International Harvester’s Red Baby Truck

The Red Speed Truck carried the IHC banner to the field and perhaps provided motivation for the dealer to get out and sell.

| August 2019

red-baby-truck
The cover illustration of the Feb. 23, 1923, issue of Farm Mechanics magazine. It depicts a sales visit by a McCormick-Deering dealer with his Red Baby loaded with bales of binder twine, a Primrose cream separator and a 3hp engine that is being demonstrated to the farmer. Image courtesy Lewie Hoskinson, Granville, Ohio.
 
This column has referred in the past to the severe Agricultural Depression that followed World War I. Prices for farm products (wheat fell from $3 to $1 per bushel, while corn was so cheap
that farmers burned it for fuel) plummeted. Sales of farm implements dried up as well and even the giant International Harvester company was affected.
 
Then, in February 1922, Henry Ford cut the price of the Fordson tractor, which at the time was IHC’s biggest competitor in the tractor market, by $230. According to Cyrus Hall McCormick Jr., when IHC General Manager Alex Legge heard the news in a phone call, he exploded.
 
“What’ll we do about it? Do? Why, damn it all – meet him, of course! We’re going to stay in the tractor business. Yes, cut $230. Both models (the venerable 2-cylinder Titan 10-20 and the 4-cylinder International 8-16 were the IHC tractors in direct competition with the Fordson, although the popular 15-30 and 10-20 McCormick-Deering models would soon replace them). And listen, make it good! We’ll throw in a plow as well!”
 
red-baby-truck
A beautifully restored International Red Baby Speed Truck owned and restored by Allan Felger, Churubusco, Ind.
Photo by Sam Moore.

Driving sales with the IHC Red Baby

International’s Springfield, Ohio, truck plant was hurting as well, carrying a large inventory of truck engines and other parts, and trucks weren’t selling, so Legge ordered that those parts be assembled into International 1-ton Model S trucks, painted bright Harvester red and sold at a considerable discount to IHC dealers.

At the same time, an intensive advertising campaign was initiated to convince IHC dealers to buy one of the “Red Babies” and to use it to get out into the field and sell, sell, sell. Dealers and salesmen were told, “The man who gets his feet off a hot stove in his office and goes out after business in the country will be busy, happy and successful.”

In March 1922, IHC Vice President A.E. McKinstry wrote to dealers via Harvester World, a monthly magazine sent to employees and dealers: “During the week ending March 4, more Red Speed Trucks were sold than in any other week since the campaign started. This most gratifying result proves that the entire sales organization recognizes in the truck a real opportunity to increase business and to provide customers with ideal service. All sound business is built on real service. A Red Speed Truck can be made to answer this purpose in every community in which one is used and if the individual operating it understands that ‘he who serves best gains most,’ he can make his visits to the homes of his farmer customers as welcome as those of the postman.

“The Red Speed Truck is going to become a symbol of service and of business. Its conspicuous red color is going to herald to all America the righteous militancy of Harvester men, and if you dealers are not equipped, you are going to lose in the race of 1922.”

 

red-baby-truck
A drawing showing how Red Baby trucks were to be lettered, including the dealer’s name. Image from the February 1922 issue of Harvester World magazine.

Never go out empty!

Another issue of Harvester World informed IHC dealers, “This year, tractors and other farm equipment are not going to be sold to any extent in the dealer’s store. Right out on the farm is where most deals will be closed, and every dealer should have one of these ‘Red Service Trucks’ to help him get the business. Samples of engines, cream separators and other farm machines can be taken to the farm door and demonstrated. It’s just like taking your sample room to the farmer.” Dealers were further admonished to “Never go out empty. Go out loaded every working day!”

Then, in the April 1922 issue of the magazine, an added incentive for dealers to buy a Red Baby truck and get out there and sell was announced. Every McCormick-Deering dealer who owned a Red Baby sales-and-service Speed Truck had the opportunity to win a $1,000 cash prize and the honor of leading the sales field in his state.

To win, all he had to do was to first own a Red Baby truck, and then to increase his 1922 business over what he did in 1921. That would give smaller dealerships an even chance with the big boys as the prize went to the dealer in a branch house area whose percentage of increase was greatest, not he who had the largest volume of business. As the initial contest announcement pointed out: “Remember: a five-tooth cultivator or a knife grinder may decide the winner at the finish, and no machine in the line is too small to have a direct bearing upon the result.”

red-baby-truck
IHC dealers were urged to get out there and “ride” the successful team of a Red Baby truck and a Titan 10-20 tractor to victory. Image from the March 1922 issue of Harvester World.

'The knockout of the day'

The contest ended in November 1922, and it seems to have been a success. In his 1931 book, Century of the Reaper, Cyrus McCormick Jr., wrote, “Under the influence of a tremendous sales campaign, the surplus inventory of tractors melted away.” Although due primarily to a huge sales effort by dealers and salesmen, the Red Baby trucks came in for a lot of the credit.

For example, one of the many letters written to Harvester World bragging up the Red Baby trucks was this one from Rushville (Indiana) Implement Co.:

“Our business, which has been good, has been obtained by going into the country every day in Red Trucks with goods to demonstrate and deliver to prospective customers. We have three painted exactly alike and they are the talk of the county. The advertising we have had from them is worth the price of a truck.”

A Louisiana dealer wrote, “The Red Baby is just like the balloon ascension on the Fourth of July. It is the knockout of the day.”

“We would not be without the Red Truck if we had to pay twice what we gave for this one,” swore an Oklahoma dealer after selling four tractors, a harvester-thresher, six binders, two wagons, a mower, a rake and a motor truck, all during the first week of canvassing with the new red truck.

 
Letter after letter told the same story, and the Red Baby trucks seem to have been a huge success, although one suspects they acted more as a motivation to the dealer to get out and sell than for farmers to buy.

The Red Baby was a handsome truck and some are in the hands of collectors, one of which is illustrated. FC


Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by email at letstalkrustyiron@att.net.



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