MEET YOUR MERCHANT: IH Parts America, Inc.
January 15, 2017
IH Parts America, Inc.
119 McKnight Way, Grass Valley
There is a certain slice of America that continues to have an unwavering love affair with vintage International Harvester vehicles. Whenever Jeff Ismail pulls into a gas station in his 1972 Scout II or his 1970 one-ton Travelall, people seem to appear out of nowhere.
"My grandpa used to have one of these," they'll say. Or, "We had one of these on my farm growing up."
What people don't realize is that Ismail owns a fleet of more than 30 International Harvester — also known as I.H. — vehicles in various stages of repair. And if one of his beloved vehicles is rusted out or needs a new engine, it's not because he can't find the parts. He just hasn't gotten to it yet.
In February of 2016, Ismail and his wife, Norma, moved their business, IH Parts America, Inc., from their home property to a sprawling two-acre lot off McKnight Way in Grass Valley. Their offices, retail store, shop and warehouse total more than 10,000 square feet.
Ismail is part of a family that has owned, sold and repaired International Harvester products since the late 1960's. Known in the I.H. community for decades, they have a reputation for being a reliable source of I.H. parts and information throughout the country and internationally.
While growing up in Loomis, Ismail's father drove sturdy I.H. garden and landscaping trucks. At the age of 16, Ismail bought a four-cylinder 1976 Scout, built it up and subsequently wrecked it. Nonetheless it survived, and today Ismail's 15 year old son, a Bear River High School student, has acquired the vintage gem.
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"We grew up I.H. people," said Ismail. "I started working on I.H. vehicles at a very young age. I know them inside and out."
A longtime ASE certified master technician, Ismail spent many years working in general automotive repair. But at one point an injury followed by surgery left him home bound for months.
"I was bored at home, married with one kid and another one on the way — we needed to make ends meet," said Ismail. "So I started selling my extra I.H. parts on eBay. I was surprised by the response — I did pretty well."
Realizing the online reach of eBay, which tapped into an international market, Ismail was ready to strike out on his own — with the help of his dad, who fixed up his barn, poured concrete and allowed his son to open his first I.H. shop in Loomis. Ismail was off and running.
Today, many years later, IH Parts America, Inc., has solidly established itself internationally as the go-to place for I.H. parts and information. With a staff of seven, Ismail and his crew offer expert restoration of vintage I.H. vehicles, repairs, tune-ups and a specialty retail store. But their bread-and-butter is the online sales, said Ismail, who estimates that 80 percent of the business' profits come from I.H. parts sold online all over the world. Finding vintage parts often requires extensive detective work, he added, which has added to the company's positive reviews.
Ryan Mainguth of Nevada City bought a classic 1975 I.H. fire truck and turned it into a custom landscaping truck, thanks to I.H. Parts America.
"It's a pretty rare old brush truck — I found it in Colorado," said Mainguth. "I hired Ismail's crew to put in an engine — they've gone from top to bottom on that vehicle. I drive it everyday. It's a heavy-duty truck — I keep breaking my other trucks, which are Chevys. Ismail's crew was incredible — meticulous, organized and methodical. They can do anything. They even got my winch working."
The company website, http://www.ihpartsamerica.com, boasts an online store, a classified section and a forum where I.H. do-it-yourself enthusiasts can ask questions about repairs and replacement parts. The site also includes a gallery, where people can share their latest I.H. acquisitions or restoration projects.
Inside the 4,000-square-foot shop, mechanics work on a variety of I.H. vehicles, often starting with the frame and building it up from the axle and suspension on up.
"The only things we don't do are upholstery and auto body paint — we subcontract for that," said Ismail. "Currently we have a backlog of three to six months for bigger jobs. We have one Travelall whose owner has put more than $200,000 into the renovation."
Ismail lights up when he talks about the retail store on their McKnight Street property. Decorated with a racing car theme and the signature I.H. color red ("I.H. people bleed red," he says), the shelves are stocked with vintage I.H. replica toy cars, car accessories, clothing, blankets, mugs, mirrors, floor mats and more.
"Some people say the store has a museum feel," said Ismail. "It's like Disneyland for people who are true I.H. fans."
For more than 10 years, Ismail has served as the coordinator of the Annual International Harvester Sierra Fall Rallye at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. He, his employees and loyal customers also often take part in Roamin' Angels' vintage car shows. Opening a shop near downtown Grass Valley has helped the business become a more integral part of the community, Ismail said.
Because there are a finite amount of vintage I.H. vehicles, eventually Ismail would like to expand his services to include other vintage makes and models, an area where he has extensive experience after working years in general automotive repair. But for now, his passion still lies with International Harvester, an all-American company that dates back generations.
"People keep pulling these vehicles out of old barns and fields and come to us to fix them up," he said. "Eventually the market will run out. But for now, we love all things I.H."
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
IH Parts America, Inc.
119 McKnight Way, Grass Valley