International Harvester Truck Probably Worth the Trouble

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I needed to move my loader tractor to another location, so that was a good excuse to check out the hitch.
I needed to move my loader tractor to another location, so that was a good excuse to check out the hitch.

On March 23, 2019, my grandson, Clint, who recently returned from a 10-year U.S. Navy enlistment, went with me to Indianapolis, Indiana, to look at a 1973 International Harvester Model 1210 4×4 pickup with a 345-cubic-inch V8 engine and 4-speed transmission that I’d seen advertised in Hemmings Motor News.

I had talked with the owner several times and he said the truck had fewer than 30,000 miles on it. I was a little skeptical about that, but after checking out the photos he provided, I thought the truck was definitely worth a look. Clint said that as long as I got him back in time for work Monday morning, he would love to go on a little road trip. I didn’t foresee that being a problem, so around 5:30 on a Saturday morning we headed east on I-70. The trip was uneventful, and with Clint coaching me from the GPS on his phone, we actually arrived in downtown Indianapolis without missing a single turn.

Plenty of upgrades – and original paperwork

The truck had factory power steering but no power brakes. An excellent receiver hitch had recently been installed. The owner had also recently installed a new clutch and radiator, and mounted five new 10-ply radial tires on Ford wheels. He told me that when he bought the truck, it had the old-style split rims. He couldn’t find a local shop that would work on them, so he located Ford wheels that would fit.

Clint and I drove the pickup two or three blocks, then locked in the hubs and checked out low and high range before driving back to the trailer. When we left Columbia, Missouri, I knew what the truck would cost me if I decided to buy it, so I took a cashier’s check along just in case. I handed it to the seller and he went in to the house to get the paperwork while we loaded the truck on my gooseneck.

Included in the paperwork was the owner’s manual, the Factory IH build sheet (the truck was shipped from the factory to Eissinger Equipment in Circle, Montana, and delivered to the railhead in Laurel, Montana), the original factory warranty registration card, a copy of the original Montana title, plus an envelope containing every Montana license renewal that had been done by the original owner. An hour or so after we arrived in Indianapolis, everything had been taken care of and we pulled back on the road to head home.

Things went well, until they didn’t

I really love it when things work like this, but as an author and antique tractor expert, Roger Welsch would say, hubris was about to rear its ugly head. Some 50 minutes later and 20 miles out of Indianapolis, Clint and I both noticed a vibration developing, so I slowed down and headed up the next exit ramp we came to.

Before we got to the top, my 1993 Dodge dually 4×4 lost power to the wheels and we coasted to a stop. Clint laid down and looked under the truck as I checked all the gears and shifted the transfer case from high to low. He said everything was moving as it should, but about that time he noticed a hot smell.

I shut off the truck and by the time I walked around to the right side, smoke was rolling off the brake drum. The dual wheels had moved out 2 or 3 inches, and rear end oil was pouring out of the axle housing onto the hot brake drum.

An unexpected outcome

If something like this had to happen, it couldn’t have done so at a better location. Fifteen minutes sooner and we would have been in six lanes of Indianapolis traffic with no shoulder; five minutes later we would have been beyond the overpass and sitting alongside the road.

As it happened, directly across the overpass was a large metal building with several wreckers parked in front. The sign read Curtis Towing & Truck Repair. “Clint,” I said, “lock those hubs. If the duals don’t fall completely off, we’re going to go see Mr. Curtis.”

The front wheels pulled us across the overpass and we found an out-of-the-way parking space on the lot. When we went inside, they were sweeping up and getting ready to close for the day. I explained our predicament and was told that it would be several days before they could look at my old Dodge. They said I could leave it where it was, and they would check it out as soon as possible.

I stood there for a few minutes, looking at Clint, and he stood there, looking back at me as we pretty much shared the same thought.

“What do you think about it, young’n?” I asked.

“We might as well,” he replied. “If we don’t make it all the way, at least we’ll be closer than we are now.”

Forty-six years young

So, at 5:30 in the afternoon and 320 miles from home, we unloaded that International pickup that I’d driven less than a quarter of a mile, fueled it up, bought a gallon of antifreeze and a couple of quarts of oil, just in case, pulled back on I-70 and headed west. For the first 75 or 100 miles, we heard noises and felt vibrations that weren’t really there, but eventually decided that this deal might actually work.

Somewhere in Illinois, we pulled into a truck stop and purchased new wiper blades because the ones on the truck were pretty ragged and we were driving toward some heavy rain. Other than that, the only time we stopped was for gas and a bite of supper.

As we drove through St. Louis, Missouri, in a hard downpour, I remarked that this was probably the best thing that could have happened. Clint asked why that was.

“I never did like to pull a trailer in the damn rain,” I said.

“PawPaw,” he said, after he quit laughing, “you’re never going to change, are you?”

The old truck handled really nice and it also rode a lot better than I expected. We made it home with no problems and by now I’m pretty well convinced that 30,000 is probably the actual mileage.

Simple fixes brighten old finishes

A couple days after we got home, I started looking the old truck over to see what needed to be done. Bruce Schull at G&J Auto Center did a safety inspection on the truck and replaced the shocks that were blown out. The seat was broken down on the driver’s side but I was able to locate some IH seat springs at a salvage yard near Linn, Missouri. Bill See at See’s Auto Trim & Upholstery in Columbia replaced the springs and added some padding. He was able to reuse the old vinyl covering, which still looks pretty good.

The top of the cab was caved in (the original owner said a bale of hay thrown from a barn loft had landed on it), so I took the truck to Mark and Phillippe Auto Body in Columbia for repair. He asked if I wanted it perfect, or like the rest of the truck. I told him he didn’t need to overdo it, so he removed the headliner and popped out most of the dent. It had been caved in for so many years that it kept wanting to pop back down, so Mark bonded some 1/8-inch-by-1-inch flat straps to the underside of the roof to stiffen it.

What is left pretty much matches the other dings the truck has acquired over the past 46 years. The old cardboard headliner was kind of brittle, but Mark managed to get it reinstalled in one piece. While we were visiting, he suggested that I buy a cheap buffer and a quart of 3M #36060 buffing compound and try to brighten up the color. I buffed what I could reach and Clint did the roof and a small section in the center of the hood. It took us a little over five hours, but it’s amazing how much of a difference it made in the looks of the old truck.

Working like it’s supposed to

From the 1940s through the 1970s, Missouri Department of Transportation regulations required that the owner’s name, town, gross weight, and zone of operation be displayed on all pickups. Since that would have been necessary when the truck was new, I took it to Carrie at Columbia Sign Co., and she lettered the doors so the truck would be period correct.

The black INTERNATIONAL lettering on the tailgate was pretty well faded, so Carrie also re-lettered the tailgate, using white enamel, which I think looks a lot better than the black. The tailgate is still pretty rough, but I can’t see it when I’m driving, so I’m not really concerned about it.

After a couple of months, I’ve about decided that the old truck was probably worth all of the trouble that it took to get it. I’ve driven it about 2,500 miles so far, and everything seems to be working like it’s supposed to, so hopefully I won’t have to do much to it for a while.

This is good because a limited-slip rear end for my Dodge, along with an axle, hub, and related parts, plus the labor, wasn’t really cheap and I probably don’t need to be spending any more money on trucks for a while – unless, of course, I happen to come across something that is really, really interesting. FC

Alan Easley, an occasional contributor to Farm Collector and the author of It Must Be True: PawPaw Said So and It Sure ‘Nuff Happened: I Was There. Contact him at 8300 E. Turner Farm Rd., Columbia, MO 65201; (573) 442-0678.

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