I Drove 500 Miles to Buy This 1963 International Work Truck
When your dream rig is across the state, it's time to chase that long white line.
My daily-driven 1966 Ford dump truck had grown tired of leaking gear oil by itself, and truthfully, it needed a pal to chew the fat with. I figured the only rig that could suffice would be something of the same vintage, one that'd worked for just as long in the sweltering heat and bone-chilling Midwestern winters. I had no idea, though, that it'd materialize in the form of a 10,000-pound behemoth like this.
The short version of this story is that I am now the owner of a 1963 International Loadstar, one that I had been eyeing for the better part of a month before I pulled the trigger. But the longer, better story is what it took to make this purchase happen.
The International was depicted in an online for-sale ad as a working unit that had most recently been used to haul firewood, and a lot of it. That's the type of utility you get with a max weight rating of 25,500 pounds—just shy of the Class 7 Kenworths and Peterbilts you see rolling down the road. It was in running, driving condition, and thankfully, it still is after my first few days of ownership. It's a certified hoss, as proven by its 16-foot dump bed and 22.5-inch Dayton-style wheels.
Me being the blissfully naive man I am, I planned on just driving it home. It was located in Augusta, Missouri, which I figured was far away since I've lived in the Show-Me State all my life and never heard of it. Turns out, it was a 526-mile roundtrip from my home in the southwest corner—Augusta is near St. Louis, in the region's see-it-to-believe-it wine country.
At last, I was talked into trailering it as to avoid any roadside breakdowns on a 92-degree summer day. Smart thinking, and my dad has a Ford Super Duty that seemed fit for the job. We spent the days before wrapping up a little maintenance on his pickup—new tires, a fresh U-joint and driveshaft—along with some minor detailing so that, in his words, "it'd look good online." My dad, always thoughtful.
After picking up a 32-foot Gooseneck trailer from a neighbor—thanks, Craig—we started chasing the long white line around 7:30 a.m. It was an extraordinarily easy drive, all things considered. It took about five hours of actual road-tripping, spotting whatever cool classic cars and trucks we could along Interstate 44. We arrived in Augusta at 1:30 p.m., just before the seller got home. No biggie, we had all the time in the world. Or, at least we thought we did.
We decided to get fuel in the meantime, but that was a chore in and of itself. We unknowingly passed a QuikTrip just after exiting the Interstate and couldn't find another that wasn't 10 miles in either direction. Hauling a trailer through hills that rival San Francisco's was no easy feat, and it was even more of a task when the first podunk one-stop didn't sell diesel. It was another nine miles after that until we could fill up, but no matter—we got it done.
My first up-close look at the Loadstar prompted a nervous laugh, seeing just how gargantuan it was. It's about as close as you can get to a semi without needing a CDL, and all we had to pull it was a three-quarter-ton truck. You can see where this is headed...
A quick walkaround later and I was driving the International, which has enough room in the cabin that it'd make my New York colleagues feel bad about their apartments. No synchros in the five-speed transmission so I had to become familiar with double-clutching, all while splitting gears with the electric two-speed rear-end (that works like a dream, I might add). It was solid—not a weird shake or rattle to be found. Who would've guessed after 57 years that a truck this nice would still be around?
The hills proved to be a worthy test for the 345-cubic-inch V8, which is so understressed it sounds unlike anything built in the past 30 or 40 years, at least that I've heard. It's got a low compression ratio—try 8.28:1—and my favorite description I've read so far is that it "doesn't make enough power to break anything." That might be true but, with the hi-low gearing, it's got a respectable amount of oomph when you need it.
My 10-minute drive convinced me it was good enough to take home and after shooting the seller an offer, he took it and we headed off. Strangely, just before loading the International, the air conditioner on our tow rig started acting up. We couldn't find the problem even after an hour of pulling fuses and relays, so we begrudgingly agreed to make the trip home without AC. Not the end of the world, though when I drove the Loadstar onto the trailer and gave the pickup a good rocking in the process, it completely shook out the components of the AC compressor and left them lying on the ground. Oh goodie.
We hadn't even made it back to the interstate yet and here we were—sweaty, fatigued and too proud to admit just how bad we thought the trip home might get. Sure enough, the first steep incline after loading the International forced the Super Duty's coolant temp to spike. There was no good place to pull off, especially with our massive load in-tow, so we babied it until the temps gradually cooled down. This was a cycle for miles as I read forum posts and troubleshooting advice in countless Facebook groups, hoping to make it home.
Surely the thing just needed coolant, so we pulled off at the next exit and found a farm and home store called Dickey Bub. Really. It was nice inside, kind of like a Tractor Supply or Race Brothers, just with a funny name.
Following one more prolonged stop down the road at a rest stop, we had no choice but to hope and pray everything would work out. It did, save for the occasional overworking of the tuned 6.4-liter Power Stroke, and we made it home at 9:30 that night. It was a long day, but one that I never will (or could) forget—a great memory, from start to finish.
Now I have another project to care for and investigate, reading page after page of info online, though I imagine I'll need to find some physical literature as well. Believe it or not, there's hardly a wealth of knowledge online about a 57-year-old truck built by a tractor company. You just gotta know who to talk to, I guess.
Caleb Jacobs is Deputy News Editor at The Drive. He buys weird things, like a '66 Ford dump truck, a '65 Chevy school bus and now, a '63 International Loadstar. We continue to employ him, though we can't seem to understand why. Send him a note: firstname.lastname@example.org