March 20th, 2018

Museum showcases International history

By Lethbridge Herald on January 7, 2018.

J.W. Schnarr George Kirkham leans on a yellow 1970 International Scout 800A pick-up truck he spent two years on as part of a complete frame-off restoration. The truck is one of more than 60 vehicles in the Kirkham International Motor Truck Collection which was on display on Saturday.

George Kirkham’s collection includes memorabilia
J.W. Schnarr
Lethbridge Herald
Anyone lucky enough to find George Kirkham’s International Motor Truck Collection open house on Saturday was treated to a unique look back at the evolution of International trucks spanning the last century.
George Kirkham is the president of Southland International and a longtime collector.
His collection features 65 restored International brand vehicles ranging from 1913 to 1981. In addition to vehicles, the collection includes memorabilia, photographs, and price and service manuals.
Kirkham’s father was a zone manager with International for nearly 40 years, and Kirkham himself has spent an equal amount of time under the International brand
“We’re pretty single-focused on what we’re doing here,” he said.
The open house events can happen four or five times a year. Kirkham said his goal is to teach people about the evolution of the trucking industry during the last century.
“I share that stuff with International’s corporate historian,” Kirkham said.
“I love sharing and preserving history.”
Kirkham runs his open house according to four simple rules:
• You can take any pictures you want;
• You can get into anything you want;
• You can get underneath anything you want; but
•You ain’t drivin’ nothin’.
And while people may be impressed by the size of the collection, the most important part is Kirkham himself. Every vehicle, every artifact and every photo has a story behind it.
He can tell you about model histories. When vehicles were in use, and by whom. He can talk engine sizes, original colour schemes, and interior design concepts.
This history is peppered with moments of Kirkham’s own life.
He speaks fondly about a truck he and his daughter rebuilt when she was 15.
“We did that truck over 9.5 months, every nut, bolt, screw and clip,” he said. “We pulled it into the garage with a chain hoist, and she got to drive it out the other side of the garage nine months later.”
Some vehicles have been “rouged up” with paint touch-ups and other minor restorations. Some have required much more.
“This yellow scout here, every nut, bolt, screw, and clip has been through my grubby paws,” he said.
It is obvious he loves these trucks. Each one has a story he can rattle off immediately.
“This truck behind you is a truck I bought in Edmonton,’ he said.
“A fella and his son spent six years doing it. And then they didn’t have a space to put it. But he had some health issues, so I was able to buy it off him.”
He points to another one that he bought from the original owner, and begins listing off the dozen or so changes made as part of the restoration process.
Another was the last vehicle his father drove when he worked for International.
“I was able to buy it back from the fella he sold it to,” Kirkham said. “Not a complete restoration on it, but a lot of restoration on it. And I still have the original invoices from the Calgary branch on that truck.”
These days, Kirkham spends less time restoring vehicles and more time looking for clean originals.
He is starting to run out of steam. It is not surprising, given the size and scope of the collection.
“Most people can’t believe that anybody is crazy enough to have this much stuff in one place,” he said.
“Even people who know me and have heard about it — when they come in the first time, they can’t believe it.
“I love restoring them, and I love preserving them. What’s the logical explanation behind it? I can’t tell you, because I don’t know.
“But if you look at everyone here today, it’s a lot of fun, and they are enjoying being here.
“If I can do that to make everyone’s life a little bit happier, that’s pretty good stuff.”
And if, among those happy smiles and good memories, people who come see the trucks learn something, so much the better.
In this way, his collection is as much about perspective as anything.
“What you know of a modern day vehicle today, it wasn’t there years ago,” he said. “In 1913, it was an all-wood body with a little two-cylinder engine in it. It had two gears and a right hand drive. It’s totally different than where we are today.”
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