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

Best Traction Engines Tilled the California Sod

| Fall 2006

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.