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ROTHENBURGER - The charm of old trucks

November 3, 2015 4:22 A.M.
My baby.

I WAS looking forward to one last trip to town in the Cornbinder on the weekend.

As I was about to get into the truck, I took the precaution of checking the insurance stickers on the licence plate — they said Oct. 20, 2015. I was sure I had until Oct. 31.

Oh, well, there’s always next year.

I got about half a dozen drives out of the old 1955 International this year, not much but better than nothing. I’ve written several articles on that old truck over the years, and it continues to give me pleasure. It doesn’t look like much but it brings back memories of my youth — it belonged to my dad, and he and my brother used it at their fishing camp up at Tranquille Lake.

Before he died, he gave it to me, but it sat in the yard for many years before it came to life again. In the country, there are a lot of old trucks like that, many of which are beyond resurrection. Quite a few of them are International Harvesters from the late 1940s and 1950s.

On the TV car shows, they’re known as “barn finds,” having gathered grime and rodents in a farmer’s barn or shed until some restoration geek hears about it and buys it from the farmer for a song, then restores it to its former beauty.

You don’t see a lot of barn finds in the city, but the country is full of them, often parked in a field gathering rust, bird crap and mouse turds. Some stay there forever, some literally fall to pieces, a few lucky ones find new homes.

The reasons for this abandonment are many, I suppose — one day they just stop running and are never repaired. Or someone has bought it with good intentions and hasn’t come up with the money or the commitment to restore it. Some sit in junkyards waiting for some guy with an old wreck of his own who needs parts.

I stalk the Internet for them, too, and once in awhile see one at a Show and Shine. Whenever I go driving in the country, I keep an eye peeled for these old hulks, and my radar is pretty good. I’m not interested in anything by Internationals.

I’m looking for a couple of parts right now, but mainly it’s about the chase. Whenever I find one I snap a few photos and try to find out something about it from the owner. I calculate the year — which is not always easy with International pickup trucks because sometimes the registration date is way different from the actual date it was manufactured. I look at the model number — here again, it can be deceiving because some model numbers are different even though they’re on virtually identical trucks.

I’m always interested in the engine, too. It’s disappointing when the original engine has been torn out in favour of a newer one, usually with more horsepower. Mine’s a Silver Diamond, the same motor that drove it out of the factory.

Internationals in the U.S. can be traced through archives to the actual day and time the truck was completed, but unfortunately such records don’t exist for Canadian-made Internationals, the ones that came from the Hamilton plant.

I learned the hard way this summer that IH changed parts so often, and that U.S. and Canadian parts were sometimes different, that you have to be careful when trying to replace one. I found an outfit in the States that shipped me a steering gear, only to discover it didn’t fit.

I doubt I’d be so stubborn about keeping that old bucket of bolts on the road if it hadn’t been part of the family so long, but I don’t mind it taking up space in the yard. If I ever return to city life, the International will probably have to find another home but for now I enjoy just seeing it out there from my home-office window — even when it’s not running.

Mel Rothenburger can be contacted at

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