Curbside Classic: 1968 IH Loadstar Bookmobile (And Trucks) – Is There A Book On IH History Aboard?

(first posted 3/5/2011. I saw it just the other day again, in 2021.)   Now that’s a very comforting and reassuring face. Something about these International Loadstar trucks evokes those feelings, maybe because of their reputation for rugged reliability. Or because I drove numerous versions and loved their straightforwardness. Or maybe it’s just because they were everywhere, the most common mid-range truck built during their long career, from 1962 through 1979. Well into the nineties, they were still hauling kids to school, delivering the produce to the market, and standing sentinel at every roadside construction project. And if you live in the right place, this one will still deliver books to your neighborhood, maybe even some on the history of International trucks.

These Internationals were so common that they almost look generic now, like a Tonka Truck scaled up to full size. It was really a brilliant move on International’s part, inasmuch as the Loadstar never really looked dated, like the over-styled Ford, Chevy and Dodge trucks of the time. If International still made them, would anyone really notice? A truly timeless design.

Actually, their predecessor that appeared in 1957 already had most of the Loadstar’s formula for immortality down, but just wasn’t quite there yet. Simple, nothing trendy; just a generic truck.

And this one, carrying a Gertenslager bookmobile body on its back for over forty years, is a particularly handsome combination. No, it’s not operated by the library anymore, but by a fellow how runs it as a used bookstore, mostly for the joy of it rather than a real viable business enterprise. “Gertie” shows up in random locations at equally random times, for a day or two at a time.  And even if there’s nothing that appeals on board, it’s fun to step inside the living time capsule.

The clerestory windows make a major contribution to the pleasant atmosphere. Every RV should have them. In fact, this would make a killer conversion. I’m sure it’s been done a few times already. Now what someone needs to do is turn one of these into a bookmobile for only old car books; or better yet, just old truck books. What a nice place to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon, reading up on the history of old International trucks.

Like this tasty 1939 semi-truck and trailer. What a change from today’s look-alike boxy rigs.

Or this bright red ’39 truck picking up the Air Mail from that DC-3.

Or this lavish RV that the famous explorer Attilio Gatti drove, styled by no less than Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky. Oh oh; I think I better step out; I’m getting lost back here.

On the way back to fresh air and reality, I’ll take a quick glance at that familiar steering wheel and big stick shift. I drove a Loadstar dump truck for Baltimore County, a brief gig in my endless brief encounters with the working world in my youth. My job was supposed to be walking the streets all day with a broom, just ahead of a street sweeper, sweeping out the debris under parked cars. But I had just the ticket: a commercial license from Iowa, and I was soon trucking instead of walking.

These Loadstars inevitably had the family V8 underhood, either a 345 or 392 CID solid lump of iron. It was the same basic engine used in everything from Scouts to anything shy of the really big trucks, so they were built tough. They wouldn’t rev like the Chevy V8 trucks, which just couldn’t hide their kinship to the Corvette. But they had the torque in the cellar, and it was hard to stall one, even for the new kids trying their hand for the first time. And they thrived on the abuse.

They pretty much all came with a five speed, and the ones I drove had the split-gear rear ends, which yielded ten gears. That was a toy to keep one’s attention to some degree in those days long before handheld electronics. Instead of texting, I split gears; pulling and pushing the red button attached to the gear shift up and down, trying to avoid the tell-tale grinding from the rear axle.

Yes, there’s a lot of history in Gertie, in its books, its long career, and my Loadstar memories. I hope it keeps showing up.