Harvester Homecoming—A Celebration of International Harvester in Fort Wayne, Indiana

The Inaugural Harvester Homecoming

In Fort Wayne, Indiana, you can't get run over except by someone who once worked at International Harvester, or had a relative that did. More than 33 years after that company ceased to exist, many of the 10,000-plus Fort Wayne residents who once worked there still talk about their years at "Harvester."

Starting in 1923, International built most of their big trucks in Fort Wayne, and later the legendary Scout from 1960 through 1980. Also there: a test track, International's Engineering and Design Center, a Truck Sales Processing Center, and a Master Parts Depot. Many vendors were located in Fort Wayne just to service International.

The Fort Wayne Truck Plant 1, which closed in 1983, was once called "The Heavy Duty Truck Capitol of the World," and 1,527,299 heavy trucks were built there in 60 years of operation. In the nearby Plant 101, 532,674 Scouts were built from December 1, 1960, to October 21, 1980, making Fort Wayne the hometown of more than 2 million International trucks.

When the International Harvester organization succumbed to a recession, a strike, and some key business errors, its major divisions were broken up and sold off. The most profitable part, the Engine and Motor Truck Divisions, became Navistar International in 1986. Before that happened, the Fort Wayne truck plant and the Scout plant had been closed, leaving a giant hole in the Fort Wayne economy. The Truck Division Technical Center remained open until 2011, and the test track was used less and less until it was finally sold in 2015.

Fort Wayne loved International for 60 years of solid community support, even though that love was sometimes tempered with annoyance at the corporate mentality. International loved Fort Wayne for its dependable workforce, even though those workers were sometimes forceful about what they wanted from the company. The business decisions International made near the end of its existence led to dark days and hurt, but nearly 40 years down the road, it would seem the Fort Wayne community has moved past the bad and embraced the good. Evidence of that came on August 10, 2019, with the inaugural Harvester Homecoming, which will be an annual event.

In December of 2018, Ryan DuVall wrote a Harvester remembrance story for Fort Wayne's The Journal Gazette that touched hearts in the city. So much so that a committee of city leaders and old Harvester hands was formed to find a way celebrate those times with an event. For the "sin" of inspiring the process, Ryan was drafted to head the group and put together the event that became Harvester Homecoming (harvesterhomecoming.com).

They cast about for a venue and several choices opened up due to the generosity of the Fort Wayne business community. The old truck plant has largely been torn down, but the Scout Plant, now owned by the Tippman family, was generously made available as a venue. Similarly, the test track was made available by the current owner, Bill Bean of Hanning & Bean in Fort Wayne, who undertook a major cleanup of the site just for the event.

The nationwide International Harvester collecting community is a very large and diverse one, encompassing not only trucks but also tractors and agricultural equipment, construction equipment, military vehicles, and even things like firearms and kitchen appliances. This national community was expected to be a part of the new event, but the core intention was to give Fort Wayne a look at its past and bring all those Harvester people back together for a reunion. Though it was organized on short notice, Harvester Homecoming succeeded beyond the highest hopes of those involved. When the smoke cleared, more than 500 vehicles had been displayed and at least 10,000 people had attended.

Community support was overwhelming, from corporate sponsors like The Journal Gazette Foundation, 3 Rivers Federal Credit Union, and the Fort Wayne Comets Ice Hockey Team, to individual donations from people all over the country once the word was out. The National Automotive and Truck Museum and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, both in nearby Auburn, Indiana, transported important vehicles from their collections to enhance the show and supplied volunteer helpers. Local car enthusiasts and clubs also supplied helpers, but old Harvester hands made up the bulk of the volunteers.

The day after the very intense event, it finally struck home how well the Fort Wayne community remembers Harvester. As a result, a second event is planned for July 31 through August 2, 2020, and it looks like the same venues are lined up. Ryan sums it up and talks about a new goal fostered by community interest: "We hope to continue having festivals yearly to raise awareness of these once great facilities and the great people who worked there. The end goal is a museum in Fort Wayne dedicated to the trucks made here and all of the companies in the area that worked with Harvester to make those trucks. But by far my number-one goal is to re-educate this community about the history, the innovation, and the importance IH had here in Fort Wayne and New Haven."

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