Book Review: The Diesel Odyssey of Clessie Cummins


| May/June 1999



The Cummins Engine Company of Columbus, Indiana, is probably well known to many of our readers. In this nearly 400-page book, the founder's son tells the fascinating and personal tale of the life of his father and the company he founded.

It all began curiously enough when young Clessie Cummins, a man with great mechanical talent, took a job as a chauffeur with the wealthy W. G. Irwin family in Columbus. This was the beginning of the long term, symbiotic relationship which led to the formation of the engine company, its ultimate growth and success.

The story is a fascinating one, moving as it does from the early teens of this century, up to Cummins death in August of 1968. First hand reports of some marvelous 'engine adventures' include several Indy 500 races with race cars fitted with Cummins diesels, speed records broken at Daytona; a 1931 cross country trip in the first diesel-powered truck; a non-stop 14,600 mile truck trip around the Indianapolis Speedway; a cross-country trip in a diesel powered bus, and more. Tales from a promotional trip to Europe provide more adventure.

For the technically astute, there are numerous discussions of the actual inventions, and improvements, with sketches and detailed explanations in a historical context.

Many details of the company history are included, the plants, the additions, the acquisitions and new buildings as the company grew, and sold engines for numerous applications throughout the world.

Underlying the entire tale, are detailed insights provided by extensive personal correspondence and anecdotes. The relationship of the inventor and his investors are explored in detail. And while the Cummins Engine Company did not always best serve both the interests of inventor and investors, it did a fine job of serving the community of Columbus, Indiana, regardless. For, while the primary mission of the Company was to produce the finest, most perfect engine possible, it is refreshing to read some of Cummins' words in describing other corporate values in his draft of a company policy: