- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

It has been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

If you are incapable of seeing what is attractive to others in a given vehicle, then those who do find beauty there can't help you.

The king of the road today is probably the big Peterbilt tractor pulling trailers across the country's interstate highways.

A half century ago the big rigs had names like Mack and White with the crown jewel in trucking being the Diamond T.

Not all of the trucks built by the Chicago company founded by Charles Tilt were over-the-road tractors. Some were dump trucks or other more or less local use applications. The "T" in Diamond T came from Mr. Tilt's name.

One of the 1948 Diamond T trucks, a model 404HH, left the factory on six 8.25x20-inch tires reportedly destined for municipal duty in a small Minnesota community.

Sketchy history indicates that, after public service, the truck was purchased by a Minnesota farmer who later sold it to a Wisconsin man who used it in his business of hauling tractors. In 1984 the then 36-year-old Diamond T was once more offered for sale.

That's when Harry Scott, of Nokesville, Va., saw a photo of the truck in a national antique auto magazine. "It has a nice profile," Mr. Scott says.

Telephone calls were made, letters with pictures exchanged and by July the deal was as good as done. "It's one of those things I couldn't live without," Mr. Scott says.

On the long weekend after the Fourth of July holiday in 1984 Mr. Scott planned to fly to Milwaukee where he would be met by the owner of the Diamond T, who would take him to where the truck was parked. From there Mr. Scott was to drive the truck home.

Mr. Scott's wife, Julia, knew of the plan and thought it would be a weekend lark to fly up to Milwaukee and drive back home. It was only 825 miles and how long could that take on interstate highways?

A pleasantly surprised Mr. Scott welcomed the company.

The outbound trip went as planned. After Mr. Scott ascertained the truck was as advertised and the deal was consummated, he and his wife climbed into the handsome old red cab and set out for home. "The six tires were who-knows-how-old recaps," Mr. Scott says.

That's about the time Mrs. Scott realized that she had made a mistake in coming on this trip. It was all downhill after they reached Chicago.

Even with a non-synchromesh four-speed gearbox and a two-speed rear axle Mr. Scott found he couldn't keep up with interstate traffic. The skill needed to double-clutch both up and down through the gears took a couple hundred miles to perfect.

Mr. Scott reports that it took three days to get back home driving on secondary roads. "The only problem the truck encountered in the summer heat was vapor lock."

His solution to the problem was to start early each day, drive until the midday sun was at its zenith, and then stop for a leisurely lunch until late afternoon when the journey was resumed until nightfall.

"As a truck," Mr. Scott says, "it doesn't bounce too badly with a long 233-inch wheelbase."

He acknowledges that his wife was "too hot and miserable to notice."

To alleviate that misery, Mr. Scott had the side vents open, both sides of the windshield cranked out and the side windows rolled down.

"It was still hot," he says.

"It was the trip from hell," she agrees.

He kept filling the 30-gallon gas tank and the 320-cubic-inch Hercules JXD six-cylinder engine kept delivering highway mileage of between 8 and 9 miles per gallon.

Eventually, the couple arrived home in the 30-foot-long truck, the 113-horsepower engine performing flawlessly. However, Mr. Scott acknowledges that in Pennsylvania, "there were some 25 mph hills."

The Diamond T had a painted grille that didn't set right with him nor did the two bucket seats in the cab. Mr. Scott thinks they were from an English sports car.

He located three similar trucks that he stripped for spare parts. From those trucks he retrieved an original bench seat that was installed after a visit to the upholstery shop.

A stainless steel grille with nine horizontal bars on either side of the vertical center bar replaced the painted one.

The massive front bumper was removed so it could be stripped of paint before it was sent off to be chrome plated.

In the days before emergency flares, trucks often carried cabinet of sorts that held three kerosene-filled smudge pots. Such a device is mounted on the left running board of the Diamond T.

Above that running board, but below the door, is a compartment holding the 6-volt battery. An identical compartment on the right side is for the storage of tools.

Nobody knows the variety of uses the truck has fulfilled. However, when Mr. Scott got it, a roll-back tilt bed with a winch was attached.

"The bed is 7 feet, 10 inches wide and 19 feet long," Mr. Scott says. "It gives the truck personality."

A gross vehicle weight rating of 14,700 pounds means the Diamond T can handle quite a load. He's used the truck to haul a load only once in the past 18 years. "I know it'll handle three cords of firewood," he says.

To help stop all that weight is a vacuum-assisted braking system.

Inside the cab the speedometer tops out at 70 mph. "Without an overdrive, I think the high 50s is more realistic," Mr. Scott says.

Both sides of the windshield have a vacuum wiper on the outside, but on the inside only the driver has a visor. A heater and defroster complete the amenities in the cab. A small package compartment above the windshield is the only storage space.

"Don't expect to find a cup holder," Mr. Scott warns.

The odometer is on the verge of rolling over 60,000 miles, even though the accuracy cannot be verified. The last 4,000 of those miles have been with Mr. Scott behind the three-spoke steering wheel.

"It's a neat truck," he says.

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