In my last article I mentioned that I sold my VW bus for a pittance in order to get something bigger, stronger, and four-wheel-drive. That something was a 1971 International Travelall ¾ ton four-by-four.
One Sunday, I attended a garage sale out in the country near Dallas, OR. The man that was running the sale had some pretty nice stuff, including an original Spencer rifle. But just as I was leaving, I noticed an olive green Travelall sitting in the driveway with a sign in the window. I turned around and went back to ask him about it. According to him it needed some brake work and had been sitting a little while. He only wanted four hundred dollars for it.
It was a three quarter ton, four-by-four with a 392 V8 engine, divorced NP205 transfer case, and Borg Warner 12 automatic transmission. So of course, I had to have it.
I got the four hundred from selling my van and bought a battery and a can of gas as well. And off I went to get my new ride. It started right up and ran just like a truck that had been sitting. The brakes were barely functional, but worked well enough to get it the few miles to home. All it took to make it roadworthy was a carburetor rebuild, new brake cylinders, and a battery.
Now a few words about this truck. 1210, in International lingo, means ¾ ton. Now ¾ ton, in International lingo, means 1 ton in the Big Three’s rating system. And while the aforementioned three were busy trying to make their trucks more car-like, IHC was busy trying to make them even more truck-like. Take for instance the simple act of going over a speed bump at ten mph: in a Ford, Dodge, or Chevy, that would be a reasonable speed to yield only minor discomfort in an unloaded truck. However in a 1210 International, it would feel like thirty mph with no springs whatsoever. To give you an idea of the type of rattle and bump ride one could expect from an IHC 1210 4×4 here is a video shot during hunting season 2001 listen to all that noise, it’s the truck.
Another downside to owning an International with a the 392 V8 was the fuel mileage (or lack thereof). Eight mpg was pretty much the standard, city or off-road. Of course, that’s why IHC put three fuel tanks in it. Two saddle tanks of twenty gallons each and a fifteen gallon tank in the back. That’s right, the equivilent of a fifty-five gallon oil drum for gas tanks. And one hunting trip we actually filled all three tanks three times.
It was a really nasty hunting season, rainy, windy, cold. But we were determined to get in on the last few days of elk season. So my friend Jerry and I set off in the Travelall. We filled up on the way, which cost us an arm and leg. We got into our area, but the weather was so bad that we ended up sitting inside the truck. I had gotten a new (to me) rifle that year. With my old rifle, I had been in the habit of loading it when we stopped, and lowering the bolt with the trigger pulled onto a chambered cartridge (called safari rest). So I did the same in this new one. As the day slowly wore on and we passed the time watching the rain beating indecently on the windshield, we both fell asleep. Suddenly I was awakened by the sound of hooves. I put my head up and went to cycle the bolt of my rifle. Bang! It went off, discharging into the floor of the truck. Jerry woke with quite a start and looked me blankly in the eyes. ”Damn”, I said. The new rifle had a very different safety and in my groggy confusion I had done things backwards. Needless to say, I have changed my ways since then.
After some alternating explaining and apologizing, we got to looking at the truck. There was a nice round hole in the center hump. And there was a jagged hole in the hood. The bullet had bounced off of the transmission, severed the kick-down wire, went through the air cleaner and exited through the hood. Of course the truck ran fine. So we renewed our determination to hunt and Jerry braced himself, as he had no choice but to hunt with me, being the passenger as he was.
We started driving up to a place were we had seen elk once before. At this point, the weather was starting to reach gale force proportions. Trees were falling and the streams were overflowing. But we continued on unabated, until the truck stopped half way up the mountain. It felt like it had run out of gas, and because the fuel gauges never really worked, we assumed that it had. So we poured in the contents of our Jerry can and tried to start back up the hill. It would not run for more than a minute at a time, so we rolled back and turned around. It ran fine facing the other way so we decided to go all the way back to the city for fuel.
When we filled up in Dallas, the truck was not all of the way empty. But we took off back to the mountain, figuring that the problem was fixed. It was nearly afternoon now and the road was strewn with downed trees. Our mountain road was now a veritable stream, but up we went. Until the truck stopped, same a before. I was baffled, so I gave in and put on my poncho and crawled into the stream of frigid downhill water under the truck. Everything looked OK until I had Jerry crank it over a few times. That’s when I spotted the fuel spewing out just above the front leaf spring. Funny thing, the fuel line had been cut about half way through by being caught between the spring and axle tube. When we were on a normal grade, the spring pushed up on the line, closing the cut. But when we pointed it up hill the front springs were less burdened and let the fuel line cut open up. That was a first time drive-ability issue diagnosis for me!
I of course had a few spare bits laying around the back of the truck and got the fuel line all patched up. Just as I was screwing on the last hose clamp, freezing water running down my back and fuel running down my arm, a State Policeman drove up and asked if everything was OK. “It is now” we said. He then advised us that the road was not safe and that we should leave before a tree fell on us. We did leave, but not before finally conquering that mountain!
When we finally got back home to Silverton, I was rounding the corner of our road behind the barns and gave the truck a little too much gas. The road was very muddy and the back end slipped out. I counter steered, but the left rear of the Travelall caught the back of my 1957 IHC S120 and pushed it into the side of a Volvo 240 I had just bought. Wrecking all three of my vehicles in a single swipe was the perfect end to this disastrous hunting trip. The Travelall was still functional after using a High Lift jack to bend back the rear end. The ’57 was not even scratched, and the Volvo’s passenger door was caved in with the window stuck in the up position. All in all, it was the worst hunting trip in all my memory and Jerry stopped hunting with me for awhile (can’t say I blame him at all).
There are many more stories associated with that truck. Like the time I spun a tire right off of the wheel and wrapped it all around the axle. Only to get it off and have it roll down a mountain into a creek. The late Peter Puppo recovered it and somehow managed to get the remaining tire off of the wheel with only his pocket knife.
But there is not enough room here to tell all of the sordid tales associated with that old tank. Eventually, the eight mpg started to get to me and I sold the Travelall to Peter. When I did, the front left wheel bearing was starting to go out and I told him not to drive it until we could replace it. About a month later, he pulled into the driveway with the wheel smoking and asked me if he could park it on the farm while he waited to get the money to fix it. “Sure” I said, “but you have been driving it like that, haven’t you?” He said he thought it would be “OK”, but now it wasn’t.
It sat next to a greenhouse for several months before I decided I should start it up and get it going. So I started it up and drove it slowly down an adjacent gravel road. Suddenly I noticed a wheel and tire rolling past me on my left in a field. And then it dawned on me that it was my wheel. The brakes were ineffective because the wheel had taken the brake drum with it. And the steering was unresponsive as well since it was the front wheel. But a down shift and emergency brake brought the Travelall to a halt. I had to have it towed back to my house on a flat bed, even though my house was literally no more than eight hundred yards away!
The truck sat some more and Peter worked out a deal to get something else. One day the never-used spare tire sitting up against the truck spontaneously exploded. I found it about one hundred feet away with a big hole in the sidewall. I took that as a sign to get rid of the truck. A friend who owned an identical truck (same color and all) but in pristine condition came and scavenged all the good bits off of it. And then my almost bulletproof Travelall went to the crusher. An inglorious end to a great truck, but after all, trucks are tools and even the best of them can eventually be used up. And I knew that some of my old truck would live on in my friend’s perfect Travelall.