertisement from the mid-1960s for Crown Steel Products. (Photo: coachbuilt.com)

Author’s note: This article (and its photographs) would not have been possible without a great deal of information from the Coachbuilt website. FreightWaves Classics thanks Coachbuilt for its wealth of information on hundreds of motor transport Fallen Flags. Visit coachbuilt.com to learn more.

Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.