The Journal Gazette
Sunday, December 16, 2018 1:00 am

Driven by love for Scouts

Vehicle search reveals loyalty to city product

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

“I've got 10 bucks that says I can burn rubber down the street in that truck by just stomping the pedal,” my dad snapped back.

It was a summer day in 1987 and dad had heard enough from my buddy Brian, who got his driver's license a couple of months before me and who was bragging about how much cooler and better the 305-powered Camaro he just got was than my dad's rusty old 1974 Scout.

Brian put up the cash, Dad backed the truck out of the drive and slammed the pedal. That Harvester 345 engine roared down the street with a cloud of smoke trailing behind. As we stood there mouth agape at his feat, my dad walked over and collected his $10 without saying a word.

That day everything changed for me when it came to that ugly yellow Harvester machine.

And it was the beginning of a love affair with that Scout; one that was rekindled recently when I finally got another one.

My first Scout

Dad first had a 1962 Scout 80 with a little putter 4-cylinder engine and I was not interested in it. A couple of years before I turned 16, he traded it, along with a little cash, to upgrade to the 1974 Scout II. I assumed it was pretty much the same truck with a little brighter paint job, which also featured some primer and lots of filler, as many old Scouts featured given they rusted so easily.

But the day of the bet that all changed and I gladly took the keys when I got my license, and that old Scout became a huge part of my youth. Like me, it wasn't very pretty, had plenty of flaws and wasn't super reliable, but everyone loved it. It was hard not to.

That old truck had so many issues I couldn't even begin to list them all. I never had to change the oil because it leaked enough that it was constantly being changed. I spun bearings in the crank case twice and tore up a rear differential that ran dry because it, too, dripped a bit. And then there were the little hiccups you just sort of deal with as a Scout owner – the sagging doors that jammed easily and being able to start it without a key, a “feature” many Scouts still around are equipped with.

But even the major engine work we had to do – whether they were for my dad or not – are fond memories because I learned so much from him out in the garage. I am blessed today to have had that training even though I still only know a sliver of what he knows about repairing vehicles.

I drove that Scout several years before a more reliable, less gas-guzzling vehicle was necessary. It eventually went to the family farm where my uncle used it to do chores until it broke down for good. He parked it in the barnyard and, not long later, someone offered more cash than it was worth to take it.

It just proved how beloved those old Harvester trucks were – and still are.

Still cherished

When I moved to Fort Wayne in the late 1990s, I started to see many well-kept Scouts cruising around town. The odd thing was, I didn't know why. I didn't even know they were built here in the Summit City.

Most of those spiffy Scouts here weren't for sale, however, because they were owned by former workers of International Harvester, which closed in 1980, and those folks would never part with them.

Given their place in history as basically the first SUVs and the fact that they remain very popular among the classic truck and off-road crowd, I have always been disappointed and kind of puzzled as to why the city hasn't marked Harvester's imprint better. The old empty factory is about all there is here. There is no Scout museum and no significant memorial to the company here.

“At one time they employed 10,000 and when it shut down, it wiped out that town for a long time,” said former Harvester employee Phil Coonrod, who thinks the closure is still a bitter pill for Fort Wayne which is perhaps why its history has not been celebrated.

Coonrod, who splits his time between New Haven and Colorado and is the proprietor of Coonrod IH's Parts with a shop in Colorado and Fort Wayne, was a third-generation Harvester employee following his father and grandfather.

“Dad retired in '69, two weeks after I started there,” he recalled.

Coonrod took his retirement as soon as the plant closed but never stopped being a Scout man. And, like so many former Harvester workers, he holds those trucks dear to his heart.

“They're tough,” Coonrod said. “I was buying them and parting them out when I was working there and that's all I have done since for all of my life.”

Scout community

A handful of years ago my parents told me they wanted to buy me another Scout as sort of an early inheritance.

I started looking rather passively at first, but, with my son getting ready to turn 16, I ramped it up. And I found so many people who were happy to help.

The International Scout Owners of the World group on Facebook is amazing. One post there got me in touch with many people – most in this area like Chad South of Huntington – who started sending me links to Scouts for sale all over the Midwest and who clued me in to other sites that could help me along.

I also reached out to the folks at Super Scout Specialists in Springfield, Ohio, which is pretty much the No. 1 place for anything Scout. The company will host its 30th reunion weekend next year where Scout and Harvester enthusiasts gather to swap stories and compare trucks. Seems like an event that should happen here, doesn't it?

The folks at Super Scout helped me find Sally Thompson, whose longtime boyfriend, Dennis Carr, was Fort Wayne's top Scout man from his shop along Goshen Road behind Liberty Diner. She's the one who led me to Coonrod, who now owns the Goshen Road shop since Alzheimer's disease forced Carr to step aside. He now lives in Ohio with his son.

I picked Thompson up recently at her home, just a stone's throw away from the Harvester plant, to thank her for her help by giving her a ride in my new truck. As I hammered the gas pedal while going up a hill and that 345 roared, I glanced over and saw her crying.

“It has just been so long since I rode in one,” Thompson said. “I just love the sound they make and I can tell you are a Scout man just by the way you drive it.”

I could tell she was a Scout woman just by the smile on her face, those tears and the stories she told of her and Carr's Scout adventures. She would sing to him on those trips, she said with a chuckle, because they all had AM radios that didn't work. She is still singing praises for him and for those Scouts.

I found my new Scout in Brookville thanks to the Facebook group, and, before I even looked at it, was able to chat with the person who originally restored it and the person who put the rebuilt 345 in it.

As soon as I drove it, I knew it was the one. And thanks to the sellers Jolene Beneker and her husband, Greg, who had a couple of cool old International pickups among his collection and who Jolene said has never owned a truck that wasn't a Harvester, I got my second Scout. It was not a Scout II and it was not all jacked up like my first; it was a 1976 Scout Traveler, a longer, more domestic SUV with more cargo space.

I am proud I brought it home to Fort Wayne, and I have already felt the love still in this area for those Harvester trucks. I haven't driven it once in which someone hasn't come up to compliment it or ask all about it, and I get a thumbs-up or two from other motorists every time I am on the road.

“There's just something about them,” said former Harvester engineer Jerry Betley of Huntertown. “They are just kind of neat.”

Betley started working at Harvester in 1965 and remained employed until 1981. He, like me, gave up on the 1975 Scout he bought from the company because he needed a more reliable family ride. He got another one in the early 2000s, a 1978 that his son initially owned, and he drove it “until about 2014 when the body was just falling off it.”

But he still wasn't done. He found a 1975 model last year that needed a little love.

“I am anxious to get back on the road in it even though it still needs some work,” Betley said.

The ironic thing for Betley is that, as an engineer, he never actually worked on Scouts at the plant. But there was never a doubt that he would always have one.

“It was part loyalty to Harvester,” Betley said of his Scout allegiance. “There's a lot of loyalty there. Plus I liked the Scout because I knew it was a well-built truck.”

My emotional ride

I don't have any loyalty to Harvester, but I never lost the love of my old Scout, and I will always be loyal to my new one.

I didn't really have a moment the day I got it to properly thank my parents for their wonderful gift. When it comes to fathers and sons, emotional moments can sometimes be difficult. And with a difficult son like I was back in the days when I was tearing through my hometown and getting into all kinds of trouble in that yellow Scout, it is even more awkward.

But thanks, Mom and Dad. I can't tell you how happy I am to have this beauty and how much I love you both. If there was any doubt as to how I felt about the gift and about how good it felt to drive a Scout again, I just want them to know I only got about a mile or so down the road that day before I started crying. Just like Thompson, it was that sound and the memories that got to me.

And I haven't driven it once yet where I didn't have a huge smile on my face – and maybe a tear or two – as that 345 roared through the streets of Fort Wayne.

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