Parishioners were already deep into their church service on this cold, damp fall morning in Lake Keowee Village. The nearby parking lot was filled with German badges and luxury utility vehicles, which one may expect in a gated, country club community disguised as a Pleasantville town.
Paul Weir turned his 1964 International Harvester Travelall down the road that leads to the chapel, a road lined with tightly-packed craftsman homes.
Plenty of cars and pickups can drive down the road in anonymity. In Weir’s Travelall, we may as well have been passing by the chapel blasting Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” through a bullhorn. The 345-cubic-inch V8 announces its presence with authority through straight pipes wherever Weir goes.
Weir doesn’t go too far in his International, which he bought in 2016 as a truck he could kick around the lake in. The truck may spend the rest of its days hulking around these fenced-off 4,000 acres that shore up against Lake Keowee, a manmade reservoir in Upstate South Carolina. The garage next to Weir’s retirement home is itself a suitable resting space for the 54-year-old relic, a full-size SUV from an era before full-size SUVs were really a thing.
This pearl-colored panel truck with windows has traveled to at least three corners of the U.S. Its journey to South Carolina is its most improbable.
From Rhode Island with love
In 2012, Mike Morrissey – better known to his friends in North Smithfield, Rhode Island as Skeeta – was looking to restore an International Scout when an old Washington State Forestry vehicle popped up in Massachusetts. It was not the International he was looking for, but he had never seen an International like this.
“I hadn’t seen any Travelalls around, but my best friend saw this one in Massachusetts, and went up there and brought it home on a truck,” Skeeta said. “Before we knew it, we had the whole thing apart.”
Skeeta, John Swanton – the aforementioned best friend – and Swanton’s son Elijah have a penchant for uncommon projects. Over the past winter, the group outfitted a 1989 Subaru GL Hatchback with a six-inch lift and a Scout brush guard, but they kept the 15-inch tires. They have a lifted golf cart they like to race around the backwoods. There have been a few Harley projects that are hard to keep track of.
“We’re just three rednecks up in New England having a good time,” Skeeta said. “Some of the things we have done would blow your mind.”
Of all the tinkerers, builders and collectors that could have found this Travelall, the Rhode Island trio was a perfect match. And they soon found they were working with the perfect truck.
After starting its life in Washington, this Travelall crossed the country to Hershey, Pennsylvania, and then to Concord, New Hampshire. In 50 years, it had traveled only 40,000 miles. The body may have been a bit beat up, but it was rust-free.
Skeeta handled the bodywork — you won’t find any Bondo here — while John coated it in soft white paint. Elijah, a savant with a wrench, worked the truck’s mechanical systems into top form.
“We kept it as clean as possible,” Skeeta said. “I rubbed it like a newborn for four years.”
Skeeta and the Swantons went over every bolt on the vehicle, powder coating the undercarriage. After picking apart a parts truck, they were able to restore the Travelall’s drum brakes, springs and suspension, performing all of the restoration with the exception of the engine. They even put in a new windshield — “No glass company would touch it,” Skeeta laughed.
The group’s work went beyond the original specifications as well. Skeeta laid down a maple bed behind the two vinyl-covered bench seats. Under the hood, he installed a windshield washer that pulls from a Cabo Wabo tequila bottle.
“There wasn’t one corner that we cut on it,” Skeeta said. “We put our soul into it.”
‘He is in the wrong bar’
Skeeta had been driving the Travelall for a month when he and the Swantons sat down to drink a few beers at the historic Western Hotel and Pizza in Burrillville, Rhode Island. As the name suggests, the building that used to be a stagecoach stop and the patrons inside could blend into any cowboy town.
The same day, Weir and his wife, Pamela, were moving her daughter into an apartment nearby. After a day of hoisting boxes, they went looking for a beer when they saw the Travelall sitting outside the Western.
“I saw him walk in, and he was out of place,” Skeeta said of Weir. “He comes in wearing a pink shirt, nice shorts, and I’m thinking, ‘Man, he is in the wrong bar.’”
Then again, who is Paul Weir but a Georgia redneck disguised in Peter Millar threads. The two quickly got to talking about the Travelall outside. Before long, Skeeta took the Weirs for a drive.
One thing led to another, and Weir put an offer on the table.
“They seemed like nice guys, we had a mutual admiration for cars, and this was a unique car – I’d never seen another one like it,” Weir said. “I didn’t really have any intention of buying it. I was drunk and said, ‘If you ever consider selling it, call me.’”
After Skeeta drove the Travelall for five months, Weir’s phone rang.
Dreams, memories and retirement
The Travelall isn’t Weir’s first collector car, and it’s not one he had on his radar until he saw it parked outside the Rhode Island tavern.
Growing up, Weir’s father moved on from running Ford dealerships to running auto auctions. When Weir was 15, his father brought home a 9-year-old, 1970 Oldsmobile 442.
“I have a memory of driving this 442, and it was awesome,” Weir said. “And then dad sold it before I turned 16 and could drive it myself. So that was the dream car I was chasing, but those cars sell for six figures.”
Weir grew up in Thomson, Ga., and has lived at least five different lives. He has been a music promoter, professional golfer, sod farmer, magazine publisher and healthcare staffer.
He started a healthcare company a decade ago in his home office and quickly built a budding empire. With retirement in sight, suddenly these dream cars became possible to chase. Weir opted for a 1970 Chevelle convertible over the 442 and added a Buick Lesabre akin to the car he drove to college.
But the cars he has purchased have not quite lived up to the memories he has been chasing.
“You can go back to a place, but you can’t go back in time,” Weir said. “The memory is better than when I actually bought them.”
But the Travelall is different.
“I’m thrilled about it,” he said. “You have a truck that is over 50 years old, and it feels like a brand new truck. Thirty years from now when my son is 50, it will look exactly like it does now.”
Sitting outside of Weir’s new retirement home, the Travelall looks the part. The creamy white paint meshes well with the backdrop of the home’s stone exterior. Look at it from the right angle on a late fall day, and the whole scene looks like it could belong in a Garden & Gun photoshoot.
Both Weir and the Travelall have a childlike charm. Weir is staring at retirement, but the wild hairs that can get deep in the scalp of many Middle Georgia boys show no sign of falling out. He has an affinity for drinking Heineken beer and gambling on anything.
He is also not one to back down from a dare or run away from a good time. As we drive along the main street, Weir points out a subtle set of tire tracks that leave the blacktop and disappear. They lead up a grassy knoll that chases up to the main clubhouse.
As it turns out, Weir and a few of his friends may have taken a joyride the night before, the evidence covered up by fallen leaves and morning dew. Given the proximity of the nearby homes and the decibel level of the truck itself, it’s hard to believe that no one saw or heard anything.
Then again, Weir likes to have a good time. In that same vein, the Travelall has the look and feel of a good time buddy that, if personified, could have a seat at the bar in Weir’s man cave, play a few rounds of pool or the Medieval Madness pinball game, drink a few Maker’s Marks with spicy ginger ale, and then saunter back across the driveway to its retirement quarters.
Going for a drive
Rolling around the hilly neighborhood roads, the steering on the Travelall is as vague as good intentions. The 119-inch wheelbase doesn’t lend itself to tight corners — the truck may need six lanes to complete a U-turn.
Even though its passengers sit in the heavens surrounded by yards of steel and four beefy, 35-inch tires, nothing about the ride feels safe. There are no seatbelts, the metal around body is thin, and the roof may not support the weight of any particular American man.
On the other hand, anyone could drive this thing. The steering may be vague, but it is mighty forgiving. The throttle response is more bark — a loud bark at that — than bite.
The steering wheel sits in Weir’s lap, providing an upright driving position that lends itself to steering with his shoulders. It’s rather perfect.
All is right when I slide behind the wheel and pull the three-gear auto transmission into Drive.
“I wonder if this truck is enjoying its life,” Weir ponders from passenger side of the bench seat, soaking up the red-hot heat pouring from the heater below the glove box. Before I can add my two cents, I miss my turn.
“Driving this truck is like flying a jet,” Weir says. “You have to plan. You have to be present.”
Back in the moment, I keep cackling as I ask the big V8 for more thunder. I don’t know if this Travelall is enjoying its life, but I’m enjoying driving it. Staring down the long hood past the International hood ornament – it reminds Weir of the Taggart railroad logo from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged – I am smiling.
Weir’s Travelall probably won’t see the muddy off road again, he says. The immaculate work done by Skeeta and the Swantons will stay pristine. This “new truck” as Weir says will stay new.
The Travelall may be his favorite vehicle, but Weir’s favorite part about it is the story and the cast of characters around it.
Back in Rhode Island, the feeling is mutual.
“The truck went to a really good home,” Skeeta said. “And it went to a super nice guy. We still talk, exchange Christmas cards. I’ve never met more of a top shelf guy.”