Red Baby

Peter Kaake

Peter Kaake on the running board, November 1928.

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Box 338 Cabri, Saskatchewan, Canada SON 0J0

In 1927, my dad decided to change the operation of his grain farm from horse power to mechanization and so in the fall of that year, he had an auction to sell horses and related farm equipment.

Besides using the sale money to buy an I.H.C. 22-36 tractor, he also bought a new 1928 I.H.C. 11/4ton grain truck, an S-26. The new model trucks coming on the market at that time were still being painted dark somber colors like black and green and so it was surprising that this particular vehicle arrived covered throughout in bright red. It was advertised as the Red Baby. It had four wheel brakes, a six cylinder motor and came equipped with its own air compressor for inflating its tires. We soon discovered that this truck could haul 90 bushels of wheat at 40 miles per hour.

My dad was so proud of his prize that he had his name painted on the doors in gold leaf, a sign of the good times.

Most drivers drove the Red Baby with their head leaning out of the window enjoying the slip stream of air as it rushed by the face, giving one the sense of a new found freedom. The reality of speed and power was often cut short by the sudden sting of the grasshoppers as they ricocheted off the forehead and cheeks. It was evident that the sign of a happy farmer was one who had bug stains on his teeth.

At harvest time the International could now haul the grain from the combine, directly into the town elevator and return to the field before the hopper was once again full of grain. As there was no shovelling of grain involved, the job of wheat hauling during this busy season was often left to my mother who was one of those early liberated women who preferred driving truck rather than spending time in a hot kitchen. She drove with a great amount of determination and heavy foot as each trip required a limited amount of time. The neighbours who met her on the road gave a wide berth as the truck made rooster tails of dust as she sped by.

When the hard times came during the dirty thirties, the farmers suffered greatly from the lack of cash and enthusiasm and the farm equipment suffered from neglect. The brakes of the International gave off a raspy sound as the shoes wore through the linings. The motor smoked and sputtered and at times refused to start at all. The leaky radiator sent plumes of steam into the cool air at regular intervals. It was quite understandable why many of these trucks never survived the 25 years they were expected to run.

By 1951, with the return of the rains, we were getting better crops and the price of grain rose steadily as never before which allowed some margin of profit. The old relics were being replaced by new, modern trucks. Any equipment which survived those years was soon demolished, as if by chance we could erase all memory of that terrible past. So it was that the Red Baby was dealt a final blow by being dismantled with a cold chisel and heavy hammer and the wheels and frame were made into a flat deck trailer. The motor, cab, grain box and fenders were left in the buck brush at the bottom of a deep coulee a mile from home and forgotten.

36 years later, having restored a Model A Ford and two tractors, I innocently came upon the remains of the red framed trailer as it lay along the fence line several miles from home. Here among the weeds was evidence of my fading past. I just had to restore the old International if I never did anything else.

The pile of truck parts were now reduced to rusty metal and rotten wood as it weathered all those years. Many of the pieces were twisted and torn from my haste to destroy the truck years ago. As I pulled the parts from the entangled grass and drift dirt, I considered myself fortunate that I hadn't thrown everything down the abandoned well nearby.

I spent four winters restoring this truck, revisiting each piece as I applied it to its proper place, constantly wondering if I would still recognize it on the final day. I did.

Just as I put finishing touches on the Red Baby, I was asked if I'd haul the first load of grain for the grand opening of a new renovated grain elevator with all the modern conveniences of today, the very same elevator that this truck hauled grain to 61 years ago. With 90 bushels of wheat in the box and speeds up to 40 mph, with my head out of the window, I made the eight miles in jig time. Funny how things work out!