John and Gay’s GR8Wood

A Restoration Story about Their International Harvester


I had just sat down to dinner and was enjoying some quiet time with my wife when the phone rang. I didn’t want to answer the phone but I did. It was my daughter.  She said she had just seen what she thought was a “Woody on Steroids” sitting on a trailer in an alley on Balboa Island. Knowing how much I enjoyed woody wagons she thought she should call to let me know where the trailer was so I could run over and check out this wagon.  Well I shoveled dinner down as fast as I could. “There went my quiet dinner” and rushed over to where the trailer was said to be located and to my dismay there was no sign of it and no one around to question about its whereabouts. I then went home and called my daughter and told her of my disappointment.


Several months went by with no sign of this phantom woody, but then while driving up to Laguna Beach I couldn’t believe my eyes to see the woody my daughter had tried to describe to me months earlier. The wagon belonged to Jim Busby. I had known Jim for many years while we were neighbors on Balboa Island. I ran into Jims Hot Rod Shop were I promptly asked Jim “Where in the World did you find that Woody?” Jim quickly responded, “It found me”!  Jim then went on to explain the history of  “GR8WOOD” as he understood it to be.


Jim had seen the woody the same day my daughter had and quickly hunted down the owner Ed Bishop of Belleview Washington. He then convinced Ed to sell him the woody and trailer it to his shop in Laguna Canyon. Ed then explained to Jim how he came to own the woody.


Ed a long time car collector who works with Silver Collector Car Auctions found this rare machine on a trip through Gackle North Dakota. He explained to Jim that “Car in the Barn” finds are still within the realm of possibility!  Ed spotted two men removing the Woody from a large out building next to an old abandoned Ford Dealership littered with 55 through 57 Fords in various states of disrepair. Ed immediately offered to buy the woody from the two gentlemen. Their response was that they would like to sell him the woody but that they had already sold it to Harold Schrumm who had moved from Gackle up to Minneapolis Minn. neglecting to take the woody with him. It took Ed two weeks to track Harold down and convince him to sell Ed the woody. A little over a year later Ed decided to bring the woody down to his girlfriends house in Balboa Island Ca, where Jim quickly spotted and acquired it.


I was extremely interested in the woody and told Jim I would love to buy it!  He then informed me that he had already accepted an offer. I then told Jim that if anything went wrong with his current deal to please call me. Before I left the shop Jim let me know he had just called the first purchaser and that the guy was going to take too long to complete the purchase and that if I wanted it that I could have It! I couldn’t get my checkbook out fast enough!


As I was driving my newly acquired “Gem in the Rough” home to show it off to my wife and friends “it hit me” where was I going to park this huge woody? On Balboa Island, parking is in short supply. Upon pulling up to my home I lucked out! There were two parking spaces right in front of the house. I quickly snapped them both up!


The next morning I got up early and removed the cover from my “Forest on Wheels”. I then stood back and pondered, “How and where would I restore this beauty. While going over the woody and attempting to make a mental list of things to do a car was driving by and slowed so the driver and passenger could take a closer look. They quickly pulled to the roadside. It was a woman and her Grandfather. She helped her Grandfather from the car and slowly walked over and greeted me. They asked if it was ok if they took closer look at the woody? I said be my guest! While walking around the woody the man introduced himself. He said my name is HankWithers. He then asked, “This is a Campbell Bodied Woody isn’t it? I said it sure is! He continued to look even more intently. Then he turned to his Granddaughter and whispered, “I think this is the 4 wheel drive woody that National Geographic Magazine had built shortly before the factory closed. He continued to walk slowly around the woody then he stepped up on the curb next to me and preceded to share with me what is was like to work in the Campbell’s Waterloo New York Body factory through the 30s, 40s and 50s. His said that throughout the time he worked at the factory he had been involved in all facets of wood bodybuilding from fabrication to assembly to finish. He then proceeded to explain his recollection of this particular woody. He said that during the fifties Campbell was producing mainly wood bodies for airport buses and school buses. That is why this 4wheel drive woody was etched so firmly in his memory. He quipped that “ His short term memory may be shot! But his long-term memory is great! He continued that he remembered the day the International Harvester 1 ˝ ton 4 wheel drive chassis was delivered to Campbell. Upon looking at the build sheet he said he noticed the woody had been special ordered by National Geographic Magazine. He also noticed that the body was to be fabricated with extra thick insulation throughout. He speculated this meant the woody was headed for somewhere with an extra cold climate! He was right! His immediate supervisor apprised him of the fact that upon fabrication and installation of the body that the body would be fitted with a specially fabricated roof rack designed to transport and handle photographic equipment and the occasional photographer. Once Hank finished explaining his experiences with Campbell I invited him and his granddaughter in for iced tea. They accepted!  I couldn’t believe it! I had only had the woody for less than a day and I had already been provided with provenance.


I came to find that once National Geographic Magazine was done using the woody they then sold it to the North Dakota Civil Defense Program where it spent the majority of the last forty years as a Transport and Delivery Vehicle for our nations nuclear silos located just outside Gackle North Dakota. In Logan County.


After nearly two years of an exhaustive restoration project that could not have been completed without the incredible abilities of professionals such as Doug and Suzy Carr at “The Wooden Carr”, Pat Campbell at  Ratical Auto Body and Custom Paint and Mike Morrison at Howard’s Automotive and many more. I am “Proud to say this has been the most enjoyable restoration project I have ever undertaken!


Thanks to everyone involved,

John Fotsch