21Country: Former employees, truck enthusiasts celebrate ‘Harvester Homecoming’

Navistar collection on display during annual festival at International Harvester Engineering Center
Updated: Aug. 4, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - “It seemed like a little town, really,” Gwen Gephart described, of the former International Harvester (IH) Engineering Center on Meyer Road. Gephart’s first day on the job was in 1966. The plant would grow to become Fort Wayne’s largest employer during its peak. “All the people that I worked with over the years — they were really skilled artisans,” she added.

Production on heavy trucks and the Scout began in 1920, but by 1983 the Fort Wayne plant closed and manufacturing moved to Springfield, Ohio. But Gephart, who retired from IH in 2004, has returned to work at the factory once again — this time as a volunteer. “It was like coming home. It just felt great being here, and it still does!”

It all started in 2018, when Journal Gazette writer Ryan DuVall penned an article on his personal connection and passion for Scouts. Shortly after, he and other IH enthusiasts organized the Harvester Homecoming, a truck show celebrating the company’s craftsmanship and design — attracting people from across the country. Now Gephart, and other former employees of the IH plant work with DuVall to make the yearly event happen.

Their dedication and excitement didn’t go unnoticed. Just last year, Navistar lended its entire collection to Harvester Homecoming, which included dozens of Scouts, trucks, and even a 2021 prototype electric vehicle. “The ultimate dream is a museum. To own a building and to be able to display this on a year-round basis, not just for an annual event for a couple days of the year,” sales and vendor coordinator Shawn Norris told us. “We’ve got some very strong supporters in the community that are helping us with that goal.”

Until then, the collection is best seen Aug. 5-6 during the Harvester Homecoming festival, which is now in its fourth year. Syl Engelmann will be bringing two of his trucks to display. He was one of the last working IH employees in Fort Wayne, when the test track closed in 2015. “They’re passionate about the craftsmanship, but it’s also kind of a brand loyalty,” he described. “If you worked here, you had pride in the product.”

In the week leading up to the Harvester Homecoming, you’ll find board member David Bradfield making sure every vehicle is spotless. Unlike his fellow volunteers, he has no connection to working at the plant, but he’s owned and maintained his own truck for over three decades. “My favorite vehicle is this ‘40 International,” he said, gesturing to his red truck, “I got it in 1990 and upgraded and driven it all over the United States.”

“When people see the vehicles,” he added, “they light up! They tell me about their stories, about the Internationals, about the trucks and about the older vehicles they had growing up.”

Last year, the festival saw more than 20,000 visitors. This coming Friday and Saturday, food, vendors, and around four-hundred IH trucks, semis, and early 1900s vehicles will be in attendance. Admission is free, but donations are requested to help fund the festival and museum. “We’ve got people coming from all across the country, driving their vehicles here this weekend, trailering them in,” Norris shared. “Knowing that there’s other enthusiasts out there are as excited about what we have to offer here, as what we are. Some of them are coming from Connecticut, Washington state, Oklahoma — three’s even a family coming from Alaska.”

As for Gephart, she’s eager to connect with her former co-workers and even their family members, reminiscing about the company that earned Fort Wayne the title of the “Heavy-Duty Truck Capital of the World”. “It is really nice to see people come out again, enjoy our building, and learn the history,” she told us.

For more information, you can find the Harvester Homecoming website here, and keep up-to-date on the museum and future events here.

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