AP NEWS

Harvester Homecoming in works

March 17, 2019

When Ryan DuVall wrote a story in December about his love of International Scouts, he had no idea where the article would lead.

He knew the story, published Dec. 16 in The Journal Gazette, would be well read in the city where Scouts were built from 1961 through 1980.

What DuVall didn’t realize was the story would lead to the formation of a group planning a Harvester Homecoming on Aug. 10 at the Scout Park Conference Center : the building where the Scout vehicles were built : and the former Harvester proving grounds.

The event will feature an all-Harvester truck show outside the conference center at 2300 Meyer Road. Enthusiasts can bring any International Harvester vehicle to the show, and the proving grounds : a 1.18-mile track on Oxford Street : will be open for people to see or drive their Harvester vehicles on : given some speed constraints.

The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum will lend the fiberglass composite SSV Scout concept truck, one of only three complete versions known to exist, and the National Automotive and Truck Museum in Auburn will provide trucks to display, including a firetruck from the Fort Wayne Harvester fire department.

There will also be a reception for former Harvester employees. Admission will be free, though donations will be requested.

The money would go toward forming a charity and establishing a fund. That will make future events possible. The dream is having a museum some day, said DuVall, a columnist, page designer and copy editor for The Journal Gazette.

Truck owners will be charged a fee to display their trucks or have photos taken on the grounds.

John Glancy, owner of Super Scout Specialists outside Springfield, Ohio, and co-author of the International Scout Encyclopedia, has pledged his support to the event and will bring a show truck and sign books.

“I’ve often dreamed of Scouts returning to the Scout plant,” said Glancy, who will hold his 30th IH Scout and All Truck Nationals just days after the Fort Wayne event. “It is a fantastic thing, not only for historical significance, but it is good to educate the young and help preserve the legend of the American icon, the Scout.”

At its peak, in 1979, International Harvester, now known as Navistar International Corp., employed about 10,500 in Fort Wayne before closing in 1983.

Beginnings

Don Cates, president and CEO of Three Rivers Federal Credit Union, an early sponsor of the event, said momentum started with DuVall’s story. 

“This has been an emotional roller coaster for me,” DuVall said last week. DuVall’s father recently bought him a 1976 Scout Traveler.

DuVall said he came up with the idea for a Harvester Homecoming after a call from History Center Executive Director Todd Pelfrey the day after the story was published in the newspaper. DuVall said he had lunch in early January with Mayor Tom Henry, who gave him some contacts, including Henry’s brother Jerry.

Jerry Henry reached out to Bill Bean, who owns the proving grounds and agreed to allow the track to be used for the event. 

DuVall also met with Sweetwater Sound founder Chuck Surack for advice and called Cates at Three Rivers Federal Credit Union, formerly Harvester Credit Union.

“He reached out to us because of our legacy with Harvester,” Cates said. “Employees of Harvester and their families were our original members and how we came to be.”

The credit union has agreed to provide $5,000 to establish a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization and pay for other expenses, including promoting the event, Cates said.

Jack Hammer, executive director of the Three Rivers Festival, helped out by calling Vince Tippmann Jr. Tippmann and Associates owns the Scout Park Conference Center, and the Tippmann family agreed to allow the facility to be used.

“When that all fell into place,” DuVall said, “I knew this thing really had legs.”

The all-volunteer group planning the Harvester Homecoming had its first meeting March 4 and included DuVall, Cates, Hammer, Pelfrey, Fort Wayne preservation planner Creager Smith, Downtown Improvement District Director Bill Brown and former Harvester employees Jerry Betley and Phil Coonrod. Pelfrey and Brown are serving in advisory capacities, and Smith is not representing the city.

Harvester ties

Coonrod worked at Fort Wayne’s International Harvester plant from 1969 to 1980, with most of that time spent in the Scout plant.

For more than 25 years, he and his wife, Maggie, have been involved in the Rocky Mountain IH Rendezvous, a Scout show in Colorado that features Scouts, pickups and Travelalls.

“I think it would be a good deal to have one right here,” he said.

Bean’s stepfather owned a 1937 Harvester ton-and-a-half truck. “When I was 10 or 11, I spent my summer nights laying on top of the cab looking at the stars,” he said.

Bean also owns a 1954 Harvester refrigerator “that still works.” He said the August Harvester Homecoming has “taken on a life of its own. It’s got a lot of support.”

Cates, when speaking with DuVall for the first time by phone, was looking at an old Harvester Loadstar truck as a potential parade truck for the credit union, he said. 

Cates isn’t from Fort Wayne but said he’s surprised the area doesn’t already have an event like the Harvester Homecoming.

On July 15, 1983, Harvester closed the assembly plant that had been rolling out trucks and employing generations of Fort Wayne residents since the 1920s. 

The company paid well, too. Production workers, such as assembly line employees, earned an average of up to 50 percent more than the average blue-collar employee in the city.

“You have some families that have one, two, three generations that worked at that facility,” Bean said.

Navistar has expressed interest in being involved in the event, DuVall said.

“This is about so much more than a truck show,” he said. “The people I have talked to that used to work there and hearing their stories really drives me to keep at it on this event and charity. It is clear that their time there was the best times of their lives. You can see on their face; they light up when they go back and start talking about those glory years.”

jchapman@jg.net