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International Harvester started producing pickups in 1907, and its vehicles were known for their ruggedness and adaptability. They served as delivery vans and light trucks in the city, as farm and ranch trucks in rural areas, as buses, and even as mining and logging trucks. It even created the Scout and the Travelall as the first SUV-type vehicles. Despite their advantages, they were always the little brother to the Big Three of Ford, GM, and Dodge in the light truck/pickup market. Their last light truck was produced in 1975, and today International is Navistar, which produces semi-trucks and diesel engines. So my grandpa’s pickup was part of the last line of light trucks that International produced.
After my grandpa passed away, my dad inherited the pickup. We used it to haul hay and cake to the cattle, to go out and break the ice in the stock tanks in winter, to haul things around the ranch. It was a four-wheel drive, so my dad loved to use it smash through snow drifts. I remember one time when we went to pick up hay in winter and got thoroughly stuck in deep snow in the hay lot. We had to shovel and go back and forth to break out. It was getting dark, and I was getting worried that we might have to spend the night out there. But my dad calmly kept shoveling and working it forward and backward until we finally broke out. We never made it to the haystack, so the cattle had to go hungry, and it was dark when we made it home. But the pickup took us home.
I learned to drive on it in 1980 when I was just nine years old. It was a stick shift with a four-on-the-floor shifter. No power steering or power brakes, so you turned and stopped with your muscles. I wasn’t allowed to drive on highways then, but as a pre-teen and teenager, I drove it all over the pastures and country roads. Today that would be considered child neglect, but it taught me independence and responsibility.
Fast forward several decades. Now my dad is 91, and the pickup wasn’t getting much use. We live in a small town, so it has left its ranch roots behind. Dad still drives it to the city tree dump to dispose of branches and bags of leaves. Since it was only being driven a couple of times a year, it had become a major project to get it started each time. It burned so much oil that a cloud of blue smoke followed my dad every time he drove it. I was sad to see the old pickup slowly deteriorating, and I am nostalgic about it because it was manufactured in the year of my birth.
But what to do with it? It has more than a few dents and dings from years of hard work on the ranch. We had to add a quart of oil every time we drove it, so it needed an engine overhaul, and its top speed was 35 mph. When you braked, you had to grip the steering wheel firmly because the right brake didn’t activate right away, so it veered left. And then suddenly, the right brake would catch, and it would veer right. Not a pickup for the faint of heart or weak of muscle. After driving it, a cloud of blue smoke would emerge when I opened the hood because oil was leaking onto the hot exhaust.
A mechanic told me that it needs to be driven, not just a mile to the tree dump, but on long drives that will burn out the carbon and sludge. He told me to drive it a hundred miles and then change the oil. I added some transmission fluid to the oil to speed up the engine cleaning and started taking it out on 20-mile drives. I put Marvel Mystery Oil in the fuel tank to clean up the cylinders; and when I added oil, I used high-zinc Shell Rotella diesel engine oil – most modern oil has low zinc to keep heavy metals out of the environment, but old engines need a coating of zinc to reduce wear on moving parts. Miracles started to happen. Now it hardly uses any oil at all. It starts on the first try. It drives smoothly at 50 mph. The right brake catches better, although you still have to be ready in case it doesn’t. A rugged old pickup like that was meant to be driven.
Then a guy driving by saw the pickup and asked if he could make a video about it. I was embarrassed by how dirty it was, so I decided to detail it for the video. My dad said it had never been washed, but I washed with auto soap and polished it with carnauba wax. I washed out the interior and shined it with Aerospace Protectant. I cleaned the windows with a clay bar and even put tire black on the wheels. I’m not sure what my grandpa would think of his old truck all shined up. Take a look at the video:
Our society disposes of old things too quickly. Many people would have said the pickup is just trash; but step by step, I am uncovering the treasure in it. International made a rugged pickup 51 years ago, and it still has a lot of miles left in it. Grandpa made it to 90, my dad to at least 91, so I’m sure the pickup has at least another four decades in it.
My project for tomorrow is to change the oil, maybe for the first time in a decade, now that I have driven the hundred miles. One more step in restoring the treasure.Published in