What, no Wrangler?
2500 miles in a 57-year-old truck? Be prepared to improvise
Stick to the plan at all costs. That is the first rule of this 10-day, multistate, 2500-mile road trip. And when that fails—because, let’s be real, it’s bound happen when rallying a 57-year-old farm truck across several states—be prepared to improvise. This is reality on The Drive Home. It’s also precisely what makes this adventure so fantastic.
Co-created by America’s Automotive Trust (AAT) and the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), The Drive Home is now in its fourth year and has yet to deliver anything but the most extreme examples of automotive enthusiasm out there. For the 2019 tour, pickups were announced as the vehicle of choice, and four vintage rides were gathered in Houston for road trip of a lifetime.
The lineup included a 1965 Ford F100, 1957 Ford Ranchero, Hagerty’s trusty Gulf Green 1962 International Travelette, and the LeMay Museum’s 1955 Chevrolet 3600, which ran into some unfortunate engine problems on day one. Though unknown at the time, these issues would prove to be both a K.O. for the Chevy and a blessing for the Travelette.
Day 1: Electrical deja vu
I arrived in Dallas on the end of day one, scheduled to rendezvous with the group for an evening cars and cocoa event as they finished their journey from Houston. That was the plan, at least. Heavy rainstorms hindered their progress, while a then-unknown spun rod bearing forced the ’55 Chevy onto the sweep trailer. Not only that, but for the second year in a row, the International limped into the first day’s finish with demobilizing electrical issues. A fresh battery from a local Autozone allowed the pickup to cross the line. Barely.
Friend and Hagerty colleague Brad Phillips was behind the wheel of the truck, looking like he’d had one helluva day when he pulled in. “It’s just not charging,” he explained. “The lights, windshield wipers, and defroster were all needed for today. But if you run more than one, it just kills the battery.”
We jumped into diagnostic mode, searching for interruptions that could be the source of the issue. Tightening the connections did nothing, with the ammeter still showing an overall discharge when running. A quick trip to the nearest auto parts shop netted a multimeter and replacement voltage regulator—the part that stirred up trouble for our crew last year. Autozone didn’t carry anything for International Harvester, but a 12V regulator for an early-’60s Corvair proved to be an exact match.
With the new regulator installed, we tested the system. No dice—it was still draining with the engine on and no accessories running. Additional probing confirmed our dreaded suspicion that the generator was indeed giving up the ghost. We went to bed that night unsure of the path ahead for day two. Little did we know, there was an organ donor waiting in the wings.
Day 2: Charitable donation
Due to the gracious allowance of time and garage space from Shifting Gears’ Aaron Kaufman, it was abundantly clear that the 1955 Chevrolet would not be continuing under its own power for the second day of The Drive Home. Unexpectedly, however, the Chevy’s demise would breathe new life into the ailing ’62 Travelette. Well, it’s generator would at least.
Brad and I were greeted to a beautiful bundle of joy, wrapped in greasy hotel towels and carefully placed on the International’s aqua-colored bench seat early that morning. We wasted no time and began grafting this gift onto our old truck. A handful of washers on the bracket bolts acted as spacers to move the pulley snout in line with the crankshaft, while a slightly shorter belt made up for its smaller diameter. The 304 V-8 cranked over and our multimeter showed a steady 14 volts of juice streaming back into the battery. The International was back in business.
But we weren’t out of the woods quite yet. The prescribed plan had the group leaving Dallas at 6:45 a.m., close to two hours before we completed the hotel-parking-lot repair, leaving us no choice but to improvise. So we threw the lunch stop address into Waze and punched it towards our lunch stop.
Sliding behind of the wheel of the International in Texas was much like running into an old friend hundreds of miles away from home—a familiar face in an unexpected place. And thankfully, the pickup was indeed friendly for the remainder of the day, giving us no issues as we cruised the two-lanes through Oklahoma and finally into Little Rock, Arkansas, for the night. Albeit, the steering had a bit more play than I had remembered.
Day 3: Loose ends
“It’s going to be a long one,” warned route coordinator Dave Hord, as he gave us the full scoop at day three’s drivers’ meeting. “Just stick to the route book and we should make it there at a reasonable hour.” He wasn’t joking.
A layer of fog, thicker than a bowl of grits, veiled the roads as we left Little Rock. With Brad behind the wheel, the International began cutting a path towards the Mississippi border, but it wasn’t long before we noticed something wasn’t quite right. My observation of a looser steering wheel from the day before wasn’t just a fleeting imagination, it was a significant and dangerous reality.
We quickly pulled to the side of the road, removed the wheel’s center cap, and sure enough, the nut retaining the steering wheel was being held on by one, maybe two threads. Yikes. We legitimately could have had a major problem not being able to steer. Thankfully, that crisis was averted, allowing us to hit the road (and not a tree or oncoming car) once again.
Dave’s route book had us traveling through Alabama’s beautifly-twisty Natchez Trace Parkway and the tight and technical roads of Tennessee’s whiskey country. And while there was a part of me yearning for an athletic sports car for those gorgeous switchbacks, the lumbering farm truck was absolutely the right choice for this particular journey—even with its decidedly long-throw shifter, paint-shaker ride quality, and forearm-destroying manual steering rack.
With more than 530 miles on the odometer and 12 hours elapsed since Little Rock, we rolled into Kimball, Tennessee, well after dark—farther and later than we’d planned, due to a crew-requested detour to blues-capital Clarksdale, Mississippi. But the delay pretty much summed up the attitude needed to come out of The Drive Home with sanity intact: Hope for the best, plan for the worst, but most importantly, have fun when you’re forced to improvise.
My part of The Drive Home journey has come to an end, but you can still follow Hagerty’s 1962 International Travelette on our official Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages as it continues its journey onward to Detroit and the 2019 North American International Auto Show.