International Harvester made more than tractors: IH also made refrigerators, freezers, and milking equipment. Almost anyone over the age of 35 can recall those heavy International freezers that Grandma has in her basement, still working to this day.
Larry Brinkman, Freeport, Mich., has been involved with International Harvester since he was a kid. His dad farmed with IH equipment, and Larry later worked for an IH dealer.
"In 1953, I worked for my uncle, who was an International dealer." he says. "He went out of business in 1960. Then I started up my own dealership with a friend in 1970."
Over the years, Larry and his wife Ruth, held onto his International Harvester collectibles. They had a strong desire to display the IH collection at shows.
"I had a bunch of stuff to show, and I thought I'd like to make a show trailer," he says. "Finally, I found one in Fremont that fit the bill."
It was difficult to find an affordable trailer that was the right size. So when the trailer in Fremont came up for sale six years ago, the Brinkmans jumped at the chance. It took them another four years to convert the old trailer to a traveling International collection. The Brinkmans were ready to roll for show season in 1998. They traveled to their first show in Oakley, Mich., and have been moving ever since.
This June, the Brinkmans headed south, taking their trailer to the International Harvester 11th Annual National Red Power Round Up in Sandwich, Ill. While rain soaked the fairgrounds during much of the show, the IH trailer received a good share of the show's visitors. The draw that pulled people out of the display buildings, away from the thousand-plus tractors on display, was the unique quality of the traveling IH collection.
The trailer includes a variety of items produced by International, large and small. The Brinkmans have a freezer, refrigerator, milking machine, cream separator and even a milking vacuum pump. The entire trailer is decorated with International signs and literature. One area has some of the IH kitchen contributions from the heyday of Irma Harding. (Irma Harding was the well-known IH spokeswoman who graced many covers of their literature and manuals.)
The Brinkmans' kitchen items include cookbooks, literature, and even a brochure with canning advice. Many of the IH collectibles on display had actually been used by the Brinkmans. Over the years, Larry kept oil cans, a valve seal box, freezer boxes, and just about everything else related to IH. One the best items in the collection is the set of tools that Larry used when he was a service man for International.
Although the bulk of the display was collected by the Brinkmans, Larry credits many of their great finds to family and friends. Having people on the watch for those sought-after items has proven to be a great boon, he says. One example of a great find happened several years ago.
"I heard that International Harvester made guns for the military," Larry relates. "I looked on the east and west coasts: Nothing. Then a guy called me one night and said we had a mutual friend." Through this friend, the caller had heard about Larry's search for an IH gun. After a few minutes of conversation, Larry heard the words he'd been waiting to hear.
"He had the MI Garand," Larry recalls with delight, "and he was only four miles away!"
That is part of the fun of collecting for the Brinkmans: Finding and adding those rare, sought-after items. This season, be on the look out for the Brinkmans. If you see a trailer with their name on the side, be sure to take a gander: Even if you've seen it before, chances are the Brinkmans have added something new. FC
Cindy Ladage is a freelance writer based in Virden, Ill.