A passion shared by a nationwide classic car collector niche is about to launch a fundraising effort to honor a workhorse vehicle made in Fort Wayne about 40 years ago, as well as the workers who built it.
The upcoming Harvester Homecoming Festival had its origins in a Journal Gazette news story celebrating the nation’s first sport utility vehicle, the Scout, made mostly in Fort Wayne during the 1960s and 1970s by International Harvester.
Ryan DuVall, a restaurant critic at the newspaper, had inherited from his father a love for the two-door, four-wheel-drive SUV that was designed to compete with the Jeep. After moving to Fort Wayne, he was puzzled by the lack of a Scout museum, despite a strong fan base in the city for the vehicle, he said.
“That story got folks talking and the idea popped into my head to have a truck show to raise money for perhaps the History Center or another good cause,” DuVall said in an email.
“Well, fast-forward nine months later and we have a full-fledged charity with IRS tax-deductible status; we have received major contributions from 3Rivers Federal Credit Union, Chuck and Lisa Surack and from the Journal Gazette Foundation,” he said.
The contributions “not only secure future festivals, but will get us going on the hopes of having a museum here dedicated to International Harvester, all of the businesses it worked with and pretty much the auto and truck industry in Fort Wayne as a whole.”
International Harvester built 532,674 Scouts during the 20-year life of the product, which ended Oct. 21, 1980, when the company shut down the plant that made them. The company changed its name to Navistar International Corp. in 1984.
The company had chosen Fort Wayne over Springfield, Ohio, for the Scout production location, and assembled all of the Scouts in the Summit City, with the exception of 10,000 that it made in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, in 1962.
The Scout is more of a niche vehicle than collectibles such as Corvettes or Mustangs or even Jeeps, DuVall said.
Given Harvester’s brand strength with agricultural equipment collectors, the Scout has had a place in their hearts since it came off the production line, he said.
“Then you add in the 4x4 enthusiasts and its reputation as the best off-road truck of its kind back then, and a whole other niche is there,” DuVall said.
“The look is what separates it I think. The smooth rounded body of the Scout II and its exotic, eye-catching paint schemes from the 1970s are really trending now with people,” he said.
“I also think there is something cool about having a truck that was once thought of as far ahead of its time, rugged and the supreme of its class that is now extinct. The rarity just adds to the allure.”
Enthusiasm for the classic SUV is sufficient to sustain an annual IH Scout and All-Truck Nationals in Troy, Ohio, and the 30th iteration of the event will take place the week after the Harvester Homecoming Festival.
John Glancy organizes and promotes that event. The owner of the nation’s top Scout parts supplier, Super Scout Specialists will attend Harvester Homecoming. Jim Allen, an auto industry journalist who wrote “The Encyclopedia of Scout” with Glancy, also will attend the local event.
Harvester Homecoming will run Aug. 8-11 at the old Scout factory and Scout Conference Center at the intersection of Meyer Road and New Haven Avenue in Fort Wayne, starting with early registration for truck owners and test track access for some entries to help alleviate traffic on the truck show day, Aug. 10.
A cruise-in has been scheduled for the evening of Aug. 9 at Liberty Diner at the intersection of Coliseum Boulevard and Goshen Road in Fort Wayne. There also will be cruise-in opportunities that night at Don Hall’s Commissary in New Haven and at the Ramada Plaza on Coldwater Road in Fort Wayne, which is sponsoring the event.
The festival is for truck owners only Aug. 8, 9 and 11, with Aug. 10 scheduled as a public event where the truck show and proving grounds will be open to everyone without charge, but with donations encouraged to support future festivals.
There will be a cake and coffee reception area in the conference center on the day of the show to provide an opportunity for former Harvester employees to visit with each other.
The event suggests donations of $30 for truck entries and $20 to drive them around the proving ground test track. More festival details are available at https://harvesterhomecoming.com/festival.
DuVall has been blown away by the support the festival has received from Scout and International Harvester vehicle enthusiasts and by former employees of the company, he said.
For collectors, “coming to the place where their trucks were born, the one-time ‘Heavy-Duty Truck Capital of the World’ is something these people have never gotten to do before,” DuVall said.
“The big-rig drivers have really been great and I can’t wait to see those big, beautiful trucks lined up there. Though the Scouts are sexier, the big trucks were the foundation of those facilities and them coming back is just as important. I think all parts of the truck collecting community understand the history and are eager to get a look at it close up for the first time,” he said.
“But, I am really struggling with the response from the workers — struggling because I am not used to this kind of love and admiration. They are so excited and so emotional about the whole idea of being honored in Fort Wayne. And, sadly, we won’t have as many of those folks with us for Year 2.”
More than 200 have registered for the truck show, and DuVall said the festival could attract greater vehicle owner participation with the large number of Scouts and classic IH semis in the area. He said he expects to see former employees coming to it from as far away as California, Colorado and Delaware.
DuVall projects the event’s former IH employee count will be in the thousands this year and more than that at future festivals if the show is well received.
“I also think raising the image of the history here is only another boost to Fort Wayne allure as a city. History like that is appreciated,” he said.
“I also hope by putting so many eyes on the Harvester Neighborhood that perhaps someone will see the area, like it and maybe bring their business or operation out there. Putting eyes on it can only help.”
The Fort Wayne manufacturing complex that made the Scout and other IH trucks employed up to 10,600 and its closure hurt the region’s economy, even though it continued to employ more than 1,000 at a local technology center for decades.
The engineering center generated so many patents each year that its closure less than 10 years ago caused Fort Wayne to lose a little of its luster at the time as a location for high-tech business.
“It was a sad day just as it was sad when the truck plants closed, but many of the people who stayed here remain loyal to the Harvester brand if not the Navistar name,” DuVall said.
“I hear a lot of the veterans talk about being ‘Harvesters’ but few use the name Navistar when they talk about their experiences, so I think the decision to leave here is still a sore point,” he said.
“But, I will also tell you this — we are looking into doing a tour of that facility in the future and a lot of the former employees would love to walk through it one last time. There are also several people still commuting or living part-time here and part-time in Chicago who still work for Navistar that are excited.”
Navistar’s corporate office has donated “Milestone” IH history books to the festival’s silent auction, and the company is creating a historical pamphlet for distribution on show day, which everyone involved in the event appreciates, DuVall said.