One thing I love about trucking and its history is what I like to refer to as the orphans of the industry – long gone names like Brockway, Diamond T/REO, Marmon, and others. These now defunct manufacturers helped move America for decades, and while these old trucks are rarely seen working any longer, they haven’t been forgotten. Just attend any vintage truck show around the country and you will find many proud owners who love these “orphaned” brands.
A great place to see both modern and vintage rigs is at the annual Iowa 80 Walcott Truckers Jamboree. Back in 1991, I got to attend the show for the first time with my dad (as I wasn’t old enough to drive yet), along with Duncan Putman, Calvin Cochran, J.D. and his father, Charlie Cantwell. We all made the trip from Central Indiana and gave the Hoosier State some representation. Even though I went there to see the trucks, I also made some new friends, several that have now become lifelong friends that I keep in contact with on a regular basis to this day.
One of those lifelong friends I made back in 1991 was Richie Bula. Hailing from Antigo, Wisconsin, Richie showed up to the show driving a 1985 International 9300 with a 60” Bentz standup sleeper that was nicknamed “The Love Boat” (LOL). 26-years-old at the time, Richie lived and breathed trucks and trucking. It was all he ever wanted to do since he could remember riding with his dad, back in the late 1960s, in his International DCO-405 Emeryville cabover, when Richie was only 4 or 5 years old. “I used to tell my teacher that I learned more during the summertime riding with my dad in his truck than I did all winter long sitting in a classroom,” as Richie jokingly laughed while I was talking with him for this story.
The International 9300 Richie was driving when I met him wasn’t on display, it was his money maker. His passion was in a small photo album he had with him (remember those?) at the time. Within the pages of that small photo book were images of a trucking industry “orphan” he loved – a rare 1964 Diamond T 931C, with the photos depicting the truck in various stages of restoration.
Founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1905 by C.A. Tilt as The Diamond T Motor Car Company, they initially made high-end touring cars, but in 1911, after a customer requested Tilt build a truck, that convinced him that commercial vehicles were the future of his company. Operating as an independent builder until 1958, when Diamond T was acquired by Cleveland, Ohio based White Motor Company, which at the time also owned Sterling, Autocar, and REO. White moved the Diamond T production to REO’s Lansing, Michigan facility. However, in 1966, Diamond T production came to an end after White merged Diamond T and REO to form Diamond REO Trucks in 1967.
Left for dead in a raspberry field near Mole Lake, Wisconsin, Richie’s Uncle Eddie purchased the Diamond T in 1984. “I went with him to help him pull the truck out of the field and back to his farm,” Richie said, continuing with, “I started rummaging through the truck and found its registration and it said the truck was a 1964, the same age as I was!” When Richie asked his Uncle Eddie what he was going to do with it, Eddie told him he was going to pull the engine and transmission and scrap the rest of the truck. Unlike his uncle, Richie saw potential in the old Diamond T, and he wanted to build a cool and unique ride. Richie said, “My Uncle Eddie told me I could have the truck if I pulled the engine, transmission, and rear-ends out of it for him.”
The old cabover was originally powered by a 250 Cummins with an Eaton 5-speed transmission and 3-speed rear-ends, riding on an old Hendrickson Sheer-ride suspension. Richie didn’t mind giving that old driveline back to his Uncle Eddie. “I essentially started with a worn-out glider, that needed a bunch of work! Everybody thought I was crazy, and they had no problem telling me that!” So, with a vision in mind, Richie began acquiring parts and pieces slowly but surely. “I was able to find and buy a lot of new old stock Diamond T parts that were hard-to-find for the truck from Hausman Motor Co. out of Louisville, Kentucky, like the headlight mounts on each side of the grill.” Richie continued, “Hausman is no longer in business. They were a Diamond T dealer back in the day, and eventually became a Chrysler auto dealer, but they had a basement full of new-old Diamond T truck parts.”
When Richie initially began the restoration, he was building the truck with the intention of working it on a daily basis. Not one to keep things stock, the truck received a lot of modern upgrades, from interior to exterior, as well as throughout the driveline. “The frame was cut about a foot behind the cab, and one of the problems I had was the original Diamond T frame. The frame has flanges of 3 and 5/8 inches, whereas new truck frames have a 3” flange, so I had to have custom rails made, and the longest I could get them was in 8-foot lengths.” He continued with, “I wanted the truck to have a longer wheelbase, but after I spliced the old and new rails, combined with losing a foot where it’s double framed, I ended up with only a 204-inch wheelbase.”
Today, the Diamond T is powered by a Cummins Small Cam 350 with some internal mods, as well as a KTA turbo, then pushing power to a Fuller RTO9513 13-speed transmission, and on to Rockwell SQ100 rears with 3.70 gears. The truck has a Neway air ride suspension, set up in a Canadian spec with a 60” spread, and rides on 22.5 Accuride aluminum wheels all the way around, wrapped in tall rubber. One unique feature that Richie kept on the truck was the Rockwell-produced Center Point steering, which was the precursor to modern power steering systems.
Externally, the cab is all original except for the aluminum steps from a cabover Freightliner. “The original steps were pretty high and small, so I decided to upgrade the ease of entry into the truck,” as Richie put it. Besides the steps, the Diamond T now sports a pair of 100-gallon Kenworth K100 polished aluminum fuel tanks, 6-inch exhaust pipes mounted on a custom exhaust system, with the air cleaner moved to the rear of the truck instead of under the passenger side seat. The air cleaner is from a GMC Astro and the battery box is from a Kenworth T600A. Painted in PPG Medium Jade Metallic, Metallic Black, and trimmed in Gold leaf paint, the Diamond T’s paint scheme was inspired by Kenworth. “With the help of my neighbor Jim Wanca, I painted the truck in his potato barn,” said Richie. To finish out that largecar look, Richie mounted an 18” bumper with 11 lights across the bottom, between the license plates mounted on each end.
Inside the cab, the interior of the cabover is all custom. Sporting a custom St. Louis Diamond Tuck gray interior, as well as a custom 24” mattress in the sleeper (yes, the truck only has a 24” bunk), high back Eldorado seats adorn both the driver and passenger sides, with a custom center console mounted to the roof that houses the CB radio and stereo head unit. A polished stainless steel dash sports a complete set of gauges, and more gauges are included above the driver side front window, a feature unique from the factory on these cool Diamond T 931C cabover trucks.
While talking with Richie, he told me a lot of great stories about the truck and its restoration. “I remember when I got to take the truck for its first ride,” Richie told me. “This was back in 1987. I had just finished putting in the new radiator and drove it down the street to my parents’ house. When I got there, it was dropping tons of antifreeze on the ground. I was so excited to take it for a ride, I forgot to tighten up the bolts on the fan shroud. Needless to say, the shroud came loose and fell onto the fan, which ended up puncturing a hole in my brand-new radiator.” While it was a hard lesson learned, over the next six years, the truck came together, and in 1993 the 1964 Diamond T 931C made its first appearance at a truck show – the ATHS National Convention, which was held that year in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While Richie hauled the Diamond T down on a Landoll, it barely had an interior and Richie was still wrenching on it after getting it parked, finishing up little odds and ends, as he had been working hard and spent many late nights prior to the show getting it ready.
Since that show in 1993, Richie has driven his Diamond T to several ATHS national conventions, as well as the REO Trucks 100th Anniversary, held in Lansing, Michigan in 2004. Richie has also had the Diamond T on display several times over the years at the Walcott Truckers Jamboree, as well. “One truck show I love taking the truck to is the Big Iron Classic,” Richie told me. Held in Kasson, Minnesota, this huge truck show regularly attracts up to 700 rigs, from around the country, that are on display each and every year.
Marrying his wife Terri in 1998, they have one son, Alex, who is now 24. Like his father, Alex has diesel running through his veins and loves trucks – in fact, he already owns three of his own. Since getting married and taking a job with the Langlade County Wisconsin Highway Department in 2002, Richie has never operated his Diamond T in the manner he intended to when he began restoring it but is content with it being a show piece. “I have some stuff on my bucket list I want to do with the truck, like hook it to a big stainless reefer one of these days and head west to Arizona to the Triple T so I can get a photo of my truck parked underneath the iconic Triple T sign.” That would be so cool, and a fitting spot to capture the history and nostalgia of this industry orphan.