Jerry Wittkop was looking for a Monroe hydraulic lift to add to the Monroe Country Historical Society’s display of Monroe Auto Equipment Company (MAECO) products. He had contacted a seller on eBay, and that seller put us in touch with Jerry. That was in early 2015 and our meeting opened a whole new world for us. Jerry, who spent his entire career as an automotive engineer with MAECO, had taken it upon himself to preserve the history of this company which is at the heart of the Farm Jeep story.
After our first conversations, we knew we had to visit the exhibit. The welcome we received from Jerry and the tour he gave us of the exhibit will always be a special memory. It was clear that Jerry wasn’t just another historian. He had been there when the Monroe lift was introduced to the farm world. He had worked with the McIntyre family and knew their importance not only to Willys, but to the entire automotive industry. He was on a mission to preserve the story.
Jerry has become a primary resource and you will see his name many times in our articles and presentations. When we started the Friends of Farm Jeep series, we realized that we didn’t know Jerry’s history. We asked him to answer a few questions. Here is a very small part of Jerry’s story.
FJ – Over the past few years, we’ve learned a lot about MAECO, but little about your association with them. We know you had a long and successful career, and your high regard for the company and the family behind it didn’t stop at retirement. Could you start at the beginning and tell us how the company and you came to be so closely linked?
JW – I came to work for Monroe Auto Equipment Company (MAECO) in the fall of 1944. I took auto mechanics and mechanical drafting in high school. Upon completion of the course, the instructor told me to contact the employment office at MAECO .
I contacted a Mr .Otto Uecker, who set up an interview a week later. Following an in-depth interview, he assigned me to the Product Engineering Group as a junior engineer.
I reported to Chief Engineer Mr. Raymond Peters who then assigned me to the New Product Development Team. This team secured new vehicles from local car dealers, as soon as the cars ‘hit’ the street. The cars were measured for the original ride control units (shocks) and then fitted with MONROE replacement units for proper fit and driven by a highly qualified ride engineer.
FJ – Did you grow up in Monroe? Was MAECO the major employer in town?
JW – Yes, I grew up in Monroe. MAECO wasn’t the largest employer, the papermill was.
FJ – We take it your first job involved the after-market side of MAECO, since they were obtaining cars from local dealers for testing. Was MAECO the OEM provider to any of the automobile manufactures at that time?
JW – Yes, MAECO provide parts to Chrysler, Ford and Willys,
FJ – You were with the company for many years. Tell us about your career after your early start.
JW – I started as a draftsman and was promoted several times. I ended up as Chief Engineer in the Product Engineering Division.
FJ – You have described MAECO as a “family company”.
JW – Yes, I was aware of all the founders of MAECO ie; Brouwer, William and Charles.
FJ – Can you expand on what it was like to work at MAECO in the early years?
JW – It was very interesting in many ways. I was able to interact with Brouwer, Bill and Charlie on a daily basis.
FJ – I believe you are still in contact with members of the family. And I believe you have shared some of the items we have discovered (like the Revolution in Pleasantville promotional film) with them. Have you become the de facto MAECO historian?
JW – I took it upon myself to create a display of products at the Monroe County Historical Museum at 126 South Monroe Street in Monroe.
FJ – We’ve been lucky enough to visit the display. It provides a great deal of history. When did you decide that the company history should be preserved? Was it before your retirement?
JW – No, it was some 20 years later.
FJ – What do you hope visitors to the display will take away from their visit?
JW – That a product was born and raised here. Also, to understand MAECO’s role in WWII, manufacturing shells and mortars in addition to parts for planes, tanks and jeeps.
FJ – We are going to ask you to put on your MAECO historian hat for a while. We became acquainted because we were both looking for parts and information about the Monroe Hydraulic Lift that made the Universal Jeep into a farm tractor.
You arrived back after obtaining your engineer degree just as the lift was being introduced. Can you tell us about how the lift came to be produced?
JW – After WWII, the company needed a peacetime product to replace the hydraulic aircraft wing flap actuator. These units were reengineered for use on the Willys CJ for farm use.
FJ – That is a very interesting bit of history. Many people, especially fans of the Monroe Hydraulic Lift, have wondered how MAECO came to develop an implement lift. Do you remember anything else about the introduction of the lift – did this seem outside the norm (not an automotive product) for those of you not involved in the project?
JW – I was aware of and assisted in the development of the lift. It did not feel outside the norm.
FJ – There is a picture in the museum display of a large barn that was part of the Monroe test farm. Can you tell us about that facility and any role it might have had in developing the lift?
JW – The testing was done at FENMOOR FARM laboratories on West Albain Road, approximately 3 miles south of town.
FJ – In at least one promotional film, there is a mention of Monroe test farms in Monroe Michigan and in Georgia. Do you have any information on where the farm in Georgia might have been located.?
JW – The farm was located near Warm Springs.
FJ – We’ve learned from our friend Clint Dixon that members of the McIntyre family were directly involved in marketing and selling the lifts, to the point of appearing in a promotional movie.
JW – Chuck McIntyre (son of Brouwer) was the contact person with Willys Overland, in Toledo, Ohio (15 miles south of Monroe). Chuck was directly involved in marketing and selling NEWGREN Lift products to Willys Overland after WWII. The company also introduced tractor seats, boat seats and truck seats.
FJ – As you know, a movie titled Revolution in Pleasantville produced for Newgren Equipment Company and Monroe Auto Equipment Company and made by Wilding Film Productions has recently been found. There are other movies out there featuring the Monroe Lift for the Jeep and for the Dodge Power Wagon. I know it wasn’t your area, but did you ever hear any of the family talk about being in the movies?
JW – I had never heard of the family talking about being in the movies. I do know the family operated a “tight ship”.
FJ – By “tight ship” do you mean they were involved in all aspects of the company operation, including marketing? Do you know if MAECO had an internal marketing department?
JW – I mean “tight ship” by the way they managed their money, and yes, they had a large marketing department.
FJ – Ivan Schatzka was famous in the Jeep world for his design work, but he got his start at MAECO. Did you know Ivan or know of his work?
JW – I do remember Ivan Schatzka as a sharp dealer when it came to his connection with Willys Overland.
FJ – MAECO seems to have stopped producing lifts around 1956. Do you have any information about why they made that decision ?
JW – I have no information as to why they stopped producing the lifts.
FJ – Are there other stories or facts about MAECO and its relationship to Jeep that you would like to share?
JW – When I was in military, I was stationed in South Korea and I used Military Jeeps many times for personnel transportation. I also worked in the Motor Pool for several months, in tune-ups and rebuilding
FJ – Thanks Jerry. It is always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you too for all that you have done to keep this history alive.