Highland News Leader

Hug trucks, manufactured in Highland, helped build Illinois’ network of paved roads

Chuck Rhodes drives his Hug Truck No. 42, which he restored, in the Highland Sesquicentennial parade in 1987.
Chuck Rhodes drives his Hug Truck No. 42, which he restored, in the Highland Sesquicentennial parade in 1987.

Christ J. Hug, one of Highland’s general contractors and owner of a wood planning mill at 6th and Laurel streets, became interested in making concrete roads.

C.J. Hug and the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co., plus Helvetia and Saline townships, started making one-lane, concrete roads to the farmers who brought milk into the Highland plant. Hug’s need for better equipment is what led to the Hug Truck Co. in 1922.

Chuck Rhodes of Collinsville is one of the biggest collectors of Hug Truck Co. of Highland information and photos. The following is from his files.

“The people of Illinois were very ‘good road minded’ and approved a $60 million state road bond issue in November of 1918. This bond issue was to be paid for entirely by motor vehicle license fees. Illinois put the many different surfaces to test at Bates, Illinois, (Sangamon County), using concrete, brick and asphalt. They used nine different thicknesses in their test.

“They had their plan. The concrete road would be 6 feet thick, plus the outer 2 feet was tapered to 9 inches thick. After the tests were completed and studied, Portland Cement concrete highways were in, with batch mix of one part Portland Cement, two parts sand, and three and one-half parts of crushed stone or gravel. But highway design was still lacking.

“By 1921, Illinois had completed concrete paving on two-thirds of the four major routes in Illinois. The old Cumberland Road was being called the ‘National Trail,’ and then became U.S. 40. The National Trail from Indiana to East St. Louis was now being concreted, and this is where C.J. Hug of Highland comes into the picture.”

Now, back to the early 1919s.

C.J. Hug’s planing mill at 6th and Laurel became the assembly plant for the Hug Construction Co., as they started making the one-lane, concrete roads for the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co.

The trucks that Hug had purchased to haul the rock, sand and cement were not holding up, and other equipment needed improvement.

In 1920, Hug was awarded the contract to build the concrete road from Pocahontas to Troy, which was later called Route 40 and is now replaced by Interstate 70. Hug’s bad experiences with the trucks that were available led to his start of the Hug Truck Co. in 1922.

Hug was also an inventor and had 22 patents to add to his resume. The first invention was granted Feb. 8, 1921 for a “Hug turntable,” a portable, self-powered unit, that could turn a truck loaded with concrete completely around between the forms set for an 18-foot pavement. His next patent was June 27, 1922, when he invented a “subgrader machine” to level the roadway to the Illinois’ specifications. His last patent was May 5, 1942, when he received a patent on a chassis frame for the bus frame that he was building.

Hug, in early 1920 in the Leutwiler Machine Shop in Highland, built one dump truck for use on his National Trail contract … After severe usage, this truck proved nearly indestructible. Eight more trucks were built that year to finish the National Trail contract.

Hug received many requests from other highway construction contractors in southern Illinois for trucks of this design, and in early 1922, he formed a company to build trucks and road-builder equipment. By 1942, a few more than 4,000 Hug trucks had manufactured in Highland. Truck sizes ranged from his two-ton size of the early model to 25-ton size in the late 1930s for highway contractors and quarries. In the 1980s, several Hug trucks were still in use by highway contractors.

Chuck Rhoads of Collinsville has completely restored No. 42, built in the original Hug plant at 6th & Laurel in Highland. It has a gravity dump bed, designed for hauling wet concrete. This vehicle worked for more than 20 years for its original owner, Berenz & Son Paving Contractor of Bloomington, Illinois. Rhoads purchased this truck in 1968 from the original owner. It was completely restored in 1980-1983 by Rhoads, and he drove it in the Highland Sesquicentennial parade in 1987.

(Information from Chuck Rhoads, Russ Hoffman’s Highland News Leader column, Roland Harris’ own research.)