Three Sisters Park on the south side of Chillicothe, IL, was the site of a three-day event, Caterpillar Power From the Past, celebrating Caterpillar’s 75-year history. This event was the largest collection of antique Caterpillar machinery ever gathered in the neighborhood of what is now the Caterpillar home office of Peoria, IL. The Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club (ACMOC) joined with the River Valley Antique Association’s annual Old Fashioned Threshing Show.
The combination of the annual threshing show and lure of Caterpillar construction equipment served to bring thousands of visitors to central Illinois Aug. 25, 26 and 27 to commemorate the impact Caterpillar machinery has had on the construction industry in the United States and around the world.
The show had a variety of exhibits and demonstrations that drew admirers of both farming and construction equipment and collectibles. A major highlight of the event for those attending to see the Caterpillar tractors in motion was the Caterpillar parade. Every day, a parade featured antique Caterpillar tractors along with their predecessors Best and Holt tractors. Examples of some of the tractors that were part of the parade were scrapers, and Caterpillar tractor models such as numbers 10, 20 and 30. These small gasoline-powered models and attachments competed with the huge crawlers for attention.
Other than the parade, everyone linked to construction also enjoyed Caterpillar road building and earthmoving demonstrations. The demos provided an example of the work these machines have provided over the years.
To understand the impact of Caterpillar’s history, it is important to recognize the historical significance that this U.S. company has had on agriculture and construction. A good historical outline is found in the book, Farm Tractor Collectibles. The Caterpillar chapter of this book was written by Ed Bezanson and Ray Crilley. In this chapter, they provide a review of how Caterpillar got its start.
According to Bezanson and Crilley, the Caterpillar company began as the Holt company when Benjamin Holt and his brothers started up an agricultural implement business in Stockton, CA. About the same time that the Holt brothers were impacting agriculture and construction on the west coast, another innovative individual, Samuel Best, also was working on ways to make farming easier in the tough California delta land. The two competitors built steam engines that successfully provided engine power as Bezanson and Crilley state, “. . . in the field, forests, freighting and any other place their power could be used.”
Soon, Holt developed crawler tracks by placing moveable hardwood tracks on machines. The idea worked well, and Holt revolutionized the way machinery could work in areas that previously would sink in mire. After years of fierce competition and lawsuits, Holt and Best joined forces and formed the Caterpillar company in 1925.
While in the beginning both Holt and Best companies depended on first steam and then gasoline for power, eventually the Caterpillar Company turned to diesel power. Ted Halton, president of the ACMOC club explained how Caterpillar got involved in the diesel engine business. Halton said that it was the beginning of the depression and a critical time for Caterpillar with the stock market crash of 1929. The economy had turned not only the construction industry, but almost all commercial businesses, upside down.
Change was needed if the company would survive. That change, Halton explained, seemed to be in diesel. “They realized that it [diesel power] was cheaper to run than a gas engine. They found it would cost $1 million to develop the diesel engine. That was a lot of money, but other prospects were not good if someone else developed a diesel tractor first. If Caterpillar built it, they at least had a chance,” Halton said.
“It took a lot of courage. They are a publicly owned company, and their careers would be ruined if it didn’t work out. They built about 157 diesel tractors; first called diesel 60s then 65s. The markets got so competitive that they had to change models frequently. Caterpillar was the first company to build crawler tractors in the world, so they had good sharp people working for them,” he continued.
Many of these historic early tractors were on hand at the Caterpillar Power show. One way that history was revisited at the show was through the attendance of two of Benjamin Holt’s great grandson’s who, with their sons, helped to celebrate this momentous event.
Peter Holt, one of Benjamin Holt’s great grandsons has remained in the family business over the years and runs a Caterpillar dealer in San Antonio, TX.
“I have yellow blood. I have Caterpillar dealerships in central and south Texas and western Ohio,” Holt said.
Peter Holt’s brother, Benjamin Holt, also is involved in the machinery business as a John Deere dealer. Peter Holt said his great grandfather’s legacy, besides building the first tracks on tractors, has also received credit for another revolutionary idea. “He also has been credited for creating the tank,” Peter Holt said.
Although Holt said that the tank that came into development during World War I was not developed by his grandfather, he did say that the tank was based on his idea. In the book Farm Tractor Collectibles, Bezanson and Crilley added some information about the role of Caterpillar during the second World War. “World War II brought a new set of challenges to the company. Caterpillar, like other companies in America, manufactured a variety of products to aid the war effort. The U.S. government found many uses for the standard Caterpillar products including bulldozers, graders and generator sets. Caterpillar also was asked to develop a diesel radial engine for the M4 tank.”
In the last decade, interest in antique construction equipment has grown. Halton said the ACMOC has had an amazing growth over the last nine years since it began. “The club was founded in 1991 by Marv Fery who is a small grading contractor and Dave Smith who is an apple tree starter farmer,” Halton said.
Fery and Smith, who both come from the Woodburn, OR area, decided they would try to get a group together. Halton said the reason they decided to get the club started was for strictly useful purposes. “The club started with the idea of establishing a group who would know where to locate sources of used parts.”
When Fery and Smith started the club nine years ago, they thought they could have a good size group if they could round up 40 members, Halton explained. Now with 2,000 paid members and more than 60 new members that signed up at the show, the club has exploded with exponential growth.
This was the first ACMOC annual meeting show that has been held outside of Oregon. “This is the largest effort the club has ever made putting on a show,” Halton said.
For more information about ACMOC , write to at PO Box 2220 E. Peoria, IL 61611 or visit www.acmoc.org.