M. M. BAKER LOOKS BACK AT 80

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THE BASSACKWARDS ENGINE
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First of 28 Holt Caterpillar tractors sold to work on LosAngeles Aqueduct in 1908 was this steam job. Photo from the collection of F. Hal Higgins

As the visitor picked up his hat and note book to bid the
youthful Octogenartan goodbye, he causally handed him two pictures.
One showed him as a younger man swinging a scythe at the Illinois
Threshermen’s picnic some thirty years earlier. The other was a
recent portrait of M. M. Baker, director of a tractor company that
got its start on ‘hay burner’ and steam power and rose to
top rating in the world of off-road power of farm, logger, dirt
mover and warrior.

‘For three generations the men of our family had invariably
chosen the legal profession or followed a military career,’
began Mr. Baker. ‘My observations did not indicate that either
offered a very remunerative return at that time, which prompted me
to seek means for a Evilhood other than planned for me by my
elders. Farming, farm machinery, livestock and other outdoor
activities offered an overwhelming interest. Following completion
of my schooling I went to work for a local concern that sold steam
traction engines, threshing machines and farm implements, which led
to a position with the St. Louis branch of John Deere, who at that
time sold through their dealers the same line of machinery with
which I was familiar. I was later employed as District
Representative in Illinois for P. P. Mast and Co., established
manufacturers of a popular line. This contact with their dealers
and customers on sales, service and promotional work afforded me a
most valuable experience, when I needed experience very much, to
supplement ambition. ‘In 1896 I entered The Aultman Co., as an
assistant to mid-western manager, Aaron O. Auten. My duties were
varied, mostly sales, collections and secretarial services to the
manager. Through a drastic change in the policy of Aultman Co.,
each of their branches was required to incorporate as independent
organizations and continue under dealership contracts. The Chicago
branch was incorporated as The Western Supply Co., with a capital
of $30,000,00. I was elected as director and secretary.

Harry Holt, grand nephew of Benjamin Holt, says he understands
this is the first tractor built by his famous great uncle. That
would probably be about 1888, as Remington came down from Oregon
that year and made a deal with Dan Best to build the Remington for
the world outside Oregon. The big-hitch mule-train combines were
slow and dangerous and the operators were yelling for steam power.
One was used around the plant at Stockton for many years and was
familiarly known as the ‘Bass-Ackwards Engine’. From the
collection of F. Hal Higgins

‘The new organization took over the Chicago and Peria
offices and inventories of machinery and parts and made settlement
with Aultman and Co., in cash and renewable notes for the balance
and proceeded to operate independently. Shipments thereafter to the
new company were settled for under their dealership contract by
notes, redeemable either by customers’ three year paper,
without recourse, or cash, according to the terms upon which the
equipment was sold. If by notes, the settlement basis was
thirty-five per cent from list price. If in cash an additional ten
per cent was granted. This method of financing later proved to be
disastrous to the Aultman Co., though profitable to their
dealers.

‘Mr. William H. Colean, manager of the Peoria branch and
warehouse for several years, tendered his resignation to the new
company in 1898. In association with others Mr. Colean organized
The Colean Manufacturing Co., for the manufacture of a competitive
line of traction engines and threshing machines and built a factory
and office building in East Peoria. I came to Peoria in January,
1900, following Mr. Colean’s resignation, to assume management
of our Peoria, branch. My first undertaking was to acquire a term
lease and purchase option on a four story warehouse building
between the Rock Island tracks and the river. I then incorporated
‘The Illinois Warehouse Co.’

‘Our principal warehouse business was with implement and
machinery concerns whose practice was to continue to manufacture
during the out of season period and warehouse surplus stocks’
at strategic points for re-shipment to dealers during the selling
season. Peoria was the central point for a Wide territory and we
had all of the transfer business we could handle, which also
included repair stocks. By 1903 the financial plan employed by the
Aultman Co., was not working out as planned and the appointment of
a receiver followed. The Western Supply Company after their
settlement with the receiver withdrew from this territory. I
resigned my connection with them and I proceeded in 1904 to
incorporate a dealership of my own under the name of M. M. Baker
and Co., taking over all of the assets of the Western Supply Co.,
in Peoria. The receiver for Aultman Company turned over under a
very liberal agreement a large inventory of machinery parts and
equipment in Illinois, which with the cooperation of our local
banks we were able to sell that year to good advantage.

Benjamin Holt poses with his first Caterpillar, a steam job
built in his shop at Stockton in 1904, first trials early in 1905,
and offered to the trade in 1908. Paul Weston, now retired and a
prominent rancher, recalls how he took the first steam Holt
Caterpillar out to the Holt ranch west of town and operated it all
one winter through rain and mud to see what tracks could do that
wheels couldn’t before this first one was designed and built.
From the collection of F. Hal Higgins

‘When automobiles came into the picture we secured the
Maxwell and Packard agencies and established the first automobile
sales and service establishment in Peoria.

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