Oh Baby!

Collector's IHC Red Baby Truck Turns Heads

| April 2005

Lycoming engine, air compressor, distributor, starter, lights, horn. Casual observers could be forgiven if they believed, in overhearing Gary Aakre talk about his pickup truck, that he was speaking of a modern-era vehicle he had restored. They would be wrong, however. The 45-year-old rural Nelson, Minn., man is talking about his rare 1921 International Harvester Co. "Red Baby" truck.

Gary grew up surrounded by IHC equipment on a large farm on the western edge of Minnesota near Rollag. "I grew up with International Harvester machinery and have been on it since I was 10 years old," he says, "and I have always been interested in IHC equipment."

When he had a chance to purchase the rusted-out hulk of an old IHC truck that had sat in a Brooten, Minn., museum for 20 years, and in the Alexandria, Minn., museum for another 10 to 15 years, he was interested. "The Brooten museum had sold it to the Alexandria museum, about a mile from where I lived, and though it was there all those years, I never knew it." In 2001 he saw an advertisement selling the truck, as the museum was closing. The truck was in desperate need of restoration, with a door missing, rotten wood, a running board cut off, and much more. Still, the engine wasn't stuck, and the truck did have a couple of original decals. So Gary called a friend who knows about old IHC vehicles. "I described it to him, and he told me I had to go buy it, because if I didn't, I would never find another one."

Unclear History

The actual history of the Red Baby truck is murky. According to The Illustrated Encyclopedia of American Trucks and Commercial Vehicles by Albert Mroz, "International introduced its speed model truck, which was rated at 3/4-ton capacity and had a 115-inch wheelbase, late in 1921." Standard design was used, with a radiator fronting a 4-cylinder Lycoming engine - an unexpected choice for a company that also built its own engines. A multiple disc clutch coupled the engine to a 3-speed transmission. The IHC company used a fleet of red 'speed' trucks, and with a pickup body, this model was nicknamed the 'Red Baby.' Truck-manufacturing companies in that era gave their lightweight speed trucks special names: Federal had the Scout, Stewart the Buddy, REO the Speed Wagon, and IHC the Red Baby.

Gary has heard that just 100 of the service-type Red Baby trucks were made, all turned out at the same time. "I had a picture of all of them together at one time," he says. Gary says he was told that IHC had some surplus trucks in 1921, so they painted them all red, put decals on them, and discounted them to dealers to use as service trucks. An IHC man named Legge was responsible for the idea.

"Most of them had an air compressor running off the bell housing with an on-off switch," Gary says. The small air compressor, without a reservoir, had a pipe running out to one of the channel irons with a valve stem on it. A hose could be screwed onto the stem, and tractor tires, for example, could be aired up right in the field. "It was advanced for a 1921 model," Gary says, with a 6-volt system with lights, generator, horn and starter. "It had about everything." The Red Baby was originally introduced in St. Cloud, Minn., in 1921, he says. Gary's truck is serial no. 2871, and says "Chicago, Illinois" on it.