Antique Caterpillar Machinery Playing in the Dirt

Antique Caterpillar machinery converges at annual threshermen's reunion.

| June 2005

Engines growled as cleated grousers gripped the ground in tractor demonstrations that literally moved the earth at the 2004 Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club's (ACMOC) National Summer Show last August. Yellow, grey and black track-laying machines crawled all over the Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association's (RTEHA) Kinzers, Pa., show grounds with demonstrations of grading, bull-dozing, plowing and digging.

"We were glad to be hosted by Rough and Tumble during their annual Threshermen's Reunion," explains Bill Rudicill, ACMOC president. "We move our summer show around because it is easier to do that than move the equipment around." While it is true that Caterpillar made a number of smaller tractors from the beginning in 1925 to about 1960 (the year at which the organization draws its "vintage" line), even small crawlers can tip the scales at close to 10,000 pounds. "Weight like that is difficult, or at least expensive, to haul over great distances, so the show moves around," Bill says. "And we get to see all kinds of other machines when we are hosted by another group."

ACMOC (headquartered in Peoria, Ill., with about 3,000 members worldwide) originated in Oregon in the early 1990s with 10 committed enthusiasts. "Several of us would bring our Cats to the annual show in Brooks (Ore.)," Harry Cruchelow recalls, in explaining the club's origins. "In 1990, there were 10 of us, which was the right number to incorporate as a non-profit in Oregon."

The group's purpose is to encourage and support restoration of Caterpillar machinery, and preserve the company's history. "We also included Holt and Best machinery," Harry adds. "When they got together, that was really the beginning of Caterpillar."

Cats to work the land

Today, Caterpillar equipment is most readily associated with large, diesel-powered, heavy-duty construction equipment - machines that build dams and interstate highways. In the beginning, however, the company's founders built machines that could work the Western landscape: massive combine harvesters first pulled by 26 horses, and later by Holt or Best steam-powered traction engines.

The steam engines were heavy, and it was difficult to achieve the traction required to pull the monstrous harvesters, and other super-sized tillage tools, while maintaining enough flotation to keep the machines from bogging down in soft loam. The solution was found in replacing cleated steel wheels with tracks. Eventually steam gave way to gasoline engines, and gasoline engines later gave way to diesel engines.