BLOOMSBURG, Pa. — Adorned with a red I over a black H, the signs stuck in the ground along Interstate 80 in Columbia County weren’t large or flashy.
But all it took was a simple International Harvester logo to draw approximately 10,000 people to the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds during the last weekend of June.
The 30th Red Power Round Up was held over three days, June 27-29, featuring nearly 1,000 International Harvester tractors, plus hundreds of trucks, implements and anything else that was adorned with the IH logo. It was the third time the event was held in Bloomsburg, and continues to be the farthest east the Round Up has ever ventured, according to show chairman Ben Trapani.
The event was hosted by Central PA Chapter 17 of the National International Harvester Collectors Club. Trapani is president of the chapter, and he wasn’t surprised at the turnout despite the hot temperatures and threat of thunderstorms.
“After the first couple shows that were held here, people know what the Round Up is all about,” Trapani said. “On Wednesday before the show opened, the tractors and trucks just poured in here like there was no tomorrow.”
And for an IH enthusiast, there was no end of things to do among a sea of red tractors and vintage trucks. Throughout the day on Thursday, a constant line of IH tractors maneuvered through the fairgrounds for a tractor parade. International trucks, such as the popular Scout II, lined the walkways while vendors, parts dealers and other IH clubs packed several buildings.
For anyone who has plowed a field with an IH tractor or driven a Scout, the Round Up was paradise.
“This is my first show and I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it would be big,” said Neil Fuller of Chaumont, New York. “It was really something to see a 766 like my grandfather had, and a big 1568. If they hold this show in the East again, I’ll come back.”
While next year’s Round Up will be held in South Dakota, Trapani said the Bloomsburg location offers IH enthusiasts a chance to see something that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. Several times throughout each day, buses picked up crowds of visitors for a short drive to tour the Frank Bartlow Building in Millville, a former IH dealership that is now owned by Chapter 17 and operated as a museum. The interior of the building is a prototype of an IH dealership from the 1950s, and Trapani said the tours are a big draw.
“In Pennsylvania there was an IH dealership in every town,” Trapani said. “I’ve seen guys actually tear up when they walk inside the building. It brings back so many memories.”
While tractors were the big draw of the Round Up, the International Harvester trucks attracted a lot of attention as well. Some were restored and many still sported the original paint and interiors.
While many models of IH tractors have held their value over the years, the trucks, in particular the Scout II, have soared in price.
Mike Moore, who made the trip from Virginia and has a Scout restoration business, said the value of the popular truck has tripled to as much as $40,000 over the last five years.
“People have the money to restore them, and the Scout is a cool, vintage SUV from their childhood,” Moore said. “The value has skyrocketed and so has the demand for restoration. We’ve never had trouble finding work and all we do are Scouts.”
While the International Harvester Co. went out of business nearly 35 years ago, the customer base remains strong. As the tractors and Scouts on the fairgrounds drew crowds, lines of people formed around the vendors inside the buildings searching for parts.
Trapani said the growing popularity of International Harvester tractors is a result of family tradition and quality workmanship.
“The red tractors are what you had on the farm while growing up. I think they’re the best tractors ever made,” he said. “Back in the 1980s, no one wanted to see this company go out. And it’s come full circle today and people wish they were back in business.”
In fact, it was the popularity of the IH brand that played a role in its decline decades ago, according to Trapani. By the 1950s, International Harvester dominated the tractor market with its Farmall H and M. The company took a bold step and released its 60 series tractors, including the 460 and 560, which featured a more powerful six-cylinder engine.
But the rear drivetrain wasn’t upgraded to handle the larger motor, and the tractors failed, ultimately resulting in a recall by International Harvester.
“At one time, IH had the world, but they got too big,” Trapani said. “The problems with the 60 series hurt them and people lost confidence. It was tough to recover at that time, but today that popularity is back and it’s evident at the Round Up.”
The Story Behind the IH Logo
Visit any farm auction, machinery dealer or agricultural history museum and chances are you’ll find the red and black International Harvester logo. The symbol has become synonymous with farming, but its origin dates back to French industrial designer Raymond Loewy.
In the 1930s, Loewy designed the tinwork on the Farmall A, B, H and M. Later, International Harvester asked him to come up with a new logo, and Loewy sketched the IH design on a napkin during a train ride to Chicago.
“The idea behind the IH was supposed to be a man on a tractor. The black H represents the tires, and the red I is the front of the tractor with the driver looking over the hood,” said Ben Trapani, president of the Central PA Chapter 17 of the National International Harvester Collectors Club. “It’s a logo that when many of us see today, our eyes light up.”
Loewy also designed the International Harvester dealership buildings and advertising materials for the company.