Rare International Auto Truck keeps collector up at night
The night before Bob 'Fezzy' Hanauer drove to the central Minnesota town where he would pick up his newly purchased 1914 International Harvester Co. Auto Truck, he couldn't sleep. 'It took me 10 years to convince them to sell it,' the Albany, Minn., man says, 'so all kinds of things were going through my head.'
Fezzy is the fourth generation of his family to be involved with automobiles. His great-grandfather began the tradition, working first as a wheelwright in Albany in the late 1800s, and then graduating to service and sales. 'Through the years I've taken a liking to all the automotive stuff,' Fezzy says. 'The first time I saw that IHC truck was about 10 years ago when my dad and I picked up a 1954 Corvette to do some engine work before the car was restored.'
The owners of the Corvette had the 1914 truck in the same building. 'I saw the truck and fell in love with it right then,' he says. 'It's so different from the trucks of today and I thought it was so cool. It has the wooden wheels, hard rubber tires and an open cab, just for starters. Because it's so rare I realized I didn't have the money they might want for it, but after that I made sure I kept track of it.'
Patience pays off
The truck was purchased from a southern Minnesota implement dealer in the 1950s, restored and taken to a Montana museum in the 1960s. 'It came back to Minnesota in 1975 in that collection where I first saw it,' Fezzy says.
Through the years Fezzy repeatedly asked the owners if they were ready to sell, but they weren't. Ultimately the collector gave the truck to his grandson in Oregon. The grandson was also reluctant to sell the relic. Eventually, though, he realized getting the truck to the West Coast would be a real trial. Storage space also was a problem, and that was exactly the break Fezzy needed.
One day Fezzy got the call he'd been waiting for: The grandson was ready to sell the truck. He went to look at it to see if it was still in sterling condition, found it was and made an offer. 'The owner in Oregon said he would get back to me,' Fezzy says.
Two agonizing weeks passed without a word until Fezzy received a call telling him of another interested buyer. Fezzy wasn't sure he'd be able to buy the 1914 model, so he began to look at alternatives. Other trucks, though, didn't live up to the IHC. Finally he decided the 1914 model was the one he really wanted, so he made a second offer: 'At 9:30 on a Thursday evening in August 2007, they called and said I could have it. I was so excited I couldn't sleep.'
Only minimal work was needed to get the 94-year-old machine going for the first time since the 1970s. Fezzy had the carburetor rebuilt, the magneto worked on, and changed the oil and antifreeze.
Fezzy kept the truck a secret from his friends for a couple of weeks until unveiling it at the Albany, Minn., fairgrounds where the Stearns County Pioneer Club's annual Albany Pioneer Days Threshing Show is held. As club members were readying the site for their September show, Fezzy appeared with his IHC truck. 'I hadn't said anything to anybody, so the reaction was pretty crazy,' he recalls. 'Making it run was a big event, and driving around the fairgrounds turned a lot of heads, that's for sure.'
A style all its own
Driving the 1914 truck is nothing like driving one of today's models. 'It has two speeds, high and low, and reverse,' Fezzy explains. 'It has large wheels, which actually makes the steering quite simple, and it's really not too bad considering the tires are solid rubber.' The 36-by-4-inch tires show wear; new ones cost $500 each and must be installed by a wheelwright. Leaf springs in the back give the truck pretty good suspension, he says, but there's still quite a bit of bounce on rough terrain.
Top speed is about 15 mph. 'From what I've read, back during the steam era, there was the fear that going fast might be harmful to people,' Fezzy says. 'Also, it was thought that vehicles that ran on gasoline were dangerous and if there got to be enough of them, they would blow up the world. Of course, today we know steam is more dangerous than gasoline by far.'
The truck has a round steering wheel to control turns, and the engine is operated by two levers and a foot brake. The shift lever controls the drive mechanism, which is actually a gear drive and drum. The foot brake adds pressure to brakes on the rear wheels, and the emergency brake works off the same mechanism.
The 1914 model was International's first truck. Earlier IHC models were high-wheelers. One of the model's oddities is the placement of the radiator, mounted behind (instead of in front of) the engine. 'If you ran into something,' Fezzy explains, 'you wouldn't wreck the radiator.'
Night driving could be accomplished using gas-powered, or propylene, headlights. 'I don't have that part hooked up yet,' Fezzy says. 'But everything's there to make it work. It just needs new rubber hoses.'
Preserving the past for the next generation
During Pioneer Days this fall, the truck will join other rare, early vehicles - cars, trucks, motorcycles and even a plane - displayed in a new building on the show grounds. Fezzy's display there will include a 1916 Ford Model T racing car. 'That's going to be my next project,' he says.
Fezzy plans to display part of his gas engine collection in a building he, Pete Kruger and Eric Hawn brought back to life. The display includes a series of Fairbanks, Morse & Co. gasoline engines. One is a 1906 Canadian 5 hp Model N he got in a trade. 'It's a hot-tube with an igniter engine,' he says. 'I really get a kick out of watching my 13-year-old daughter, Mercedes, start it and run it.'
Fezzy says both of his children (Mercedes and her brother, Ben) are very interested in the old machinery. 'That's one of my reasons for being down there at the grounds, to get the kids involved,' he says. 'I've been fortunate. I grew up around this stuff, even though I didn't live on a farm. I'd like to see things passed down generation to generation.
'Kids nowadays don't realize what this stuff is unless they're taught. They don't realize what a person had to go through a hundred years ago just to live. It's fun to see their expressions when I tell them this particular engine spent its life producing light so people could see what they were doing or pumping water so people could take a bath. Today you just turn a key or flick a switch, but years ago you had to crank engines to get them going.'
Fezzy's favorite engine is his 1917 Fairbanks-Morse screen-cooled 3 hp Model Z, manufactured only in 1917-18. 'I've seen a picture of one on the Internet, but that's the only other one I've ever seen,' he says. 'So I think it's pretty rare. I looked at this engine for quite a few years and wanted it, but it was never for sale. When it did come up for sale, I had to part with three other engines so I could get this one.'
New look for an old truck
Fezzy plans to restore the body of the 1914 truck, repainting it for the first time since its original restoration nearly 50 years ago. He'll add replacement tires one at a time to spread out the expense.
New parts could completely transform the truck's appearance. 'I've seen pictures of a 1914 IHC milk truck in Wisconsin that has a neat wooden body,' Fezzy says. 'The racks go into stake pockets in the back, so I could change the look of mine by putting on different racks. There are post holders for a windshield and side curtains, and that would change the look of the truck in a matter of minutes.'
The 1/4-ton truck is the smallest model produced by IHC. Its 4-cylinder engine has a 3-1/2-by-5-1/4-inch bore and stroke. In 1914, pneumatic tires were optional, as were electric lights, extended PTO shaft, rear fenders and a variety of body styles.
Fezzy says he's heard of few other 1914 models. A friend in St. Cloud, Minn., has one; another was sold at a Nebraska auction last fall; one is a fire truck; still another is in a museum. Each vehicle has the same F-series body, he says: 'IHC used the same body on their trucks, with variations, until the 1920s.'
Some people claim Fezzy's truck isn't a 1914 model because IHC didn't start its new truck series until 1915. Fezzy says a friend researched the question and discovered the truck was indeed a very early serial number 1914 model, produced late in the year and labeled as a 1914. The truck's title also lists it as a 1914 model.
Fezzy fully enjoys his truck and the reactions it generates. 'I actually bought it for Ben, who's been growing up around the Albany show grounds, as I did with my dad,' he says. 'It's something I can hand down to him to keep things going. Too much of this stuff gets lost over the years. People don't appreciate what it took back then for the automotive industry to make products. Everything was done by hand until Henry Ford started the assembly line. So it's fun watching young kids get excited about this stuff, and because from my great-grandpa on down, we were involved in the automotive industry in town, it's neat to see how things have changed over the years.
'One of the big things in my life is to preserve stuff so kids can remember how things were done,' he says. 'If we don't do it now, nobody else will.' FC
For more information:
-Bob Hanauer, 341 Sixth St., Albany, MN 56307; (320) 845-4015;
-Stearns County Pioneer Club 34th Annual Albany Pioneer Days Threshing Show, Sept. 12-14. Contact: Lee Mortenson, 8675 N.E. River
Rd., Rice, MN 56367; (320) 393-2542;
Bill Vossler is a freelance writer and author of several books on antique farm tractors and toys. Contact him at Box 372, 400 Caroline Ln., Rockville, MN 56569; e-mail: email@example.com