M. M. BAKER LOOKS BACK AT 80

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Mr. M.M. Baker, taken in 1951 when he was 75 years of age.
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Peorian recalls life as Salesman, District Representative,
Dealer, Branch Manager, Promoter, Financier, Manufacturer, in
Aultman, Colean, Buffalo Pitts, Autos and Caterpillars

‘EAST IS EAST AND WEST IS WEST’

HOLT OF STOCKTON AND THEIR NO. 33 POSE BESIDE THIS GEISER
‘PEERLESS’ FROM PENNSYLVANIA. THE NEW MODEL WAS UNDOUBTEDLY
ONE BUILT SPECIALLY FOR A BIG JOB, POSSIBLY LOGGING. NOTE THE WENCH
ON THE FRONT FOR LOADING, PULLING ITSELF OUT OF MUD-HOLES, ETC.
PHOTO FROM F. HAL HIGGINS

(Ed. note: We are always glad to hear from Mr. F. Hal Higgins of
90 Grand View Place, Walnut Creek, Calif. We think he is the
greatest living Agricultural Historian. Periodically he makes an
interesting contribution to the ALBUM. You will get a little idea
of his genuine interest in us by reading the following note.

‘Dear Editor: Been busier than the proverbial feline on the
metal roof on a July noon, but each time I pick up my copy of your
Publication, I promise to take a couple hours and put together
something that has turned up from the steam engine world that might
interest your readers. When Mr. Baker hauled out a picture of
himself swinging a scythe at one of the old time threshmen’s
days in Illinois, I knew your Corn Belt Boys could understand that.
Also, his place in the history of modern as well as old farm
equipment is secure. He is not only a ‘big boy’ in his home
town but a giant in any list of men who built this modern
mechanized U. S.

‘Drop in when you get out this way, editors and steam
tractor fans.’)

Noting the July-August issue in the morning mail at my old
address. please change to my mew spot out at 90 Grand View Place.
Walnut Creek, Calif. The carpenters and plumbers are making a lot
of noise below me as I write. I should have my new office ready in
two weeks. Then, I will have my ten truck loads of files, books,
catalogs, photos and notes so I can find anything I want on any
phase of the farm equipment industry from mule-train days to
diesels.

Noting you have had mostly letters from old steam fans who
worked out on the threshing outfits as they moved around the
‘rings’, I thought your readers might like to meet a
veteran from the sales, dealer and manufacturing end. I refer to
Murray M. Baker of Peoria, who was breezing past his 80th birthday
and visiting his dentist with orders to ‘fix them up for
another ten years’ when I interviewed him at his beautiful home
up on the ‘Arrived’ side of Moss Avenue when I was back in
the Corn Belt recently. Mr. Baker is the man who is today the
biggest stockholder in the Caterpillar Tractor Company and was the
big influence in bringing it to Peoria when the California firm
decided the automobile had started a road building trend that
called far their tractors to get over near the center of the
market. That was back in 1909, the same year the Holts sold the Los
Angeles Aqueduct engineers 28 Caterpillars to haul the materials
and equipment over mountains and desert to southern California on
the biggest water development of any city up to that time. Hence,
the engineering world was full of talk of the Holt
‘Caterpillar’ at this time, and Holt’s were beginning
to get orders from all over the world.

I found Mr. Baker as keen and bright as I had known him 25 years
earlier. His basement office runs clear across the house with
filing cabinets and desk neatly arranged to permit his keen mind
and nimble fingers to locate the answers in documents and
publications as fast as I asked questions. What about catalogs on
these old steam threshing engines he had handled? He came up with
the smaller ‘price lists’ for The Aultman Company for 1900,
1902, and 1904; Buffalo Pitts Company for 1904, 1905, 1906, and
1908; Colean Manufacturing Company, 1904; Reeves and Co., 1900; M.
Rumely, 1906.

Pliny Holt at the controls in January, 1905, as the first Holt
Caterpillar poses for its picture that appeared on the cover of
American Thresherman and Implement News early in that year. The
Holts had reached the conclusion that they ‘had something’
after studying and working one of their standard steam wheel jobs
with a set of ‘platform wheels’, as they called them at
first, over the ’round’ wheels. Then they designed and
built this first Holt Caterpillar. Pliny, nephew of President
‘Uncle Ben’, went over to Minneapolis and started his
Northern Holt with parts to be built at Stockton. But M. M. Baker
at Peoria coaxed him down to Peoria to see the Colean plant in 1908
and engineered the deal that brought the Holts together again and
made Peoria the eastern factory location of the California Company.
Photo from F. Hal Higgins

High, Wide and Handsome was the final step of Holts to keep
their traction engine on top of the soft peat soil of the San
Joaquin Delta farm lands. Here is a width of36 feet 8 inches with
overhead supports to keep the wheels from breaking the axles. Even
then, they sometimes got stuck, and most of the engine power went
to move the huge 15-20 ton tractors. The next step was the crawler,
an old British and U. S. idea that reached back to 1770 in the
British patent office with New York, Pennsylvania, California,
Illinois, Kansas, Ohio and other area inventors adding a little to
it from 1858 up to Lombard in Maine in 1901. Holts were the first
to put it over for the farmer as a practical machine, however.
Photo from the collection of F. Hal Higgins

The walls of the Baker basement office were covered with
reminders of a busy life that spanned achievements in rough fields
that had laid the groundwork for the modern miracle of United
States mechanism that lifted a nation to the position of Conqueror
of Hunger in an under-nourished world that has been half starved
throughout history. There were local, company and national tributes
to a man Who had done things in the business and industrial world
in the traditional free enterprise manner of keen competition and
service based on business methods to serve the public with more
efficient tools to produce food, fiber and do heavy construction
work more efficiently.

Mr. Murray M. Baker (left) receiving his honorary Doctor of Law
degree from the President of Bradley University last June. Mr.
Baker, now past 80, came up from thresherman to dealer to
manufacturer to his status as No. 1 citizen of Peoria, III. Photo
from F. Hal Higgins

‘Dinner in honor of Murray M. Baker, Forty Years with
Caterpillar’ was the tittle on one beautifully printed silk
cord tied menu-program with the honored guests portrait on the
first page. Besides mentioning his continuous service as a director
through four decades that included two world wars that saw his
factory product revolutionize land warfare via the tank in World
War I and the tractor attachment known as the bulldozer in World
War II, his unselfish work for community, state and nation was
mentioned. Only recently, the writer was told by another Peorian
the State of Indiana had a problem of buying up scattered farm
lands around a lake to make a state park. Mr. Murray Baker owned
one of these farms but refused to sell. He merely deeded the farm
to the State of Indiana without payment in order to help put the
deal through to make a neighboring state a better place in which to
live.

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