The 1954 International RA-140 that appears on the cover of the July/August 2013 issue of Vintage Truck magazine was used as a milk delivery truck by Rutter’s Dairy, Jay Crist’s family’s business. It still has its 220ci straight 6 engine and fully functional 2-speed HydraMatic transmission, a rarity since that particular transmission was often replaced.
What else is in this issue?
- Delivery Designs – The Hicks Body Company, Part 1
- Notes from the Corrosion Lab – Fuel System
- Triple Diamond Treatise – Minnesota Facilities, Part 1
- Wagon Wheels – 1927 Dodge Bridged the Gap
- Dodge Garage – 1939 Dodge
- Model Maker’s Corner – 1965 Hotchkiss-Willys JH 102
- Skinned Knuckles – Dangerous Fumes
- Tech Tips – West Virginia Positraction
- Working Trucks – Fortified Milk
- Tailgate Talk – Cat Fishing
Stand and Deliver
International’s Stand-and-Drive Delivery Trucks
Patrick Ertel’s interview with Jay Crist
Bud Rutter, my father’s brother-in-law and my uncle, founded Rutter’s Dairy in 1921 at the age of 16. The use of motorized vehicles had just begun to catch fire in the milk delivery industry at this time. When my father became a partner in the business in 1929, he bought my grandfather’s 1927 Chevrolet two-door sedan to use to deliver milk to his customers in York, Pennsylvania. That car was the first motorized delivery of Rutter’s milk. Before that time, deliveries had been made by horse and wagon—not a milk wagon, but a farm wagon.
Originally, all of the partners helped to bottle and deliver milk, but as the business expanded, each partner became responsible for a different share of production. Bud managed the processing and bottling of the milk, while his brother handled the bookkeeping and bills. My father oversaw the drivers, delivery vehicles, and customer service.
My brother and I grew up around the farm and plant. We frequently accompanied our father on his delivery routes. Naturally, after high school graduation, we went into the family business. My brother and I had our own milk routes for a couple of years before we assumed our father’s duties in 1963. I supervised the delivery fleet and my brother managed customer service. I continued to oversee the delivery operations until I retired in 2000.
Internationals made up a large portion of the Rutter delivery fleet. We had about four or five Divcos over the years, but the company mostly used Internationals. My dad had one or two Internationals in the late 1930s, and some with Burkett bodies in the late 1940s. When the L-series came out in 1949, we acquired about four L-130 models—two with a column shift 3-speed transmission, and two with a floor mount 4-speed.
By 1952, we were using International LB-140s. Built with flat-faced cowls and Schnabel bodies, the LB-140s had a Silver Diamond in-line 6-cylinder engine. They also had a torque-drive transmission setup, which included a high gear and a low gear with a torque converter. These were the first automatic-type transmissions we tried.
The transmission did not have a clutch. Instead, a button on the long gearshift lever (about 36–39 inches) activated a vacuum solenoid that pulled a brake band to stop the main shaft. While the button was depressed, you shifted the lever into either the forward or reverse position, and then engaged the throttle to go in the direction you selected.
A shorter lever located on the floor engaged the range—high range for flat land driving and low range for hills. To downshift into low range, you had to leave the long lever in forward gear, and then bend down to pull back on the small lever. You had to time it just right if you were slightly moving forward to get the gears to synchronize.
The truck was supposed to be in a stopped position to shift the range lever, but everyone eventually learned how to shift while on the go. While letting up on the gas, the driver pushed the range lever forward with his right foot, and then put his foot back on the throttle to continue driving.
Aside from the trying process of shifting, these vehicles had another problematic habit. When in high gear, the long lever would snap out of gear into neutral. (A driver’s hand could receive a solid smack if resting in the lever’s path.) We consulted the local dealer, who worked with the regional representatives, until he eventually went to International’s factory engineers. However, no one had experienced the problem. In the end, our own mechanics removed and examined one of the failing transmissions, and discovered the issue, which was fixed by moving a detent notch.
Between 1953 through 1955, the company bought about six International RA-140 models. The A in the model name indicated that it had an automatic transmission, which in this case was a 2-speed HydraMatic. These transmissions were good for light-duty or bread trucks, but weren’t strong enough to handle the load of a milk truck and had to be rebuilt every 18 months. After a few years, we installed 4-speed transmissions and replaced the torque converters with flywheels and clutches, and then we didn’t have any issues.
The RA-140 was built with a Metroette body. Like the LB-140, it had pocket sliding doors. The pocket tended to collect dust and dirt. When melted ice mixed with the dirt, the resulting mud jammed the door and generated rust. Optional folding doors were only available for about the last six months that the Metroette body was made.
The automatic transmissions improved in 1956 when International Harvester made Borg-Warner 3-speeds available in the new S-series.
We ordered two trucks with 264ci engines and Borg-Warner 3-speed automatics. These trucks were used on our regular retail routes and two of our wholesale routes. The Borg-Warner wasn’t entirely what we needed, but it was better in service than the HydraMatic. For ensured performance, we added transmission coolers, and every 18 months had the bands adjusted and the fluid changed.
Our next vehicles were 1957 International A-150s and A-160s. The first three we purchased had Schnabel bodies and mechanical refrigeration—no more ice. The trucks had large metal cold plates in the ceiling that were 3½ inches thick with liquid-filled coils inside. The plates would be plugged into a compressor at night, which circulated a cold fluid through the plates to cool them down. The plates would maintain refrigeration all day if proper door management was practiced. To shorten the duration in which the doors stood open, drivers had to be taught to decide what they needed before opening the door. We used these models for a very long time.
We stopped buying trucks with automatic transmissions after the A-150s and A-160s. Our trucks from 1958 to 1960 had 4-speed floor shift transmissions and Murphy bodies with a special pedal that operated the clutch and the brake but still allowed the driver to stand. By 1961, all new delivery vehicles had a sit-and-drive setup, and thus ended the era of stand-and-drive vehicles.
After my retirement from the Rutter’s Dairy, I wanted to restore at least one stand-and-drive delivery truck. However that one turned into several when I discovered that most people younger than 45 years old knew nothing about stand-and-drive trucks or home delivery of milk. I had thought, “Wow, there goes my life’s work down the historical drain.”
I decided that the best way I could help to preserve this significant part of history would be to restore different makes and models of stand-and-drive delivery trucks. Then, I would take these trucks to various car and truck shows to educate younger generations about the days of home delivery and to evoke memories in those who experienced that period of time. When I no longer can haul these trucks to shows, they will be donated to museums for future generations to see and appreciate. The National Auto and Truck Museum (NATMUS) in Auburn, Indiana, will be receiving most of these trucks.
Jay Crist has previously been featured in Vintage Truck. His 1938 Walker Dynamotive truck appeared in the May/June 2009 issue. His collection includes the rare delivery truck brands, Stutz, Divco, White, and Thorne. Pictures of his entire collection can be viewed on his website at www.jcristmuseum.org.