Colean Engine


F. Hal Higgins

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'Peoria, because of its location and its railroad and river facilities became one of the most important manufacturing and distributing centers of farm machinery in the country. Avery Company had built up a tremendous business in the manufacture of engines and threshing machines. The Kingman Plow Co., the Acme Harvester Co., the Herschel Manufacturing Co., the Ide Bicycle Works, the Bartholemew Co., the Banker Buggy Co., Hart Grain Weigher Co., were all located here and busy at the turn of the century. There was a number of very substantial jobbers and many branch houses, representing the best lines of farm machinery, located here and every available office and showroom space along Water Street from one end to the other, was occupied by the manufacturers of steam traction engines, threshing machines and similar equipment.

'With the exception of Herschel, all of these concerns are now out of existence. Among the first to fold was The Colean Co. In 1908 their financial difficulties became known to those in close touch with their operations and because of my former association with Mr. Colean, I was interested in what then seemed to be a forerunner of their collapse. In a relatively short time a Creditors Committee was appointed, of which Mr. Walter Barker, President of The Commercial German Bank, was selected as Chairman.

Here is one of the lines with which M. M. Baker was connected when both William Colean and M. M. Baker were in the Autlman Co., Colean being manager of the Peoria branch while Baker was assistant at the Chicago office. With the failure of Colean, Mr. Baker engineered the deal that brought Holt to Peoria instead of Minneapolis or Waterloo by offering them the fine Colean plant into which they moved in 1909. It was the big turning point in the Baker career that led to fame and fortune as road building and World War I lefted the crawler tractor to great heights under his management. From the collection of F. Hal Higgins

Mr. Barker had been helpful to me in the past both in my warehouse and farm machinery business, and it was through him that I commenced negotiations for tine purchase of the Colean plant in case it was to be sold. The final purchase was completed the following year through the payment of the principal and accrued interest on the mortgage bonds then outstanding.

'My first contact with The Holt Manufacturing Company was in March, 1909, when I had written to them concerning a dealership contract for their combined harvesters in our Illinois territory. I was informed that because of our climatic conditions the harvesting of grain in this fashion could not be recommended.

'After the failure of The Aultman Co., and the completion of my business relations with them, I entered into a dealership contract with Buffalo Pitts Company covering their full line of steam traction engines, threshers, road machinery and allied equipment. Buffalo Pits Co., had interests on the West Coast. In conversation with Mr. John Olmsted, Secretary of the company, he told me that he was soon leaving for San Francisco on business. He had known the Colean Company as a competitor whose product was almost a copy of their line and also that I was at that time negotiating for the purchase of their defunct plant.

'The establishment of an eastern plant was of necessity one of the new Holt organization's first considerations and when Mr. Olmsted informed Parker Holt of the possible availability of the Colean plant he passed the information on to Pliny Holt. Mr. Holt then was interested in a proposal of the Chamber of Commerce of Stillwater, Minn., concerning a plant there. Mr. Holt arrived in Peoria Sunday noon, July 25, 1909. He and I went over the Colean plant and he appeared favorably impressed. With the cooperation of a group of local business friends, I formed a committee and we proceeded to bring the matter to an early conclusion.

'In the meantime my own business was running smoothly and with a dependable organization, I found it possible to spend considerable time in the completion of the necessary details in connection with the purchase of the Colean plant and the formation of an operating organization. We proceeded to incorporate a new company. After much discussion as to a name and the urge that I become an active partner, it was finally agreed to be Holt Caterpillar Tractor Co., entirely separate and independent of the Holt Mfg. Co., of California. The sample Caterpillar assembled in Minneapolis and was shipped to Peoria where it created much interest among the old fashioned steam traction advocates. Pliny Holt shipped his personal effects to Peoria. J. B. Hatten, a very able shop man, together with Emil Norelius, both young engineers, followed and were given office and shop facilities at my place pending occupancy of the farmer Colean plant.

'Pliny Holt was to supply one-half the capital and I was to supply the balance. It, however, developed that Holts money was not forthcoming. Parker Holt, manager of the California Holt Company, then decided to come to Peoria, to look the proposition over and insisted the Peoria organization be made an Eastern branch of the California Co. Benjamin Holt, president of his company, then came out and the matter was settled accordingly. I was not interested in the Holts family affairs and made up my mind to attend to my own business. However, I did spend much time with the new company in East Peoria and supplied materials and cash for current needs during the formation period.

Mr. Robert L. John of North Terre Haute, Ind., says that to the best of his remembrance this is a 23 hp. Kitten engine pulling a 36-60 Kitten Thresher. Bob says this is the easiest running separator he has ever seen. It is also a very good picture of the full rig

'The directors of the parent organization became increasingly insistent that I take over the management of the new company. I therefore proceeded to liquidate my other business affairs and became Executive Vice President of the Peoria project. I was to have the privilege of purchasing sufficient common stock of the Holt Mfg. Co., to equal the interest of others except Benjamin Holt, and entered into an employment contract and purchase agreement for common stock accordingly. There was no bonus stock, cash bonus or other consideration even contemplated in the procurement of the Colean plant and equipment by me, as some had assumed. The common stock I purchased at that time still hold, which, I feel, is an expression of my everlasting faith in the company and its products.'