When Jack Johnson purchased a 1958 International Harvester pickup in 1965, the retired Aurelia, Iowa, farmer thinks he probably gave about $600 (about $4,300 today) for what seemed to be a pretty good vehicle. He and his son traveled by train from nearby Cherokee to Sioux City, Iowa, to pick it up. He had no doubt the pickup would serve him well in his diversified operation.
“Like most farmers at that time, I didn’t have a lot of money,” Jack says. “I hauled water all the time and needed the pickup for that chore and a number of other ones.” Once the pickup outlived its usefulness, he retired it to a spot in the farm’s shelterbelt. In the back of his mind, though, he held onto the idea of restoring the battered vehicle.
When the time came, Jack launched a search for replacement parts. He found more than he’d bargained for. “I started reading want ads in the Sioux City Journal,” Jack says. “That led me to a 1959 model. Once I brought the ’59 home I could see it was actually in better condition than my ’58.” At that point, Jack decided to restore the 1959 model (an A110) and use the ’58 for parts. The first thing he did was hire a local mechanic to overhaul the Black Diamond engine.
“Without power steering, the pickup steered so hard that I had to modify it with a Chevrolet part,” he explains. “When you do that, you need a steering post and different steering wheel, so that’s a Chevrolet part too. Without power brakes it was hard to stop, and that’s not good if you’re in a parade.”
Making it his own
He also replaced a worn seat with a custom-designed piece. “It’s primarily black except for about a 12-inch red area that runs across the width of the seat,” he says. The color scheme Jack used (red paint with black trim, and the top of the cab is black) varies somewhat from the original, but that only enhances the appeal for him.
“It really makes me feel good to look at the pickup and see it all cleaned up,” he says. “On the inside of each door there’s a panel you can take off. I had those painted black. The dash has a lot of black on it, too. On the dash, just below the windshield, is a 6-inch wide area that’s red. And we carpeted the floor with a black, short shag rug.”
One of the 1959 hubcaps was missing so Jack found a replacement and re-chromed all four. He left the IH emblem in the center alone. “It was originally painted red and black,” he says. “Since I spent so much on hubcaps, I decided not to try to repaint the logo. It wasn’t that important to me.”
“Dangerous and injurious”
When International Harvester introduced its Harvester Co. Auto Wagon in 1907, cars were a fairly new phenomenon. A sales brochure warned motorists to take it easy: “Caution! This machine is designed to be run at a maximum of 20 miles per hour. A higher rate of speed is dangerous and injurious to the machine.”
International’s involvement in automobiles dates to 1898, when E.A. Johnson, a member of the McCormick Co. engineering department, installed a gas engine in a wagon-type chassis and used the vehicle for several months to travel between his home and the factory. By 1905, Johnson had designed the Auto Buggy at International’s Rock Falls, Ill., plant. Made to look as much as possible like a horse-drawn buggy, the vehicle was powered by a two-cylinder, air-cooled engine. It allowed farmers to transport produce to market more quickly.
By spring 1907, International had produced 100 Auto Buggies in its Chicago plant. Both the buggy and Auto Wagon quickly gained popularity. An assembly line was established at the company’s Akron (Ohio) Works to produce the vehicles in quantity. By 1911, International had produced approximately 1,500 passenger cars, but abandoned that line to concentrate on farm trucks.
The high, narrow wheels on International vehicles were thought to be the most practical design for deeply rutted (and often muddy) rural roads of the era. As highways improved, the wheels were redesigned and International trucks more closely resembled trucks produced by the company’s competitors.
Timing is everything
International eclipsed the competition with its 1916 closed-cab, worm-drive 1-1/2-ton truck, the first vehicle of its class to reach the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado. At about the same time, the U.S. Army utilized a fleet of trucks in its pursuit of Pancho Villa in Mexico, and Europe’s warring nations proved a ready market for American-made trucks. Introduction of the pneumatic-tired “Speed” truck further strengthened International sales following World War I. By 1925, the company proclaimed itself the nation’s largest manufacturer of a complete line of commercial vehicles. Between 1915 and 1925, International’s Akron Works produced 56,685 trucks in 10 models, including the first “heavy-duty” five-ton truck.
During World War I, truck production in the U.S. reached 227,250 units. As the war ended, surplus trucks were used to launch a fledgling shipping industry. International’s Speed truck, designed to perform at high speeds on improved highways, was an immediate success. Production numbers rose from 7,183 trucks in 1920 to 39,008 in 1928. When a new model was unveiled in 1929, production rose to 49,797 units
International continued its dominance in the truck category into the 1950s. But by 1958, small imports began eating away at the American commercial vehicle market. When International introduced the Metro-Mite, a 200-cubic-foot-capacity multi-stop vehicle powered by a four-cylinder economy engine, it slowed sales of the small imports. A total of 498 were produced in 1958. The following year the 1959 IHC B-line, featuring small V-8 engines, was introduced. By 1960, International’s truck sales totaled $766 million, 45.5 percent of the company’s business.
Despite respectable sales, Inter-
national’s profit margins remained slim through the 1960-’70s. Expansion of the company’s agricultural and construction equipment lines proved a distraction. Increased competition and management issues took their toll, and in 1975 International ended pickup production.
Like countless other collectors, Jack has a soft spot for his vintage International truck and thoroughly enjoys showing it off at area events. “We always make sure we get over to the Grand Meadow (Iowa) summer celebration,” Jack says. “I love their parade and we’re able to display the pickup throughout the weekend so people can get a good look at it. I’ve used it to pull a wagon and give people rides, like a newly married couple and their wedding party that we took from church to the reception hall. I’ve never regretted fixing it up. We’ve had a lot of fun with it.” FC
Loretta Sorensen is a lifelong resident of southeast South Dakota. She and her husband farm with Belgian draft horses and collect vintage farm equipment. E-mail her at email@example.com.