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The Mother of all Tow Trucks – Big Bertha Mystery Solved

Not all mystery vehicles get identified here on The Old Motor, but in time a large number of them do and “Big Bertha” is one of them. A photo of this behemoth was posted here six years ago, and recently all of the trucks make up has been identified.

Mike Heimes provided many of the details – “My Uncle Louie Prinzing owned the Browncroft Garage located on Atlantic Avenue in Rochester, New York. The truck was built by Buddy Barg and McDonald Welding in Webster, New York. The cab was designed to sit four passengers, one to the left of the driver and two to his right. I believe it was built on a Mack chassis because it had a Tri-plex transmission with two shifters. One stick was for a five-speed transmission, and the other stick was for hi-low range and the overdrive.

The tubing on the back of the boom of the truck could be unhooked and put down to use as outriggers and the tubes behind the cab could also be used for the same purpose. It was equipped with a generator to run the big lights for nighttime recovery. I think It was sold to someone in Albany. When driven there they burned up the transmission as they didn’t know how to shift the hi-low and overdrive gears”.   

Mike reported after someone posted this picture and linked to The Old Motor on the forum on the Antique Truck Historical Society website: “It is very difficult to decipher what kind of truck is under all of Big Bertha’s “gingerbread”. This wrecker has more home-grown modifications than just about any truck I’ve seen. But under all of that “bling”, I think you will find a 1930 to ’33 GMC Model “T” with the same specifications as offered on the T-41 to T-61 models. Look closely at the rounded radiator, and you can just barely make out the round GMC emblem, and the cab is the same, they even both have the oval rear window. Peter J was the one that was able to come up with this identification.”

7 responses to “The Mother of all Tow Trucks – Big Bertha Mystery Solved

  1. Thanks Mike H. for the info on Big Bertha.

    Was the war surplus tank retriever used by Browncroft Garage the replacement for Big Bertha?

    The picture of the surplus tank retriever recovering the wrecked fire truck in the 1950s show some of the same type of lights seen on the cab roof of Big Bertha.

    • This picture is on page 45 of the book” Rochester’s 19th Ward
      By Michael Leavy, Glenn Leavy” . The picture can be viewed in a preview at google books. Search for “Browncroft” in the book title mentioned.

  2. It’s the war surplus Big Bertha shown in the Rochester’s 19th Ward book that has the 4 man cab, not this one.

  3. Back in the early 60s big Bertha was famous ,I would go to Browncroft garage at night to buy car parts I think they were open 24 hours, big Bertha would be
    Parked there.when I see a huge tow truck it reminds me Bertha .

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