This 1955 International R-120 with four-wheel drive had been sitting on a farm in a granary building for several years. The engine was seized, but I thought that the truck was something I should have, and I bought it from William Foreman of Portage, Indiana, in 1974.
Bringing it home was memorable. Mike, a buddy of mine, towed me home in the truck using another pickup and a tow chain. Mike was pulling me down gravel roads at about 45 mph—a bit much for a 15-foot chain and a truck with no working wheel brakes. Because the engine was seized, I was at least able to put the truck in gear and hold the clutch down until I needed to slow down or stop. I would then let up the clutch pedal part way, and it would serve as an emergency brake of sorts.
I built a new shop in 1975, and the International truck was the first vehicle to go in. I immediately stripped everything down to the frame. If it unbolted, it came off. In 1976, I rebuilt a 389 Pontiac V-8 with 10.5:1 compression, a strong cam and Pontiac’s Tri-Power three-carburetor intake, a set of headers, and a four-speed automatic transmission. My plans were to build a truck to take to the dunes at Silver Lake, Michigan, to sand drag.
Then the delays started. I got married in April 1976 and working on the truck moved to the “backburner.” In the late ’70s, my dad told me that I would never finish the truck. In the early ’80s, I decided to rebuild the truck, but put it back to stock. I sold the Pontiac engine and transmission and located an R-130 flatbed truck with about 17,000 miles on it. I got the flatbed’s engine going, and it ran great. I transferred that engine and transmission to my R-120. I then totally stripped and restored the inside of the cab except for the trim and upholstery work.
By this time, I had kids to consider and college funds on my mind, so I put the truck on the backburner again. My dad died in 1984, and I thought he might be right about the truck—maybe I wouldn’t get it finished.
In 2001, I lost my wife to cancer, and it made me realize how short life may be. I knew if I didn’t get going on the truck, my dad’s prediction would be right, and I did NOT want that to happen. This motivated me to put the truck on the “front” burner and keep it there.
I knew that I could paint the truck if necessary, but I am not fond of doing bodywork, so I scouted for someone who could do that. It was pretty difficult finding the right person, but I finally found a fellow whom I trusted to do both the bodywork and painting. He couldn’t start work for about six months, which was fine with me. When he was ready to begin, however, I had just injured my back and was unable to move the truck to his shop. As soon as I recuperated, he had back problems. One delay after another postponed progress until the winter of 2007–08.
In the spring of 2008, I went to look at the cab, which had been sandblasted, repaired, and repainted. It looked great, but it was the wrong shade of red and didn’t match the previously finished interior. I discovered the supplier possibly had made an error in mixing the paint. This must have frustrated the people at the body shop because the next thing I knew, the truck was moved to the shop’s storage facility.
In the spring of 2009, the truck had spent six months in storage, and I began pressuring the body shop to start work on it. The Red Power Roundup was scheduled to be in La Porte, Indiana, in 2010—and taking the International to that show became my major goal. In May 2009, I drew up a contract that should have gotten the truck out of the body shop in less than eight weeks.
In the meantime, at a toy show in Winamac, Indiana, I found a model 1954 International R-110 with the company’s dealership paint scheme. My truck was originally going to be all red, but after seeing this model—no way. My connections in a toy tractor group led me to Chuck Eckel of Crete, Illinois, who was a great help and gave me all the information I needed about the color codes. Chuck was instrumental in the production of the model that I fell in love with.
Despite my contract with the body shop, I didn’t get the cab and chassis back until August. When I picked up the truck, the owner informed me that his shop was not going to work on the bed. Fortunately, the owner’s brother was there, and he offered to finish it, but it would be more than a couple of weeks.
That was fine because I still had to do all of the electrical work, spruce up the earlier frame restoration, rebuild the four-wheel-drive linkage and brackets, finish the interior restoration, letter the doors, and take care of all the detailing.
I didn’t get the truck’s bed back until May 2010. The man did a great job and, fortunately, I had almost all of the other work done by then. I took the truck out for its first test ride about a week before the Red Power Roundup.
The night before leaving for the Roundup, my buddy, Jack Crane, came up from Whitestone, Indiana, to accompany me. We took the truck for a ride, and when we returned, it was extremely dark and threatening rain. The truck died 20 feet from the shop door. We got it going again and drove it into the shop just before the storm hit.
On June 24, 2010, the big day arrived. Because of the incident with the truck the previous night, I trailered it 30 miles to La Porte and unloaded it at another buddy’s house less than two miles from the show grounds. The International died about halfway there, but we got it going again. What a great weekend it turned out to be.
Thanks, Dad. I did get the truck done and enjoy it very much. The only problem I have now with the truck is that when I take it to tractor shows, all my friends harass me about driving an International product. That’s because I am a member and director of the National Ford/Fordson Collector’s Association and an avid Ford tractor collector. I currently work in Valparaiso, Indiana, at a Case IH dealership owned by my brother, and I drive my 1955 International to work whenever the weather permits.
I have met Ray Hoffman at different shows throughout the years and agreed to do a story on my pickup for Vintage Truck magazine. I enjoy talking both tractors and trucks. My address is 413 N. 475 W, Valparaiso, IN 46385; my phone number is 219-759-1035. t