The Making of a Cat Man

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Selden Lacey, one of my dad's cousins, lived east of Sioux Falls, S.D., in the 1930s, where he and his family raised potatoes to sell in the area. Like my dad, Selden was inventive and patient, and in the 1930s, he had very little money.

One day, Selden got wind of a Caterpillar Fifteen 'in a pile' out by Scenic, S.D. The machine had burned a rod bearing and was available for purchase for $100.

Scenic is more than 300 miles from Sioux Falls, but Selden and his neighbor, Don Williams, started out to buy the Cat. They were driving an old Ford truck, probably a 1 1/2- or 2-ton rig, which had a four-speed transmission and not a real enthusiastic engine doing the work. Progress was slow because the roads back then were rough and unpaved.

In the town of Chamberlain, S.D., the rod bearings in the truck engine thought they'd gone far enough. Undaunted, Don and Selden bought a set of new bearings from the local Ford dealer, found a shady spot, pulled off the oil pan and installed the new parts. The next day, they continued on their way.

Luck was with them for they found the Cat, along with its hood, which was laying in a nearby cattle yard, somewhat bent up, and its fuel tank, sitting on top of the grain in a half-empty flax bin.

The next problem was how to load this inanimate 5,000-pound machine. In a stand of Russian thistles, they found some planks in a pile, so they pulled the Cat around to the loading area with the Ford, backed up the truck to the 'dock' and laid out the planks as best they could to make a ramp.

Next, they turned their attention to the Caterpillar. They took the spark plugs out, oiled the cylinders and put the tractor in gear. Loading was accomplished simply by cranking the tractor onto the truck bed, with Selden and Don doing the cranking. As the incline got steeper, one man cranked while the other sat in the seat on the Cat, occasionally holding the brakes while the crank operator caught his breath. That kept the unit from rolling back off the truck.

Eventually, they got the Cat loaded and home. Selden put it in the potato cellar - it was warm (38 degrees Fahrenheit ) down there. Then, during his spare time that winter, he filed the offending throw rod, using a piece of No. 9 wire bent in a 'C' shape for a micrometer. The only major expense was one new file, as time really did not count.

The following spring, Selden used the tractor for fieldwork with no problems. That fall, he began to question the grinding he had done on it, so he had a fellow from town with a real micrometer come out to check his work. The shaft was round and had less than .002-inch taper from side to side. Not too bad, right?

Selden's only regret was that he left a sickle mower, which had been mounted on the unit, at Scenic - where it probably still is. He used the Cat until 1947, farming with it and, during World War II, helping grade the runways at the Sioux Falls Regional Airport.

In 1947, he traded it in on a new D2, which his son, Dick Lacey, still has. FC

- Jim and his wife, Joan, Lacey operate Little Village Farm at 47582 240th St., Dell Rapids, SD 57022.