Making the Grade: Caterpillar Auto Patrol

Rare 1933 Caterpillar Auto Patrol featured at company's 75th anniversary display.

| February 2017

Don Bartholomew was just a boy when he became hooked on Caterpillar equipment. When he was in grade school, he watched the reconstruction of a road in front of his home. Every day, as he went to school and returned home, he saw the big equipment at work. “I was always impressed by it,” he says. “In the morning they would start those big engines, and that always stuck in my mind.”

When he was in high school, he worked part time for an International Harvester dealer. After military service, he worked for an Oliver dealer and he began collecting Allis-Chalmers tractors. But that came to a screeching halt in 1963, when he took a job at Ziegler Caterpillar in Minnesota. There, he says, collecting the wrong color of equipment “might get you in trouble.”

Scouring the country for parts

At Ziegler, Don worked as a senior buyer for the company’s General Tractor division, and it was work he enjoyed. “General Tractor was Ziegler’s used parts division, selling only parts,” he says. “It was like a heavy equipment junkyard. Ziegler had a used equipment division, and we sold parts to them. These were parts to rebuild Caterpillar tractors for resale. That had been part of William H. Ziegler’s idea for the company from the beginning.

To find inventory, Don traveled widely. “I went wherever I wanted to go to buy Caterpillar machinery to be dismantled for parts, depending on what was needed or what someone called us about,” he says. “If someone needed parts for a D9, that might be more difficult and require more travel than finding parts of a D8, say, because many more D8s had been manufactured.”

Sometimes he’d buy entire machines. For example, a contractor might tell Don about a D6 with a failed transmission. Repairs could be so costly that the owner would offer the unit to the General Tractor division. “I’d go all over the country and see old equipment and contractors’ shops,” he says. “I’d find Caterpillars that we’d dismantle and sell the parts. That’s how I got familiar with different equipment.”

Finding a rare grader

About 30 years ago, Don bought a pair of graders from collectors in northern Minnesota and hired a contractor to haul them to his hobby farm. “When the trucker was coming down toward Minneapolis, he gave me a call and said he’d asked for some assistance to get the grader on a low boy. He said, ‘There’s a guy up here who has a grader that he wants to sell, and it’s just like the other one I’m going to haul down to you. Do you want it?’”