What many people would consider an eyesore rests proudly in the driveway of a home in America’s richest extended neighborhood, Silicon Valley, CA. It is a reminder among the Teslas, Beamers and Benzes that before the technology industry arrived, turning cheaply built, single-story starter homes on postage stamp lots into million-dollar-plus properties, a simpler way of life existed there—farming.
The sprawling campuses of Google, Facebook, Apple and the like, with their many thousands of employees needing places to live, only a generation or so ago were fruit-growing fields, requiring trucks for harvest like the 1956 International Harvester dump truck, with a 1934 Dodge flatbed, ‘showcased’ at owner Guy Leo’s house in a San Jose, CA suburb.
It would not be a stretch to suggest this relic should more logically front 1313 Mockingbird Lane or 0001 Cemetery Lane (Google them if you don’t know or can’t guess).
There is little doubt that the S-130 model hasn’t exactly been tooling up and down streets lately. Cinder blocks anchor the flattened back tires and a fairly elaborate spider web spreads over one door. The license plate’s registration sticker expiration date? 2003.
Asked when the last time it was actually driven, Leo laughed.
“Let’s see… around 2000,” he said. “We sold the orchard around then, I believe. I had grabbed everything old and antique that I could, including the truck.”
A big, friendly man with a salt-and-pepper Chevron mustache, Leo’s working life has included both the farming and high-tech worlds. “I’ve gone from the stone age to the aliens,” he joked. He took American Trucker on a timeline, explaining how the International came along for the ride over his 60-plus years.
These days he is a recruiting manager for Quanergy Systems Inc., a provider of solid state LIDAR (light detection and ranging) sensors and smart sensing solutions.
“LIDAR could allow cars to self-drive themselves,” he explained. “It can reach out now about 100 meters to all objects around a car and instantly classify them. It tells you how big they are, and draws a 3D software map of the images, in light or dark.”
Quite a difference from how his family’s preceding generations spent their lives.
“Silicon Valley was once the prune capital of the world,” he said. “My grandfather emigrated from Italy in 1911 and settled down in Almaden (South San Jose). He bought land and planted an orchard for prunes, apricots, grapes… all the Italian things he knew. It was about 25 acres. My dad was born in 1921. He grew up on the farm in Almaden, as I did. The whole of Silicon Valley then was all really good dirt, the best in the world. Now it’s mostly houses. It’s a shame.”
Leo’s mother and father, grandmother and grandfather and his uncle Vince on his father’s side all moved to Almaden from Sicily, living in houses side by side by side.
“It was like the Italian compound in The Godfather, he quipped, doing a spot-on imitation of Don Corleone. “It’s even better if I put napkins in my mouth like Marlon Brando did,” he added.
“We had the orchard and a barn. In 1956 they purchased the International new and put on the Dodge bed, which is deteriorating. It was just for the farm that we would use it. In July was apricots and in August was prunes, which sucked for me as a kid because that’s the summer. So I’m cutting ’cots in July and picking prunes in August. Then it’s time to go to school.”
Leo’s driving skills were honed by the International.
“I learned how to drive in that truck when I was 12, with a stick,” he said. “Because of that I always knew how to drive a stick. It was geared down really low, so you couldn’t go fast, but back then everybody was going 35 miles an hour. Nowadays top speed would be 50 when you’re flooring it.”
For a 63-year-old truck, the odometer seems frozen in time, like something out of a Twilight Zone episode.
“There’s only like 2,500 original miles on the engine (2,328.4 actually),” noted Leo. “The truck was used to carry boxes of prunes from the orchard back to our barn. We had a dipper where we’d dip the prunes, then we’d cut the apricots. The flatbed was used to stack trays of cut apricots. We’d put ‘em in the sun and sulfur house. So it was very useful in that regard.
“The farthest it would ever go would be to our neighbors down the road, the Ratkoviches. They practically owner Almaden, and had a processing plant for fruit that could handle all the farmers around there. That was like a mile, two miles and back. Other than that, no trips or anything.”
Leo acknowledges that while having to work the hot months as a kid was a drag, it paid dividends later in life.
“Summers really sucked,” he said. “Friends would tell me they’re going to Disneyland, and ask what I was doing. I’d say, ‘Oh I’m going to pick apricots and prunes.’
“The prune trees, we’d shake ’em and it was a carpet of purple on the ground. That was a gold mine at 50 cents a bucket. It taught me how to work for money.”
Bringing his truck back to life has been a goal of Leo’s for many years.
“How much would it cost to restore it? Paint, get the dents out, re-chrome the bumpers… under $10,000, something like that?” he wondered out loud. “It’s been on my bucket list. I don’t know if I would use the original engine because it’s geared so low. Originally it had the high sides, but they made it a flatbed. I’d like to redo it with sides, with fresh wood.
“I plan on getting it refurbished so it’s drivable and I can park it anywhere. The truck is a part of me, like my wrists and ankles. I loaded it with apricot boxes and trays and prunes so I just kind of feel like I owe it.”
Leo’s wife has tolerated the truck in her driveway, to a point.
“She says get that thing out of here, sell it,” he confided. “But I won’t give it up. It’s like a museum piece. It’s the original International green color too.
“I belong to a church near here. We have a winery there and make four barrels of Merlot a year. So I’m thinking I can put the barrels on the truck, kind of like the old days. Put it back to work. Except it won’t be July or August.”