HILLSBORO — Ron Bartel doesn't fancy himself a designer or builder of custom cars and hot rods.
"I'm a farmer first," he says. And maybe that explains why he couldn't get the thought of that old green International Harvester pickup out of his mind.
"This was a farm truck. My great-uncle Bill bought it brand new in 1946," he said of the 1946 Model KB1 workhorse. "He drove it for a few years and then it went into storage on the farm.
Then in the mid-1970s, Bartel's father, Johnnie, came into possession of the truck. "He was going to restore it to original," Ron Bartel said. But that never happened. So after his father passed away, he bought the truck at his dad's farm sale in 2001.
He had an idea of what the fading green relic could become. "I didn't want a radical truck, but I didn't want an original looking truck, either," he said.
Bartel loaned the truck to Matt Foth, a local student at the WyoTech customizing program who need a project vehicle. A year or so later, nephew Eric Bartel would wind up at WyoTech and take over the project.
"They came up with the ideas I wasn't bright enough to come up with," Bartel said. The old International, known affectionately as a "Binder" by farm folks, was treated to a 2-inch top chop, its bed was shortened by 8 inches and the hood was "pie-cut" to lower its profile accordingly.
"I had always hated the nose on those old KB1s — they were so big. And they took that round bubble off the top... It looked like a farm truck until then," Bartel said.
Eventually the truck came back to central Kansas, where the project continued on a low-key, under-the-radar basis. "I kept this truck a secret from everybody. My wife didn't know anything about it until the (Lead Sled Spectacular) car show in Salina in 2008," Bartel said.
That was when Bright Built Hot Rods of Salina took over on the transformation. Bartel originally wanted to power the pickup with a 383-cubic-inch small block Chevy stroker motor with a supercharger sticking up out of the hood. Shop owner Keith Bright suggested he could buy a good used fuel-injected Corvette LS1 power plant out of a salvage yard for less money that would be more reliable, and Bartel was persuaded.
It came along with a slick 4L60E automatic overdrive transmission that transmits power to a 1969 Nova rear end equipped with a 2.79 final drive ratio. That should translate to a very high top end speed, but Bartel says he'll never know. "Speed isn't my thing anymore," he confessed.
The truck also uses the '69 Nova front subframe, with disc brakes, while air bags and leaf springs handle rear suspension duties.
There was plenty of body work to be done to smooth out the dings and dents of hard farm service. The shorty running boards were extended from the rear of the cab back to the rear fenders and the bed recontoured to match the shape of the cab.
Both front and rear bumpers were left off to get away from the stodgy farm truck look. A set of Ansen 15-inch 5-slot wheels up front, with 17-inch versions in the back, running uni-directional Falken tires help to further banish the work truck idea.
With the help of a good parts truck, most of the original pieces were salvaged and polished up, including the expanse of grille work. Rectangular LED taillights were grafted into the rear splash pan, while a pair of bed extensions were created to help cover the huge chrome exhaust tips that channel sound back from a set of Flowmaster mufflers.
Bartel wanted an oak-plank bed in the box of the truck and Bright's crew obliged, staining the wood to a hue to work with the custom mix of PPG Radiant Red paint sprayed over the truck. "We tweaked it a little with metalflake," Bartel said.
For the interior, he enlisted Gary Martin of Goldfield Trim & Upholstery of Lindsborg, who modified a Ford Ranger seat and covered it in two different shades of Ultraleather. The same material was used to create the door and kick panels, along with the headliner. International's "triple-diamond" emblem was stitched into the side panels, while the classic IHC logo was embossed in the center of the headliner. Martin also wrapped the Billet Specialties steering wheel in Ultraleather.
A tall Gennie shifter, Vintage Air air conditioning and a set of white-faced Classic Instruments gauges were added. To finish out the interior, Bartel had the build crew craft a set of floor panels out of the same stained oak and stainless steel ribs.
The truck was finished this spring, just in time to serve as prom transportation for Bartel's daughter, Andrea, who used to crawl over it when it was a neglected green hulk.
"I had no intentions of having a show truck," Bartel said, "but now I'm getting hooked on it." He plans to drive (not trailer) it to the Starbird Show in Wichita in January.
"It is sweet to drive down the road and have people recognize it," Bartel said. "It's a fun truck ... but you can't have fun with it if it's on a trailer."