A love letter can often lead to a long-term commitment … even if it’s about a vehicle. Ryan DuVall is proof of that.
Shortly after receiving his second International Harvester Scout from his father in 2018, he penned a column about it for The Journal Gazette, “Driven by love for Scouts.”
“Changed my life,” he said of the column. “In a good way.”
The letter caught the attention of city officials, and soon he was heading the Harvester Homecoming, which returns for its fifth year Aug. 4-5 at the former International Harvester plant, 2911 Meyer Road.
“My dad gave me a Scout when I turned 16,” DuVall said. “Then he bought me another one in 2018 as part of his retirement bucket list.
10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4
10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5
Ex-International Harvester Plant
2911 Meyer Road, Fort Wayne
$5 · (260) 241-0963
“When I moved here back in 1999, no one really told me about (the Harvester plant), and I wasn’t even aware that my Scout was built here. When I found out what was out here, I really gravitated toward it. I thought it was a shame that the history was sort of ignored, for the right reasons. I mean, the company did pull out of here, basically twice. But that doesn’t erase the historical stuff that happened here and the way these facilities changed the world in a lot of ways. I thought, ‘Why can’t we celebrate that?’ It doesn’t have to be all about the company. It’s about the people that made the company what it was.”
‘This Niche is huge’
Harvester Homecoming is about the people, and those people have put their support it from the get-go.
“Some people said that I was a little crazy to try to have a truck show for a company that pulled out of town,” DuVall said of Harvester, which made its final truck in Allen County in 1983. “When 12,000 people and 600 trucks showed up the first year, and we were only hoping for 200 trucks and 2,000 people, we realized right away that there was something special going on.”
International Harvester opened its truck plant in Fort Wayne in 1923. It became known as the Heavy-Duty Truck Capital of the World as it produced 1,527,299 trucks over 60 years and employed 10,600 at its peak. The plant made the Scout, a precursor to sports utility vehicles, from 1960-1980.
It was in the ’70s that Harvester fell on tough times and a strike in late 1979 put the company in even further turmoil. With the strike resolved, finances continued to fall, and Harvester began selling off divisions. On July 15, 1983, the final truck came off the assembly line in Fort Wayne. Three years later, the company became known as Navistar following the sale of the name International Harvester to Tenneco.
Since that time, the building has remained as has the name on the large brick tower, but the hustle and bustle are long gone.
That is, until DuVall and fellow enthusiasts came along in 2019.
“A lot of people might think we’re just a bunch of old guys with old trucks in an old building, but it’s way more than that,” he said. “This niche is huge.”
No ordinary visitors
Showing how the festival has grown in such a short amount of time was when ex-Volkswagen Group of America CEO Scott Keogh flew in to check it out last year. Shortly before his visit, he had stepped down from his CEO role to head VW’s Scout brand for electric pickup trucks and SUVs. Volkswagen plans to invest $100 million in Scout as it turns its focus toward electric vehicles.
“It made us a national story,” DuVall said of Keough’s visit. “They’re coming back again this year to learn even more. It’s great to have that team of people interested in not only building a new truck but paying homage to the past.”
During his visit, Keogh learned much more about Scouts than gas mileage, top speed, or sturdiness.
“When Scott Keough, the CEO of the new Scout company, when he left here last year, he said, ‘Ryan, there’s one word I’m going to take away from this visit.’ He said, ‘Family.’ ” DuVall said.
“It’s not just families that worked here. It’s people that still have the truck their dad gave them. It’s the lady that was here whose great-great-grandfather started here in 1925 and 14 family members over three generations followed him.”
And many of those former workers become celebrities at Harvester Homecoming, such as former designer Richard Hatch.
“He essentially would create a design of a truck on paper, then they would put it in production,” DuVall said of Hatch. “He was here last year doing a sort of art demonstration, and it blew him away because there were people there with trucks that he has drawings of. So, they were having him sign their glove compartments and stuff.”
One of the bigger attractions at this year’s festival will be the very first Scout made at the plant.
Owned by Phil Coonrod, who owns a parts shop in Fort Wayne, the Scout required some attention to regain its beauty.
“He has another shop in Colorado, and he had it sitting there in a field for about 40 years,” DuVall said. “It was basically just a chassis with one piece of body left. That truck, when they built it here, they used it as a company mule, so to speak. Then one of employees bought it. Those guys weren’t thinking this will be valuable in 50 years. It was just a truck.”
Museum in the Works
Harvester might have left 40 years ago, but its imprint remains. Along with the vehicles you might see on the road, there are also the shirts and hats as well as the occasional tattoo you’ll spot. That kind of devotion has made Harvester Homecoming a success, leading organizers to set their sights on a museum.
“I’m feeling better now about our chances for the future then say a year-and-a-half ago,” DuVall said.
While they have the backing and plenty of items to showcase, the only question is what the county plans to do with the land. Late last year, the site was selected by county commissioners to house a new jail. Harvester Homecoming organizers could still use some of the space for a museum.
“Building a jail out here, if that goes through, then adding a museum and entertainment com-plex would be an amazing thing for this side of town that’s been, for all intents and purposes, somewhat dead since the truck plant closed,” DuVall said.
“It wouldn’t be just a truck museum. It would be an industry museum for the entire city. There’s plenty of room out here for everything.”
For now, the focus is on creating a stellar festival that coincides with the 100th anniversary of the International Harvester plant opening in Fort Wayne.
“What I tell people is, ‘We’re not going away, by any means,’ ” DuVall said. “We’re too big now to give up on it.”
And it all began thanks to birthday gift many years ago.
“It was a truck that I didn’t want that my dad gave me,” DuVall said. “It became the greatest thing he ever gave me. It became a part of my life that I will never forget. Everyone has a first car that they love, but that one was even more special.”
It’s a love he’s passing down.
“My daughter just turned 15, and her dad bought her a Scout,” DuVall said. “My wife didn’t know I had bought it either, so it was a surprise to her — not necessarily a good one.”