It's easy to forget that International Harvester Co.'s heritage encompasses more than farm and agriculture equipment. In addition to tractors and industrial engines, the Illinois-based IH also produced four-wheeled workhorses like Steve Cliff's 1939 D2 pickup truck.
Cliff found the half-ton hauler parked along a country road in north central Ohio in 2004. "I had no idea what make, model or year it was, but I had to stop to find out," the Barrington resident said. It took a few months but he was able to negotiate a price for the pickup, which was in fairly good condition.
The original plan for the old truck was simple: Cliff wanted to flip it to make a buck. "I was going to fix things a bit and sell it for a small profit." That shrewd course changed when his wife laid eyes on the memory-stirring pickup.
"As soon as she saw it, she became nostalgic. Both her dad and grandfather had trucks like this when she was growing up. I learned quickly the truck was here to stay."
While most of these rough-and-ready vehicles were subject to a life of hard labor out in the fields, Cliff's D2 seemed to have spent the last several decades asphalt bound. "The majority of these old farm trucks were left in corn fields to rot when they were retired. Given its surprisingly good condition, it seems this one had an easier life," he said.
Cliff also thinks his machine may have been used by our armed forces, perhaps pulling duty as a base support rig. While spending countless hours crawling under the truck making it road safe, "I came across patches of military-spec green paint, showing from underneath the red."
Providing the pulling power is the factory 213-cubic-inch flat-head six-cylinder engine, mated to a bicep-building, three-speed manual transmission. The mild 78 horsepower and 155 foot-pounds of torque may suffice for small barnyard runs, but can't keep up with our modern interstates.
"These old trucks are geared for around 50 miles per hour, so highways are off limits." Just because he can't roll on Route 53 or down the I-290 tollway doesn't mean Cliff doesn't get wheel time.
"Driving around town is a real joy and makes me think of how different things were back then, given how simple this truck is."
From the Springfield, Ohio, factory, this curvaceous D2 came with just one taillight and lacked turn signals. Since then, proper safety equipment has been added. Going with the bare-bones theme, International only offered a heater as a dealer option. Cliff's truck had been fitted with one at some point, along with a glare-reducing sun visor and grille guard.
The lack of luxury features was with the intent to keep the cost down: its base price was just $550. That low figure enticed 28,158 buyers to purchase a D2 in 1939, right before production on the D model line ended just one year later, about the time the U.S. was drawn into World War II.
"I can say that owning an International is truly different. Fords and Chevys are in abundance but something like a D2 are rare and parts are very tough to locate."
A full frame-off restoration is in the works but until then, Cliff aims to use his pickup. Frequently he'll drive his classic on sales calls, especially when dropping by one area customer. "One of my clients is indeed International Harvester."
Whenever Cliff heads to one of their Northern Illinois plants, "it always draws a crowd and plenty of attention."