Jerry Betley became teary-eyed as he stared at vintage International Harvester vehicles that officials hope will someday be part of a museum.
“It's pretty emotional when you see these trucks when you've worked here as long as I have,” said Betley, who spent nearly 40 years as an engineer at International Harvester and Navistar International.
Harvester Homecoming Inc. officials announced Friday that Navistar International has lent the nonprofit group a collection of vehicles and given it $10,000. The announcement was made at the former Navistar engineering complex at 2911 Meyer Road, where Harvester Homecoming officials want the museum to be. It's also the site of next week's Harvester Homecoming festival Aug. 6-7.
Betley, Harvester Homecoming co-founder and board vice president, said Navistar's contributions will help ease a lot of pain he and many former Harvester employees have felt over the years.
“We are going to be the caretakers of these trucks,” Betley said. “We have a lot of space here.”
International Harvester, now known as Navistar International, built the Fort Wayne truck assembly plant near what is now Coliseum Boulevard South and Pontiac Street in the early 1920s. At its peak in 1979, International Harvester employed about 10,500 in Fort Wayne before closing the local truck assembly plant in 1983. Navistar's engineering and vehicle testing operations remained at the Meyer Road facility until 2012.
Betley said the Navistar collection being lent to Harvester Homecoming includes about 24 trucks. They include a 1979 Scout II Rallye that was assigned to the engineering center until it became part of Navistar's collection. Several employees have wanted to buy it. Scouts were built in Fort Wayne from 1961 through 1980.
A 1937 D2 pickup truck and 1949 Model KB truck that helped satisfy the demand for sturdy commercial trucks are also part of the collection.
Ryan DuVall, Harvester Homecoming CEO and festival director, said he and others will begin talking about a long-term museum plan after next week's festival. DuVall is also a Journal Gazette employee.
The hope, DuVall said, is to make Navistar's contribution the centerpiece of the Fort Wayne Truck Works and Area Industry Museum.
“Navistar is proud to support Harvester Homecoming and the history it represents,” Tony Sutton, Navistar senior vice president of global development, said in a statement. “The importance of our history on display for many to see provides a source of pride in our past and hope for future success in Navistar's endeavors.”
DuVall said he's thankful for the support of the International truck community and Bill Bean of NAI Hanning & Bean, who bought the engineering complex on Meyer Road from Navistar in 2012. Designed by Albert Kahn Associates of Detroit, the engineering complex was initially shaped like the IH logo.
Much of the testing equipment Navistar used remains in some form in the building, DuVall said.
The first Harvester Homecoming festival in 2019 featured more than 600 trucks and drew more than 10,000 people. Last year, during the pandemic, more than 8,000 attended the festival that had about 450 trucks.
If you go
What: 3rd annual Harvester Homecoming festival
When: Aug. 6 (opens at 10 a.m.) and Aug. 7 (opens at 9 a.m.)
Where: Former Navistar engineering complex, 2911 Meyer Road