Joe DiGrazia is a past volunteer EMT captain and president of the Blairstown (New Jersey) Ambulance Corp. When the organization looked to sell its 1960 International Harvester Travelall 46-52 ambulance, DiGrazia was the perfect buyer and bought it.
The Blairstown Ambulance Corp. began in 1952 after a man fell and had to wait two hours for help. The first ambulance the company used was a 1942 Packard funeral car. The squad then bought the 1960 Travelall at a local dealership in Blairstown where it was converted into an ambulance. DiGrazia has been a Blairstown resident for 35 years, so the Travelall has never left the 31-square-mile municipality.
Pastoral Blairstown is in the northwestern section of New Jersey and is nestled in the Great Appalachian Valley. It’s best known outside New Jersey as a filming location for the famous horror movie “Friday the 13th.” The farming area can get a lot of snow and subsequent flooding. Thus, the ambulance is a 4x4 unit that can forge water and cut through snow drifts. Unlike car-based ambulances of the day, the Travelall kept going when the pavement ended. The ambulance has a winch and has even transported a boat when it was necessary to rescue flooded village residents.
International celebrated its golden anniversary with the all-new A-series pickup and Travelall in March 1957. At the time, IH ranked third in truck sales. Under the baton of styling chief Ed Ornan, his crew created modern vehicles at the International styling studio in Fort Wayne, Ind. The Travelall was dramatically styled to look contemporary with automobiles of the day and featured integral front fenders, a flattened hood, elimination of running boards, a wraparound windshield and a slab-sided body.
A facelift in 1959 brought out the “Action Styling” B-series. Quad headlamps were stacked vertically like those on the 1957 Nash and 1957 Lincoln. A new mesh grille resembled the grille of the 1958-’60 Rambler American. The 1959 styling changes were retained for 1960. DiGrazia said that International admirers are amazed that the grille on his ambulance is original and undamaged. Many IH grilles have been dented over the years.
The upright, rectangular styling of DiGrazia’s Travelall ambulance makes for a brawny presence. Because of the longer, lower and wider stance of automobiles in the late 1950s and 1960s, car-based ambulances required a lot of structural changes by coachbuilders. Given its larger truck roots, the overall shape of the Blairstown ambulance did not have to be altered.
Adding to this ambulance’s imposing squared-off body are its custom-made battering-ram front and rear bumpers reminiscent of the “slamboree” 5-mph bumpers of 1970 cars. The front bumper on this IH also serves to shelter its mechanical winch.
The standard engine for the 1960 Travelall was an overhead-valve V-8. This 266-cid engine produced 154 hp. A delete option was the OHV-six, a 240-cid engine that offered 140 hp. The latter engine powers the Blairstown ambulance.
DiGrazia’s Travelall is believed to have been the longest-running ambulance in service in New Jersey at the time it was retired. From 1960 to 2008, it clocked 48 years. When DiGrazia bought the ambulance, it needed some freshening and attention as the vehicle had a tin-worn appearance. As such, DiGrazia did a rolling restoration consisting of a cosmetic refurbishment and drove the truck on and off while he was working on it. For example, the paint had mildew, dullness and chalking, so DiGrazia addressed this wear. Al Johnson, a local artist, did the original gold leaf lettering, and DiGrazia had him redo the lettering. As a testament to this attention, several years ago DiGrazia’s ambulance was invited to the Monmouth County d’Elegance in Holmdel, N.J.
Swing open the Travelall’s door and it’s yesterday once more. You sit up in the vehicle instead of down in it. The living room-size cabin easily fits 21st Century-size people. Over the painted metal dashboard is a football field of a hood that lunges to meet the horizon.
A white pod contains the gauges and fan-style speedometer including the odometer, which reads just 26,400 miles. The box-shape instrument cluster is directly behind the steering wheel and provides driver-friendly easy viewing. The high-styled four-spoke wheel is something you would expect on a 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser, not a truck such as a Travelall. Power steering and brakes allow one to steer with a finger and to tip-toe to a stop. However, DiGrazia is reminded his ambulance is a truck by its four-speed manual transmission. The IH’s anvil-like durability is heard with a solid sound when the doors close, and when the crank handles move windows without any slippage.
On the four corners of the roof are emergency lights, and a cherry sits above the windshield. Inside, there are wooden shelves as well as wooden cabinets under the bench where the volunteers sat with medical equipment and supplies. The linoleum pattern on the floor under the stretcher is of the same pattern found in many homes of the day, including this columnist’s first apartment. Up front, a two-way radio can hear messages. An orange stokes bucket stretcher is held on the roof.
Digrazia adds about 270 miles to the odometer each year while attending shows and parades in the Travelall. It’s a well-deserved retirement following a life of service.
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