The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 04, 2019 1:00 am

Harvester Homecoming

'Waited a long time' for event like this

JIM CHAPMAN | The Journal Gazette

Sam Elliot has a 1977 International Harvester Scout he's proud of.

It's an off-road Midas edition Scout. After rolling off the assembly line in Fort Wayne, it was taken to Elkhart where it was given stripes, a roll bar, special wheels and tires and a winch cable that could help retrieve drivers who were stuck in snow or mud. It also received a CB radio.

“Back then, it was our communication,” Elliot said of the radio. “Today, we have our phones.”

His Scout is one of hundreds of International Harvester vehicles that will be on display Saturday during the first Harvester Homecoming at the Scout Park Conference Center on Meyer Road – near the building where the Scout vehicles were built. 

Attendance is expected to be in the thousands, Homecoming founder Ryan DuVall said last week.

“I have gotten emails from former employees coming from as far away as Las Vegas and truck entries from Colorado, Maine and Arizona,” DuVall said. “The former workers and the folks who love International trucks have waited a long time for something like this to happen.”

The event – 36 years after the last truck rolled off the Fort Wayne assembly line – will include vintage Harvester trucks, a special gallery of rare Scouts and vehicles and other historical items from eight museums including the History Center in Fort Wayne and the National Truck and Automobile and Auburn Cord Duesenberg museums in Auburn. All of the proceeds from Harvester Homecoming will go toward helping the nonprofit raise awareness of International's history here with the long-term goal of having a museum dedicated to it. 

A conference room will be set aside for former Fort Wayne Trucks Works employees to hold a reunion of sorts, and bus tours of the former International Harvester facilities will serve as shuttles to the test track on Oxford Street where many of the show trucks will be driven.

“The tour buses will go around the track when they enter, so everyone who donates a dollar to our museum fund to go on that tour will be able to say they went around that track,” DuVall said, adding the track was built in 1929 and was almost exclusively for International drivers until now. “The track has been a real draw for the event. The International truck crowd understands the history of it and these facilities.”   

Elliot's 1977 Midas edition Scout is one of four Scouts he owns that will be on display.

His other Scouts were built in 1977, 1978 and 1979. Scouts were built in Fort Wayne from 1961 through 1980.

“A lot of my friends are Scout people,” said Elliot, who lives just outside Roanoke.

His Midas edition Scout was made and used for hunting and was in a bad wreck before he bought it in 2016.

The vehicle needed extensive repairs and the engine was running on seven of eight cylinders, Elliot said. He did all the repairs except for the exterior painting.

Elliot's father, Robert, worked for Harvester, where he was an inspector several decades. Elliot applied to work at Harvester, but instead was hired at General Electric where he assembled electric motors until he was laid off in 1970. He later became a mechanic for off-road and construction equipment, including Harvester products. 

“The reason I'm the way I am is my dad,” he said. “He was an IH man. I have to give credit to everything he taught me.”

In 1919, International Harvester announced it would build a truck plant but didn't disclose where.

The company later chose Fort Wayne over 26 other cities.

Construction on the Fort Wayne assembly plant on the city's east side began in 1922 and it was producing trucks by 1924.

At its peak in 1979, Harvester employed about 10,600 workers in Fort Wayne. The plant closed in 1983. 

Rare vehicles 

Jerry Fee of Auburn said he and his son, Kirk, will be bringing Scouts to Saturday's Homecoming.

Jerry Fee, 78, worked at Fort Wayne's assembly plant from 1963 until it closed.

He later worked eight years at Harvester's plant in Springfield, Ohio, where he lived during the week. He came home on weekends – a routine that quickly grew tiresome, he said. 

“The work was all right,” he said. “I didn't have a problem with that. I got my time in and got home.”

In Fort Wayne, Jerry Fee stocked assembly lines with parts and drove a fork lift. In Springfield, he stocked assembly lines and inspected parts that were reported not to be working.

Jerry Fee's wife, Shirley, did office work for International Harvester for 12 years in Fort Wayne.

George Mitchell will bring two vehicles to the Harvester Homecoming – a 1910 International Roadster and a 1911 Touring Car. Both have been restored and are among the rarer Harvester vehicles, he said.

Harvester is known for its trucks, he said, but “not many people knew they ever built an automobile.”

Mitchell, 76, and a friend own a private museum in Clyde, Ohio, where people can see International vehicles by invitation only.

Mitchell started as a mechanic at an International Harvester truck dealer in the 1960s.

“My goal was to own a dealership,” he said.

He bought into a Harvester dealership south of Toledo in 1987 and sold it five years ago. He managed a few Harvester dealerships in the '70s and '80s.

In the '70s, he would go to Fort Wayne's Harvester truck assembly plant to pick up trucks and take them back to dealerships to sell. 

“I'm always excited when you get a bunch of International people together with a common interest,” he said.

If you go

What: Harvester Homecoming

When: 10 a.m. to dusk, Saturday

Where: Scout Park Conference Center, 2300 Meyer Road, and former Harvester touring track on Oxford Street

Cost: Free to public with donations to Harvester Homecoming charity initiative and museum drive requested


• Hundreds of vintage International Harvester trucks including a special gallery of rare Scouts and vehicles from the National Truck and Automobile and Auburn Cord Duesenberg museums in Auburn

• Historical pieces from other museums including the History Center as well as private collections from former Harvester and Navistar employees

• Bus tours of the Harvester campus that will also serve as shuttles to the Proving Grounds ($2 donation required; accessible bus available)

• Special guests include Mike McCombs of McCombs Racing, the original driver of the Endeavor III world speed record-setting diesel truck which will also be on display (presentation at 12:30 p.m.); automotive journalist Jim Allen, co-author of the “International Scout Encyclopedia” (presentation at 3 p.m.); John Glancy of Super Scout Specialists in Enon, Ohio and the Scout & IH All-truck Nationals festival who also co-authored the encyclopedia

• Food trucks from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Bravas, Ziffles, Big Apple Pizza, Fresh Kitchen, Chow Down, The Local Vore & Whip and Chill)

Friday teasers

• The Scouts and other Harvester vehicles can be seen at cruise-ins at Liberty Diner, 2929 Goshen Road, and Hall's Commissary in New Haven.

• The Fort Wayne TinCaps will have International trucks on display inside and outside the ballpark as they host Homecoming guests and former Harvester employees for their game at 7:05 p.m. Friday

• Look for one of the Harvester Homecoming entries in the vicinity of the new Promenade Park during its grand opening events.

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