Among our many delightfully retro features of A Longwood Christmas is a fantastic vintage Longwood Farms red truck that serves as not only a charming photo op for our guests—but a representation of many months of meticulous and expert restoration by our staff to ready it for this year’s display. Originally intended to be used as a farm truck on a private farm in Port Deposit, Maryland, this 1969 International Loadstar 1800 stake body dump truck sat unused for 20 years on the farm before it made its way to our Gardens—and into our hearts. Led by Associate Director of our Civil Division Gregg Ehrhardt, our dedicated team of mechanics, metal fabricators, carpenters, and painters—as well as a pinstriping and lettering expert specializing in such period work—transformed this truck into a running vehicle true to its original aesthetic … right down to its amazingly thoughtful details.
When Longwood Associate Director of Display Design Jim Sutton had the idea of using a vintage truck for this year’s A Longwood Christmas display, Longwood Outdoor Landscape Manager Troy Sellers shared he knew of an International Loadstar sitting unused. From there, Sutton, Sellers, and Ehrhardt made a trip to the Port Deposit farm to see the truck—and decided to bring it to Longwood and breathe new life into it as part of this year’s A Longwood Christmas display.
The International Loadstar medium-duty trucks were used in many different configurations. One of the most popular forms is the farm grain truck/stake body configuration such as our truck. They were also commonly used as school buses in decades past. In fact, Longwood owns three International Loadstar trucks today—one is a rollback tow truck; another a roll off container truck used to transport compost materials; and the third a stake body dump truck used to transport plant material. With our new International Loadstar truck, the intent from the start was to refurbish it so it would be reminiscent of what it would have looked like as part of the Longwood vehicle fleet in the 1960s.
Without working brakes or a working engine, the truck was transported to our Equipment Maintenance Shop here in March 2023 and we began assessing its condition. We started working on the truck immediately thereafter, and along the way truly took the truck down to its studs.
The first order of business was to get the unit to run. After some diagnosis, Ehrhardt determined the engine needed a new distributor, carburetor, and fuel pump—so all were replaced. The gas tank was removed, as the tank was very rusty and what fuel was left had turned to varnish. A portable gasoline tank used for boats was installed, enabling an easy means to remove and fill fuel. Finally, after an oil change, coolant flush, belts, new battery, and general tune-up, the old 345 V8 roared to life. Once running, we verified the truck drove well—almost like it had been parked yesterday.
Knowing the truck could now move under its own power, plans were then made to begin the body restoration in-tandem with other mechanical work. The old wood sides and floor were removed from the stake body bed, and then the entire bed was removed from the truck. We even found bits of corn in the truck bed while taking it apart—a fun reminder of the truck’s past.
One of the most obvious things the truck needed was new paint. When it arrived here at Longwood, it was gray—but upon further inspection, we saw shades of cream, green, brown, and red underneath the gray, with red serving as the truck’s original color.
One of the largest jobs on the truck restoration was the body work. To achieve a successful paint job, the surface below the paint must be free of imperfections. Ehrhardt stripped the entire truck cab down to bare metal, thus revealing many hastily repaired body issues from the truck’s past. All old body work filler material was removed, and panels were straightened and patched as necessary. All surfaces were smoothed with filler, then high-build primer applied and block-sanded. A final coat of epoxy primer was applied, sealing the body panels prior to the final paint.
Senior Fabricator Dave Beck performed rust repair work on the removed stake body bed, as well as repaired damage to the bed from its old farming days. Beck repaired the rear section of the truck’s frame, as rust issues were preventing the bed from resting correctly on the frame. Beck also repaired multiple body panel rust holes by welding-in new metal in the doors, hood sections, side step, and toolbox. After the original front bumper was removed and stripped of paint, we found many years of damage, with bends and kinks throughout the bumper. A decision was made to fabricate a new bumper from scratch. Beck started with 3/16” steel, forming it with the proper bends, and making new curved end pieces, as well as new lower bumper brackets.
From the start, our intent was to repaint this truck a bright, fun red true to the 1960s aesthetic, and we chose a single stage urethane paint called “Redline Red” to achieve that look. Senior Painter Dave Landgrebe and Ehrhardt shared the painting effort, which took place in October. The doors and hood sections were patched, body worked, primed, and painted while removed from the truck. It was a big day when the truck was driven into Longwood’s paint booth, where it received epoxy primer sealer and its final red paint. The roof of the truck had to be painted in the Equipment Maintenance Shop, as the truck roof was too close to the paint booth ceiling.
Senior Mechanic Mark Jenkins began the resurrection of the braking system. It can be challenging to find parts for a 54-year-old truck, and this truck was no different. We sourced brakes parts from many different vendors and all of the rubber brake lines were custom-made by a local vendor, as none were available off the shelf. Senior Mechanic Joe Newnam performed the replacement of the truck’s brake booster system, as well as final body part assembly. Senior Mechanic Dan Sweeney took on the restoration of the hydraulic dump bed lift system. Seals were replaced in the lift cylinders, all hydraulic hoses were replaced, and new fittings installed throughout.
In as-arrived condition, the truck had pressure-treated wood along its sides; pressure-treated wood would not have been used in the 1960s. Senior Carpenter Joe Cornette and Carpenter Stuart Taylor rebuilt the wood sides using wood from Longwood fallen white ash trees. The bed flooring is red oak that was sourced from a local vendor.
The truck also needed all new lighting. We opted for period-correct, vintage-look lights. All of the exterior lights are wired to one circuit and connected to an adjustable voltage DC power supply, so they can dimmed to the desired display brightness. Longwood Senior Electrician Anthony Lacatena provided electric power to the DC power supply, energized with a timer so the truck lights will turn on at the same time as the rest of the A Longwood Christmas display.
While a lot of the restoration work involved larger items, from mechanical system work to a total repaint, we also put a lot of time and thought into making sure all of the details of the truck speak to its period aesthetic. Here at Longwood, all the vehicles in our fleet receive a unit number as well as an initial to indicate which department each vehicle is used to support. In the case of our Longwood Farms red truck, we decided to give it the unit number H-1 (H for Horticulture and 1 for the “first” truck in the fleet), which is proudly displayed on the bumper. We also sourced period-correct Pennsylvania inspection stickers for the truck, as well as a period-correct Pennsylvania license plate of LWG XMAS that gives another nod to the A Longwood Christmas display. Inside, the passenger side door panel has been signed by everyone involved in the truck restoration project.
Another thoughtful—and beautiful—facet of our truck is its Longwood Farms lettering, painted by expert pinstriping, lettering, and leafing artist—and former floral designer—Hot Rod Jen of Hummelstown, Pennsylvania. Hot Rod Jen referred to old photos of previous Longwood trucks to inform her design, using a period correct block letter with a drop shadow, which is reminiscent of vehicles from the 1960s and easy to read. The actual Longwood Farms text used on the truck is a nod to Longwood founder Pierre S. du Pont’s use of a portion of the-now Longwood Gardens property as a working farm; this use lasted until the early 1950s.
Hot Rod Jen used lettering quills and a durable urethane-based pinstriping and lettering paint on the truck in order to stand up to the outdoor elements. “Before I went full-time doing lettering and pinstriping, I was a floral designer,” shares Hot Rod Jen. “I love gardens, so I think it’s pretty cool having these two passions meet in this way.”
Driving the finished truck from Longwood’s Equipment Maintenance Shop to its display location outside of the Peirce-du Pont House was a moment of triumph for each and every person who has worked on bringing the truck to display. Today, it sits outside of the Peirce-du Pont House, appearing as if it’s hauling Christmas trees at a farm, but ultimately shining with new life, made possible by our dedicated, expert, and endlessly creative team—and we are proud to share this truck, and their talents, with you.