Tracked Equipment Rolls Over Baraboo

2008 Badger Steam & Gas Engine Club show featured endless tracks

| December 2008

The parade of tractors at last summer’s Badger Steam & Gas Engine Club show had a decidedly unique tone. “It sounds,” said onlooker Wade Opperman, Baraboo, Wis., “like a division of Panzers.”

The parade’s throaty rumble emanated from the show’s feature: endless tracks. And endless it seemed, with more than 75 pieces of tracked equipment on display. The feature was marked by all the variety of a good potluck supper: Displays ranged from very big to very small, very old to comparatively young, familiar brands to the nearly unknown, immaculately restored to working clothes.

Cat collector
Bob Stewart, Walworth, Wis., showed off part of a very serious Caterpillar collection. Like many, his collection began innocently enough. “I really didn’t know what I was buying,” he says. “But then I met my demise: I bought a book. And that was the beginning of the end.” He’s since pared his collection of Cat, Holt and Best classics from 100 to about 60 and is full of new-found resolve. “I’m not buying any more common tractors,” he says. “I’m only looking at rare tractors now.” Some of those were on display at the Badger show.

“There were six tractors Cat built fewer than 100 of,” he notes. “I have four of them and two of those are here: a 5E Series R2 (just 83 were built, and Bob’s is No. 70), and a 1932 high-clearance Fifteen. It’s No. 4 of 95 built.”
Bob bought the Fifteen from the Charlie Gaus estate in central Illinois. “It was partly disassembled,” he says. “They thought it was just a parts tractor.” An immaculate restoration includes a nod to Bob’s friend: A decal on the back end reads “In Memory of Charlie Gaus.”

Another Fifteen, a 1932 “big” Fifteen wide-gauge, is also a sentimental favorite of Bob’s. “It once belonged to Dave Smith, Woodburn, Ore., one of the founders of the Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club,” he says. “It’s pretty special.” The tractor is original, and Bob plans to leave it that way – including words scrawled on the fender (and now protected by a sheet of Plexiglas) by Dave when he sold the piece: “Take good care of my rusty friend.”

Bob’s display was a mix of bright primary colors and the patina of age. A 1932 Caterpillar Fifteen 7C Series (known as the “small” Fifteen) with a high-clearance conversion was already a showstopper. Then Bob painted it bright orange. “It’s an after-market conversion,” he says. “I put orange paint on it so nobody thinks I’m trying to pass it off as anything else.” One of 307 Cat Fifteens built, this is the only one Bob’s seen with the conversion.