Best, Holt Steam Engines at Work in California Featured in Antique Postcards

Best Traction Engines Tilled the California Sod

| Fall 2006

  • Best-110HP-Furrow-Bos
    A Best 110 HP engine is shown on this antique postcard labeled "Farming in the West – A Seventeen furrow steam Plough at Work. (On the Road of a Thousand Wonders.)"
  • 110HP-Best-California-Bos
    What appears to be a different Best 110 HP engine works the field in a vintage postcard labeled "Steam Harvester at Work in California."
  • 1900-Holt-Bos
    What seems to be a circa 1900 Holt Junion steam traction that's specially equipped for plowing work appears in this antique postcard. It's labeled, "725 Plowing by steam, Ranch life in California."
  • 110HP-Best_Bos
    A 110 HP Best steam traction engine is shown in this vintage postcard, labeled simply, "1603 – Steam Plowing."
  • 1603_Steam_plowing-Bos
    Perhaps this antique postcard shows the same 110 HP Best steam traction engine that is in the preceding postcard, but without driver extensions. (This postcard is also labeled "1603 – Steam Plowing.") The front of the boiler identifies this as engine no. 181, making its date of manufacture about 1907.

  • Best-110HP-Furrow-Bos
  • 110HP-Best-California-Bos
  • 1900-Holt-Bos
  • 110HP-Best_Bos
  • 1603_Steam_plowing-Bos

Pierre Bos, Marseille, France, sent us an array of vintage postcards he came across in Europe. American steam traction engines were of great interest overseas, and the batch of postcards Pierre discovered focus mostly on Best steam engines (and one Holt) at work in the California fields.

Daniel Best’s Agricultural Works in San Leandro, Calif., started manufacturing engines in 1889. Various sizes were offered, from a 30 HP up to an enormous 110 HP unit. A few of these large units were equipped with 15-foot-wide wheels to keep the engines from sinking into the soft California ground. Best steam engines were used for plowing and pulling combines, and as road engines for freighting, mining and logging. Although Best engines were exported to various countries, the majority of engines remained in the California area.

In 1908, Daniel Best retired and sold Best Mfg. Co. to Ben Holt of Holt Mfg. Co. Holt operated Best Mfg. as a separate company until 1913. From 1908 to 1910, C.L. Best, Daniel’s son, operated the Best Mfg. Co. for Holt, before forming the C.L. Best Gas Traction Co. In 1925 Best and Holt merged, forming the current Caterpillar Co.



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