Corio Quay at North Shore where the huge wood chip mountain now stands was once home to International Harvester, a manufacturer of agricultural equipment in our city from 1939 until its closure in 1982. The North Shore site that covered some 45 acres of land was chosen because of its proximity to Ford and the port of Geelong.
Soon after the factory started production World War II erupted, the company switched much of its manufacturing to the war effort making several vehicles and components used for the war. One little known fact is that the factory assembled P-40E Kittyhawk aircraft and Fairy Battlers during the war and part of it was considered an American Base, complete with airfield. The company’s supply of military vehicles continued for our military, producing several trucks and tractor based items used in Vietnam and other conflicts or peace keeping efforts.
After the war a new tractor factory was established and a major expansion was undertaken. By 1947 the factory was the biggest iron foundry in the Southern Hemisphere. By 1950, three hundred tractors were rolling off the production lines a month along with three models of truck and a range of four and six cylinder engines. The AW-6 is regarded as an Australian designed tractor that went onto becoming one of the company’s most important products and soon was upgraded to the Super AW-6. By 1954 the company started producing earth moving equipment while trucks were being assembled in Dandenong.
A Product Engineering Centre was built opposite the factory in North Shore in 1961 with testing facilities. Within the decade the centre had over 300 staff and later a proving ground near Anglesea was established.
By the mid 1960’s International Harvester had around a quarter of the Australasian tractor market and things were looking very bright for the company with some 2600 employees on the payroll in Geelong across three shifts. But in the late 1970’s and early 80’s things began to sour with the rural economy in Australia going through some pretty tough times with drought, collapse of the barley industry, and other hardships on the land. Sales around this time dropped sharply and considerably. The government at the time didn’t help by cutting tariffs and a so called tractor bounty that saw cheaper imports on the market. Soon it was too late as the manufacturer was in deep water, not only in Australia but also at home in the USA. Eventually International Harvester decided to close its North Shore operations in 1982.
The International Harvester company began in Canton Illinois as a result of a merger of four agricultural equipment manufacturers in 1902. In 1984 the company changed its name to Navistar and now produces the truck brand International. At the same time the agricultural products were sold off and merged with J.I. Case. After just over 80 years as one of the world’s best known tractor manufacturers and only 2 years after leaving Geelong, the brand International Harvester ceased to exist.
If you attend the Geelong Show or the Geelong Vintage Rally be sure to check out the International Harvester Club’s collection of cool vintage tractors and other memorabilia in the showgrounds based club rooms.