These International trucks epitomize working classics

Eddy Eckart

“She made 374 deliveries last year, and so far in ’23 she’s up to 219,” said Ron Smoker, owner of Geneva Materials. He chuckled as he looked toward his 1946 International KB-7. “We like to name our trucks, and that one’s called Nell. She makes all the money.” You’ll find Ron and Fiona, his five-year-old Corgi, driving Nell five days a week in the warmer months delivering mulch and topsoil to their customers. I’ll be honest—aside from how friendly Ron is, the primary reason I get mulch from him is to see that big old truck come up my driveway.

I’m probably not alone. It’s an occasion to see old trucks doing “truck things”—working, hauling, contributing to our day-to-day—and it almost seems a novel concept in a world of planned obsolescence.

International Harvester Small Business Truck
Eddy Eckart

Not for Ron, though. His garage is filled with capable, old, but lovingly cared-for vehicles that are put to work on a regular basis.

Ron’s love for International trucks began years ago at his father’s logging business. “When I was 8 years old, my dad put me in the cab of another old International K-model—he let me try to work the clutch and the shifter, and then I’d hurry to reach my toes to get to the throttle. ‘Oh, we’ve got a little truck driver here!’ he’d say.” After Ron got back from serving in the military he did just that, sliding behind the wheel for his father’s business.

Come 1981, father and son were partners, looking for a truck to carry loads of topsoil. Ron found what would eventually become Nell just south of Erie, Pennsylvania. Sitting in a salvage yard, she was a retired fire truck, a pumper from the Perry Highway Hose Company. Ron brought her home and set about converting her to a dump truck.

Though Ron retired from logging in 2013, he’s kept delivering mulch and topsoil to customers within a 30-or-so mile range of Geneva, Ohio. That same year, Nell got a few upgrades.

Like any vehicle enthusiast, Ron beams when he talks about the care he’s put into the truck. “Originally, she had an 89-horse gas engine,” he said. “I replaced that with a 6BT Cummins out of a school bus—it’s about 160 horses or so—and backed that up with a six-speed manual. With the 3.70 gears I installed in the two-speed differential, it’ll get almost 11 miles to the gallon.”

Some work days are light, with just three or four deliveries. Others are almost nonstop; a few weeks ago he had 12 in a day. That’s a lot of work for any truck, much less one that’s nearly 80 years old.

“I’m changing the oil later today,” he told me when I asked about his maintenance regimen. “Going to cut a thousand miles off my intervals—I’m still ahead of the mileage schedule, but it’s looking a little dirty. All that stop-and-go [driving] adds wear,” Ron said. He mentioned that a brake issue laid Nell up for a little while last year. Other than that, she’s been dead reliable.

International Harvester Small Business Truck red
Eddy Eckart

Nell’s not the only old vehicle that sees regular duty in Ron’s fleet. His daily driver, Twinkie, is a red ’56 International S-100. I asked about the name. “Well, my wife named it Stinky because its exhaust fumes smell a little bit from overgassing,” he said. “I’m still fixing up the Pontiac 400 V-8 that a previous owner stuffed into it. But we can’t have a truck named Stinky, so Twinkie it is.”

In the warm months, if he and Fiona aren’t in Nell, there’s a good chance Ron’s out and about in this little red International pickup. It’s a utilitarian classic that’s perfect for Ron’s day-to-day—enough room out back to carry tools or parts for his work, but still an expression of the brand he’s enjoyed his entire life.

International Harvester Small Business Truck tractor
Eddy Eckart

All of Ron’s vehicles have the familiar feel of a quality tool, etched from use but well-maintained and ready for the next job. Even the tractor he uses as his lawn mower, a 1953 Ford Golden Jubilee, could pass for a showroom display model if you took a minute to brush the grass from its tires.

International Harvester Small Business Truck platform
Ron Smoker shares his progress on his 1956 International S-100 restoration. Eddy Eckart

I talk with Ron a little longer, learning about Brutus and Big Red, his two flatbed trucks, and another 1956 S-100 he’s restoring. “This one’s for the gentleman farmer,” he said. “It’s got the deluxe interior, an automatic transmission, and power steering. Maybe two percent of these trucks came off the line that way.” I picture this S-100, restored, with Ron cruising through town and Fiona peering out the open passenger window, and wonder what they’ll decide to name it.

For many vehicles, especially work trucks or old pickups, survival often comes down to luck. If they’re fortunate, they find someone willing to get them going again or strengthen them for a new life. That truck really hits the jackpot if it finds someone like Ron, who uses it as intended. We’ve all got choices when it comes to the people delivering our yard materials. Next time you’re in need, try to find the guy with the cool old rig. I promise you’ll enjoy the conversation.




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    If you ever visit Lake Holcombe WI (NW WI) there is the Fisk Truck Museum. It is a museum of the dump trucks of Fisk Excavating–all with the wear of years of work. There are a lot of Macks, and ages that range from the 10’s to the 60’s. The owner is Gary Loring–it was his father in law’s business. He’ll also give you a ride in his unrestored 28 Chev sedan too. Don’t know if they have a website–it’s a little country gem. We have a Car Show once a year in September and he has it all open for tours and drives some of the trucks–and bare chassis also. These work trucks are cool!!!

    As a fellow Wisconsin resident (Langlade County) I have been to the museum and saw them, great recommendation to the author and the commenters.

    Nell is just about the coolest – nah, definitely THE coolest – thing I’ve laid eyes on today! 👍

    I have a ’56 S-120 3/4 ton and it’s 4WD, pull a lever, red light glows on the dash, you’re in 4 wheel. I did install wheel locking hubs, this way nothing turns in front when out of 4WD. The LO range lever is nice too, tons of pulling power and has proven it can. We drove it to St. Paul two years ago to the big Back to Fifties bash at the 80 acre MN fair grounds, over 12,000 cars there, none newer than 1964. The IH is made for work, real work.

    There’s a pristine early ’50s Chevy truck similar to Nell (duals, etc.) at a headstone vendor near my house. I never see it move. I frequently wonder if they ever use it for anything other than a good advertising gimmick.

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