I’m Turning My 1963 International Loadstar Into the Most Versatile Work Truck Possible

With a welder and a winch, this heavy-hauler will be ready for whatever I throw at it. Hopefully.

The Drive/Caleb Jacobs

It may not seem like it based on what's in my driveway, but I'm a fairly rational person. Go ahead, laugh—there's a method to my madness when it comes to assembling a small fleet of nearly 60-year-old work trucks. Initially, I jumped at the chance to buy my 1966 Ford F600 dump truck because it was close by and looked to be in great shape. But my second purchase wasn't so straightforward. The mostly-running, very large 1963 International Loadstar was 500 miles away, and given the hassle of getting it home, it had to be worth it. And it was, because I'm turning this nearly 60-year-old beast into the most versatile work truck out there.

That claim is relative, of course, but for me and my Corn Binder, I think it's realistic. It's already got a 16-foot dump body with interchangeable sides that convert it from a grain hauler to a flatbed, so we're off to a good start. My initial plans for it were kind of uncertain but after owning it for a few months now, the puzzle is coming together.

I'm a little sad to say that I haven't really tested the limits of the two-and-a-half-ton Loadstar. I've used it to move my mother-in-law's furniture out of her house while hauling a few materials for projects here and there, but I've never pushed it anywhere near its max. With a 25,500-pound GVWR, I reckon it's good for loads north of five tons without much issue. This leads me to my first project in transforming the International into a real do-it-all workhorse.

You might've heard me talk before about my family's campground, where the F600 usually earns its keep. Hauling creek gravel is important, sure, but so is relocating downed trees, pulling stumps and moving generally massive objects that our humble tractor can't quite manage. Never mind the fact we have a bridge to rebuild—more on that later.

The Drive/Caleb Jacobs

Now, I have full confidence in my truck's hauling capabilities. That's not to say, though, that I'll always have the manpower to match it, so I need a little help when it comes to loading whatever-the-heck into or onto the bed. I'll leave loose material to said tractor when I can, but what I really need is a winch to lasso around a log or, hey, maybe even a broken-down piece of equipment. If there's one thing I've learned while working these machines, it's that something will inevitably go wrong when it's least convenient.

We use wood heat in our home, and we also sell firewood throughout the summer. As a result, we have from October to about May to cut 25-30 ricks of red and white oak, burning it at our house as we go and stashing the rest away for folks to order during camping season. In the past, we've always used a trailer and the K5 GMC Jimmy that belongs to my wife's grandpa. It's a family business, after all, and everyone pitches in when they can.

But this year, we're going to use the International. I reckon it'll be handy having a dump bed when the time comes to unload our day's work, and it'll surely take a while to cut and split a full load's worth. I move a little slower in the fall and wintertime anyhow—you know how that goes. That's also what inspired my big idea: fabricating a headache rack and mounting a 12,000-pound winch directly to it.

If you haven't heard of a headache rack before, just know that you've almost definitely seen one. Semi-trucks use them for a few different reasons, mainly related to safety and storage. It's virtually a plate that provides an extra barrier between the contents of a load and the cab, helping ensure whatever's behind you stays behind you. It can also be fitted with hooks to store chains or straps, and it also provides a mounting point for toolboxes. 

The Drive/Caleb Jacobs

It won't be as simple as I originally thought—it never is—but still, it's definitely within reach. I've already talked it over with my welder-wielding brother-in-law who helped me mend the Ford after its bed frame split in two. Luckily, it looks like there's a way to drop our yet-to-be-built headache rack into the stake holes where my current bed sides slot now. It won't have to be permanently welded in, either, so I retain a bit of flexibility there.

We'll likely need to rig up some supports that run down the side of the bed as well, just to give it some extra bracing. Likewise, I'll need some sort of roller contraption at the end of the bed that keeps the winch cable from dragging and fraying. These are details that'll come together as we start cutting and welding, but I want to make sure it's plenty strong. After seeing what a loose load can do to a truck cab, I want protection should I have to hit the brakes in a hurry. Of course, I'll make sure my payload is always strapped down, too.

Pair this with a new-to-me set of ramps and I should be able to winch up trees and tractors alike. The plan is to never need a normal bumper-pull trailer again, so long as the Loadstar is running as intended. Which it will because I have faith in this thing.

The Drive/Caleb Jacobs

Theoretically, I could use the frontmost panel of my grain sides for a base if I can't source another.

While these are the more practical plans I have for the International, I've also got a few light-hearted ideas, like turning it into the ultimate drive-in movie machine. A grill, a couch, a patch of astroturf and blankets—can you picture it? I can. Never mind my wife's audible sighs when I mention these plans around our friends.

In the end, I'll have a flatbed log hauler with a dump bed and the ability to winch up to 12,000 pounds without killing my back at every turn. I'm young now, but they tell me I can't stay that way forever.

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 a '63 International Loadstar. We can't seem to stop him from writing about them. Send him a note: caleb@thedrive.com