Bernard (Bif) Florey Jr and his Dad are two men that had a very big part in the process of building, installing and restoration of the gas/electric trucks. Bif was a very big part in helping me get my gas/electric and battery trucks in operational condition. I can never forget what Bif has done for me. I also don’t want these two men to be forgotten.
So instead of just printing a sign and setting it along side of a gas/electric truck, I wanted to do something that will catch viewers attention and something that will stay with the trucks as long as they are seen in my location, or later on in the NATMUS and/or Iowa I-80 Truck Museums.
Since this 1933 Thorne B-2 was restored in the past, I decided to use it as the billboard to tell all viewers the short story about Bif and his Dad. These pictures show what is printed on the side panels of the truck.
This is a story of the relationship that my family and I have had with Bif Florey Jr as I presented it to the attendees of the 2022 Divo Club of American Annual Banquet at Hershey, Pa.
Remembering and Honoring Bif Florey, Jr.
We knew Bif Florey, Jr as the Writer of the “Thorne Corner” here in our own DIVCO Newsletter since the early 2000’s. Bif followed his father’s footstep by being an electrical engineer. Bif even developed interest in the same area his father worked. That was vehicle electronics. Bif’s Dad, Bif Florey, Sr. was the chief electrical engineer for Thorne gas/electric trucks and later the Walker Trucks. He converted the Walker Trucks from battery operation into a gas/electric operation. Bif Jr. worked for General Electric for many years. There he and his team developed the variable-frequency drive and the regenerative braking systems for electric & hybrid vehicles, which he received patient rights. Bif’s love for gas/electric operated vehicles led him to search for trucks that his Dad built and this eventually brought him into my family’s life, which brought him in touch with the Divco Club of America.
At the DIVCO Banquet in Hershey this past October 5th, I gave a Power Point presentation in Memory and Honor of Bif Florey, Jr. This was to leave the attendees know how my brother and I got to know Bif, what he did to help people get their gas/electric trucks operating, how Bif got involved with DIVCO, how he became the writer for the “Thorne Corner” in the DIVCO Newsletter and how we plan to inform people and recognize Bif and his Dad for their service and interest to the gas/electric vehicle history.
Bif’s Dad’s family lived on a poor Wisconsin family farm and he only had a third grade education while living there. When he was old enough to go out on his own, Bif’s Dad, Bernard Florey, Sr left the farm and moved to Chicago where he got a job as a Runner for Western Union Message Co. Bif Sr had interest in electronics and went to General Motor Tech School while he worked at Western Union. When he graduated from GM Tech, he was hired as the Chief Electrical Engineer by the brothers Ward & Niblack Thorne, who were planning to start a new company to manufacture the Thorne Trucks. This company was located in Chicago.
Thorne Truck Company built their first gas/electric truck in 1929. Their first truck was known as the Model A-1. As improvements in the truck were made the model numbers changed to A-2 etc. Their truck was being accepted real well thru the Illinois, Indiana & Ohio areas. The truck was easy to drive (no shifting), had go power and didn’t take a lot of care like horses did. As the business grew the truck was redesigned and the B-1 model was developed. It became their biggest and best seller. The trucks were powered by Continental and Hercules engines. The electric motors and generators were manufactured by the Hertner Electric company which was located in the Cleveland, Ohio area. The Thorne Company was doing very good in sales but financially they ran into trouble. This was in 1932 during the Great Depression. Hertner Electric took over the ownership of the company and moved everything to the Cleveland area where they built a plant to manufacture the gas/electric trucks.
The B-2 truck was improved and was a great success. Later came the B-3 and then the B-4. The B-4 was developed with more hill power and better braking to handle the expanded sales areas of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. These trucks carried a nice size load and were a little expensive. So in 1936 Bif Flory Sr, designed and built a smaller truck that carried less cargo and was cheaper than the B model trucks. It was called a C-1. This truck was driven thru Penna & Ohio areas as a Prototype to get orders for this new smaller truck. This was a successful venture for the salesman. When he got back to the factory with all of the orders, he received news from the Owners that they could not afford to expand their business to manufacture all these trucks. Since it was during the depression, they decided to get out of the truck manufacturing business and just continue to make electric motors and generators. That left the C-1 as the one and only such unit ever built. Throne Truck Company sold the C-1 gas/electric truck and my father bought it for Rutter’s Dairy. We used it to deliver milk in the city of York, Pa. for almost 20 years and then sold it in 1955 as we modernized our fleet.
After Thorne Truck closed their doors, Bif Florey Sr, went to the Walker Electric Truck company for a job. That company used batteries to power their trucks. Batteries were not that good in those days and this created a problem when the batteries would go “dead” while the trucks were out on deliveries. Bif Sr convinced the Walker Truck Company to hire him to install the gas/electric power units in Walker trucks like the ones he used for the Thorne Trucks. This would replace the batteries and eliminate the customers dead battery problems. The first Walker Dynamotive D-500 was produced in 1938.
Then 30 years passed. One Saturday afternoon in 1985 Bif Florey Jr was in the south central part of Pennsylvania on business. He decided to try and locate the dairy that bought his Dad’s protytpe C-1 Throne. Bif knew it went to south central Pa but did not know the dairy company’s name. After a few calls to different dairies he called Rutter’s Dairy and talked to my brother Dale about the truck. After that call my brother was so excited, he decided that he was going to search for that one of a kind truck, the C-1 Thorne. After four years of advertising and searching he found the truck. It was on the Snyder Farm north of Harrisburg, Pa. Our company bought the truck and had it restored. During the restoration, my brother was in contact with Bif Jr in effort to get the electrical components working properly. We had the truck ready to show in 2001.
I just joined the Divco Club in early 2001 and heard that there was going to be a Divco Convention in the Grantville, Pa area. We decided to take the Thorne and other vehicles to that Show. My brother notified Bif that we were going to take the C-1 Thorne to that show. Bif decided that he wanted to be there to see the truck on display. At that show, Les Bagley got to talk to Bif about the C-1 Thorne. After that conversation, Les asked Bif if he would be interested in writing a column in the Divco Newsletter about gas/electric trucks. That is how the “Thorne Corner” got started. For most newsletters from that time on until early 2022, Bif wrote his interesting and informative articles regarding gas/electric trucks and electric vehicles. We will miss seeing and reading his articles.
As we showed the C-1 Thorne, we had problems with different electrical things on the truck. So we would contact Bif. Sometimes he would solve the problems for us over the phone and sometimes he would come from Virginia Beach, Va. to help us out.
Then in 2007 I bought a 1938 Walker Dynamotive 500 gas/electric truck that had not been operated for 40 years. It was in very bad shape. It is thought to be the only such model in existence. When I found the truck, I called Bif to tell him about it. He was so excited because he said he had not seen one of these in over 30 years. These Walker trucks were manufactured in Chicago where Thorne started out and was also the company where his dad went to work after Thorne closed their doors. So Bif Jr had knowledge of how these trucks operated and was very interested in helping me get this truck in operational condition. He spent a good amount of time with us to make sure everything worked properly. By the time the 2008 Hershey AACA Meet came, we were able to drive the truck onto the show field. This truck has received many Ntional Awards and has been featured in many magazines over the years.
In 2014 I found and bought a 1919 Walker LA-10 “Stand & Drive” battery operated milk truck. It also is thought to be the only such “Stand & Drive” vehicle. There are other Walker battery operated trucks in existence but none of them are “Stand & Drive”. This was another project to call on Bif Jr for his expertise. This truck was owned by a man in Cincinnati, Ohio. The truck needed a complete electrical restoration and Bif was able help us get this truck operational. It went on the AACA show fields in 2018 and has won many National AACA Awards since.
Bif helped other people with the restoration of their trucks. He worked with Glen Snyder in restoring his 1931 B-2 Thorne. That truck made it onto the AACA show field in Hershey in 2019. Bif Jr. helped a man in the Pittsburgh, Pa area get his 1933 B-2 Thorne operational. That truck was in a museum for many years. Later the owner removed the truck and stored it in his barn. When the owner died, the truck sold in January 2021 to a man who lived that area. In February 2021 a neighbor friend of mine sent me a picture of a truck his cousin just bought. It was the 1933 B-2 Thorne from Pittsburgh. I called his cousin and bought the truck from him because I wanted to make sure that truck was never lost as a historic gas/electric truck, never chopped and/or customized as a “Hot Rod”.
Bif loved to share his ability to repair gas/electric vehicle. He loved to see things that his Dad built, run again. Bif was a very talented man who appreciated the opportunity to help bring antique electric vehicles “back to life”. Bif Florey, Sr and Bif Florey, Jr were two men that had a very big part in the history of gas/electric trucks. They need to be remembered in the history records for the things that they contributed to the American Automotive History.
I’m trying to preserve rare “Stand & Drive” Trucks for future generations to see and enjoy. All of my trucks will be going to the NATMUS (National Auto Truck Museum) Museum in Auburn, Indiana. They can NEVER be sold or given away. They MUST always be keep as one exhibit. If NATMUS can never keep their doors open, the exhibit will be given to the Iowa I-80 Truck Museum in Walcott, Iowa. There they will be kept under the same legal requirements for future generations.
So to Honor, Remember and make sure that Bif Florey, Sr and Bif Florey, Jr will be remembered in the history of gas/electric vehicles, I have lettered one side of my 1933 B-2 Thorne truck with a portrait picture and a short biography of Bif Florey, Jr. On the other side of the 1933 B-2 Thorne, there is a portrait picture of Bif Florey, Sr along with a short biography of him. With these displays and lettering, people will always be able to related to two men that made the gas/electric trucks successful. This style of powering a vehicle was later successfully used to operate the diesel locomotive engines and other types of electric power to propel vehicles.
We were very fortunate to have known Bif Florey, Jr and to have him as a Divco Club of America member.