- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

International Harvester began building automotive vehicles at a Chicago plant in 1907. Production was soon transferred to Akron, where in 1910 one of the Auto-Wagon models was rolled out the factory door on solid rubber tires mounted on 36-inch front wheels and 38-inch rear wheels. It was identified by the shiny brass “IHC” monogram attached to the front of the car.

The two-cylinder, four-cycle, horizontally opposed, air-cooled engine had a 5-inch bore and a 5-inch stroke. After being hand-cranked to life, the engine produces 20 horsepower.

That Auto-Wagon was promptly shipped off to its first owner in Coventry, R.I. Records indicate the Boglin Lace Works Co. used the vehicle to make deliveries for three years. Then it was put in storage for 39 years. The world fought two wars before the second owner bought the vehicle in 1952 and took it home to Silver Spring where it underwent restoration.

Eight years later, in 1960, it was presented as a gift to a physician across town, who drove it occasionally until the temperamental machine ceased to function and was left to reside in his garage.

That’s when Bob Griner entered the picture. He was taking the doctor’s daughter home from an afternoon date when he spied the 16-spoke wood wheels under the partially open garage door.

“If that’s a buggy, I don’t want it,” he told his date. “If it’s a car, it’s mine.”

Mr. Griner peeked under the door and ascertained that it was indeed a motorized vehicle. He went inside the house and confronted the doctor by asking, “Why is my car in your garage?”

The doctor acknowledged that the engine didn’t run and also that the car was up for sale.

“How much?”

“I’m not sure.”

For a month or so the two men played a cat-and-mouse game until Mr. Griner broke the impasse by offering to trade a valuable piece of jewelry for the car.

After a jewelry appraiser gave a “thumbs up,” the doctor agreed to swap, and in 1965 Mr. Griner became the fourth owner of the 1910 International Harvester Auto-Wagon.

The then-55-year-old topless vehicle was pulled out of the doctor’s garage and trailered by Mr. Griner to his parents’ garage in Shady Side, Md.

It was there in his spare time that Mr. Griner gave his treasure a thorough examination. He found the oak chassis and oak body to be in excellent condition as were the red leaf springs and red wheels.

Mr. Griner soon had the engine running again with trebler coils firing both cylinders. While seated behind the wooden steering wheel, which is supported by four brass spokes with spark and throttle controls on the steering column, he learned the intricacies of operating the dual chain-drive using the combination clutch and shift lever. Push the lever forward for low gear and pull it back for high gear. Pulling out the ring on the lever places the transmission in reverse.

“A 2-quart-capacity oiler drip-feeds 10 tubes, which in turn lubricate eight critical parts,” Mr. Griner explains as if it were common knowledge. He is unfazed by the four 1.5-volt dry-cell batteries necessary to operate his Auto-Wagon.

On the right running board is a brass carbide tank that, when chemically activated, produces gas to feed the brass headlights and brass spotlight. Spotlights were common in the early days of motoring because roads were often nonexistent or mere trails that after dark had to be sought by spotlight.

The taillight and front running lights are fed by kerosene. There is no brake light.

International Harvester designed the Auto-Wagon so the second and third seats can be removed to transform the vehicle into a truck.

Because Mr. Griner has no intention of ever “trucking” any cargo, he went to Amish country in Pennsylvania in 1974 where a top was made from a pattern taken from a photograph.

Even with its limitations, Mr. Griner says, “It was bought to enjoy.”

There is no instrumentation but Mr. Griner guesses he drives his Auto-Wagon about 200 miles annually. “Top speed is 28,” Mr. Griner says, “And that’s with a tailwind going down hill.”

There is a bell on the left side that can be rung to alert pedestrians.

“Look at the pleasure I’ve had,” Mr. Griner says. “It’s broken down only twice in 38 years.”

On both of those instances Mr. Griner was back on the road within a half hour.

When the Auto-Wagon reached the age of 70 years, Mr. Griner replaced the very worn solid-rubber tires. They will probably require replacing again in 2050 at the current rate of wear.

Mr. Griner has observed other vehicles from the 1910 era and come to the conclusion that despite the shortcomings of his Auto-Wagon he wouldn’t be happy with any other vehicle.

“It was antiquated when it was built,” he says, “but I like it.”

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