The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 11, 2019 1:00 am

Memories crop up at Harvester Homecoming

450 vehicles from across US make trip

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Troy Link grew up around International Harvesters.

Link of Homer, Michigan, said he lived down the street from a dealership as a child. He spent a lot of time there, hanging out with the workers and learning about the machines he would come to love. 

“Harvester is my favorite,” he said, rolling up his sleeve to show a tattoo of the interlocked “IH” that was the company's logo. 

His current ride – a bright yellow 1999 International Harvester 9300 he bought for $2,000 about a decade ago and spent thousands of dollars restoring – was on display Saturday at Harvester Homecoming. 

“I drive this every day,” said Link, who tows a refrigerated trailer and makes deliveries of fruit, meat and vegetables throughout the Midwest. 

The semi truck was among more than 450 vehicles on display at the Scout Park Conference Center on Meyer Road, near a building where International Harvester once built Scouts – early versions of today's SUVs.

There was an MW model built in 1913 from Pennsylvania. A 1979 Scout II from Arizona was nearby. A 1963 Scout 80 from Michigan was parked near that. 

Gary Billings sat in the driver's seat of his black 1966 Travelette. He bought the truck in 2014 and restored it. 

Now, he drives it from his home in Conifer, Colorado, to shows around the country. 

“I've been everywhere from California to Ohio and everywhere in between,” said Billings, 41.

His father once worked for an International Harvester dealer near Chicago. The vehicles are special, he said. “Not everybody has one,” Billings said. “They're not like Jeeps, they're not like Broncos.”

They're special, according to workers – the local plant once employed more than 10,000 – who helped build them. 

Jack Blauvelt was a toolmaker there from 1974 to 1981. He lives in Monroeville and attended Harvester Homecoming hoping to find former co-workers.

“It was such a big operation,” he said. “It was just such a big part of Fort Wayne for such a long time.”

Mike Myers of Urbana, Ohio, met three people he used to work with at the event. From 1965 to 1983, he said he did a little bit of everything at the plant.

Tom Muehlmeyer was a foreman on the Scout line and worked at the plant from 1963 to 1979. 

“It's cool seeing everything,” he said. “A lot of those (vehicles) out there, I helped build.”

The first-time event featured historical pieces including photos and design drawings of International Harvester vehicles. A “memory wall” allowed visitors to share thoughts, and models of trucks lined tables leading to an area where some vehicles were displayed. 

Food trucks were outside the building, and buses took visitors to a former Harvester touring track on Oxford Street.

International Harvester, which closed in 1983 in Fort Wayne, is now known as Navistar International. Tom Clark, its historian, was in Fort Wayne on Saturday and called the event amazing. 

“This company made so many important products for so many years,” he said. “Some of our products changed the world.”

Homecoming founder Ryan DuVall, a columnist for The Journal Gazette, fielded phone calls, helped coordinate events and answered questions – many, many questions – Saturday afternoon. He said about 20,000 people attended the event.

“It was a lot of work with a lot of great people who saw my vision,” he said. “I thought it should happen this way, but it's still breathtaking to see the turnout and the passion.”

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