For a Caterpillar collector, the best way to mark Cat’s 75th anniversary this year may just be to take in the Keith Clark auction on June 24 at Spokane, Wash.
Clark plans to offer what he modestly describes as a “fairly complete collection.”
The trademark of Clark’s collection is quality restoration. When he started collecting 15 years ago, Clark started out with John Deere.
“The people who restore Deeres aim for museum quality, what they call ‘expo quality,’” he says. “I take restoration as seriously as the Deere people do.”
Clark’s collection has been photographed and featured in several magazines and publications. The 1997 Caterpillar company calendar featured photos of tractors from Clark’s collection on six of the twelve months. And several of Clark’s tractors are prominently featured in the Caterpillar company’s 75th anniversary commemorative book being published this year.
Tractors in the sale were produced as early as 1914, and up to 1950. Though most are Cats, the listing of more than 200 tractors to be sold also includes Holt, International, Case, Deere and Cletrac. Among the highlights: A Cat 15 High Crop (“They only made a few of them,” Clark says, “possibly just 85, and of those 85, only five or six have been found.”), a PT 4 Cat 10 (the fourth of that model ever made), a Caterpillar Diesel 35 Orchard (“So far as we know, it’s the only one ever found”), and a very rare gas 50 and gas 40. And all, he says, are in perfect condition.
The auction will also give collectors a rare opportunity to see complete Caterpillar “families.”
“We have the most complete Cat orchard collection you’ll find,” he says. “It’s just lacking one or two. And we have families in the ‘10’ line: The narrow gauge, wide gauge, high crop and orchard; and in the ‘15’ line: the narrow gauge, wide gauge, high crop, little 15 and orchard. This is the only place in the world you can see a family of 15s.”
Other prizes on the block: “We have some pretty rare Cletracs,” Clark says. “A dozen are restored, and they’re great quality restorations. Probably the most rare is the A 30: It’s a very early, primitive machine with a steering wheel instead of levers.”
The sale also will include Caterpillar literature and toys, many of which are highly sought by collectors. Non-Cat items being sold: Plows, planters, cultivators, threshing machines, a 15 hp Famous single-cylinder gas-powered engine and an 8 hp Mogul.
Clark is retiring from a career in sod farming and landscaping. His memories include the Deeres he grew up with on a farm in Iowa, and the brand new Cat he bought as a newlywed. The decision to sell was strictly financial, he says.
“This is our retirement,” he says. “I just want to give every one of them a great big hug; I just love every one of them. But to retire like we want to, we need to move them.”
And in the end, he says, maintaining the collection was becoming a full-time job.
“I’m a builder, not a keeper,” he says. “The fun was in the search. And I haven’t seen anybody buried with one yet.”
He’ll keep just three favorites: A Deere, a Cletrac and a Cat.
“I figure if I have three, I can keep them maintained, start ’em up every now and then, move them around,” Clark says. “And I’m going to keep buying, restoring and selling tractors, but on a much smaller scale.” FC