Caterpillar Thirty in Paradise

Historic Caterpillar Thirty crawler tractor restored by Maui man

| July 2011

In 2000, when Hank Tavares first saw an abandoned 1925 Caterpillar Thirty crawler sitting in a weed-covered sugar cane field on Maui in the Hawaiian Islands, he was about the only person who could actually imagine its potential as a restored collectible. His wife, Renee, was solidly in the other camp. “She thought I was totally insane to want to buy it,” he recalls. 

When Hank approached the farmer who owned the land about buying the ancient machine, the farmer told him he could have it for free if he’d just haul it away. The farmer’s grandfather had purchased the crawler years earlier to use as a parts donor.

Thus began Hank’s unique venture into the land of antique crawler tractors. Although he’d been a diesel mechanic for 30 years and worked on large equipment for Hawthorne Pacific Corp., a Maui Caterpillar dealer, the restoration of the Caterpillar Thirty would be his most monumental project yet.

For the next four years, Hank poured every spare minute he had into the Caterpillar Thirty, working from his garage, carport and under a backyard tarp at his home in Makawao. The project started innocently enough. “I wanted people to drive by, admire it and stop in and talk about it,” he says.

Mechanical from the start

Hank grew up in Honolulu. As a youth, he and three brothers (two of whom now also work as mechanics) were regulars at local junkyards, where they gathered mechanical treasures that they’d haul home, take apart and rebuild.

Following graduation from high school, Hank enrolled in a mechanical apprenticeship program offered through the county. A few months later, while working on a Cummings engine with a county mechanic, he contacted a local Cummings dealership, looking for a service manual for the engine. The manager was so impressed by Hank’s knowledge of engines that he offered him a job.