Last of the Line: Charley Wilkinson's Holt Caterpillar

A rare Holt Caterpillar 2-Ton crawler marks the end of the era.

| February 2016

  • A close-up of the Caterpillar name on Charley Wilkinson’s 1926 2-Ton Holt Caterpillar.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • Charley’s 1926 2-Ton Holt Caterpillar on display.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • Charley with another of his tracklayers, a D-2.
    Photo courtesy Joyce Wilkinson
  • Charley aboard his 1926 2-Ton Holt Caterpillar.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • The 2-Ton Holt Caterpillar after extensive restoration.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • This was among the final models produced under the Holt and Caterpillar names.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • Charley and Joyce Wilkinson with another piece from their collection: a rare 10-15 Gibson tractor.
    Photo courtesy Beth Wilkinson

Old iron comes second nature to Charley Wilkinson, Selma, Iowa. “I started with horses, because when I was young we farmed with them,” he says. “I went with my father on threshing runs, and because we lived on dirt roads, my parents drove the horse-drawn school buses we rode to school. Horses were followed by iron-wheeled tractors. I’ve always just liked the old iron. I don’t want to see any of it sent to the salvage yard.”

Which is probably why, today, he has a collection of 10 antique crawlers: five restored and five waiting in the wings. “Now that I’m retired,” Charley says with a laugh, “maybe I’ll have more time to do it.”

A preference for crawlers

Charley’s father-in-law, Ira Dobyns, had an RD-4 Caterpillar. “In 1971, he gave it to my wife,” he says. “She promptly gave it to my son, and it was sitting outside long enough that the engine got stuck, and then we got it back. I’m in the process of redoing it right now.”

Charley’s 1926 Holt Caterpillar 2-Ton is among his favorites, at least partly because it is one of the few models produced under both the Holt and Caterpillar names. As C.H. Wendel writes in Farm Tractors 1890-1980, “By 1927 the Holt and Best trade names had disappeared as a pair of powerhouse tractor manufacturers. C.L. Best Gas Traction Co., of San Leandro, California, and Holt Mfg. Co., of Stockton, California, had run onto hard times, gave up their competitive ways, and on March 2, 1925, united to form Caterpillar Tractor Co.”

Charley first saw the 2-Ton at a 2005 auction. “I just got the bug,” he says, “and I bought it.” His wife, Joyce, didn’t see it coming. “I was really surprised when he bought it. I expected him to bring something home for our farming operation,” she says with a laugh.

Restored from the ground up

The 1926 2-Ton was not in very good condition. “It was kind of a basket case when I got it,” Charley says. “But I wanted it because it’s a forerunner of today’s Caterpillar.”


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