If you ever wondered what stepping into a tractor time machine would be like, take a look at the inventory for our upcoming Williamsport, Pennsylvania, USA auction on April 10, 2013. Antique tractors from the estate of well-known collector George Logue1 make up the bulk of the inventory for this auction—and they will all be sold to the highest bidders on auction day.
If you're a collector of antique machinery or someone who wants to preserve a piece of history, this auction is where you will find well-maintained vintage 1923-1972 crawler tractors (bulldozers) from Best, Holt, Caterpillar and Farmall. Each tractor from the collection captures part of the crawler tractor's evolution during the 1900s, starting with the 1923 Holt 5-ton crawler tractor (pictured below), the predecessor to the Caterpillar 5-ton crawler tractor.
The naming of the first crawler tractor—and the creation of Caterpillar
The first crawler-type tractor for agricultural purposes was invented in 1904 by Benjamin Holt of The Holt Manufacturing Company. Holt's family farm was located on the soft, muddy soils of the San Joaquin River Delta in California. To prevent a tractor from sinking into the soil, he replaced traditional wheels with 9 foot long and 2 foot wide wooden tracks driven by sprockets—the world's first crawler tracks.
When an employee remarked that the new machine moved like a caterpillar, Holt gave his crawler tractor the name we now know so well: the Caterpillar.2 This early steam engine powered crawler tractor was replaced with a gas engine powered version by 1908.3
In 1925, Holt Manufacturing Company merged with the C. L. Best Tractor Company of San Francisco and formed the Caterpillar Tractor Co. The merger provided Caterpillar with two manufacturing plants: Holt's Peoria, Illinois plant and Best's San Leandro, California plant. At first, the product line included five types of tractors: the Holt-based 2-ton, 5-ton and 10-ton crawler tractors as well as the Best-based Thirty and Sixty crawler tractors.4
Caterpillar's first crawler tractor: the Twenty
The first crawler tractor designed by the new Caterpillar team was the Caterpillar Twenty. The new design included an enclosed four-cylinder engine and a grey finish with "Twenty" emblazoned in red on both sides of the radiator. Tractors produced in Peoria bear a serial number starting with "PL" while tractors produced in San Leandro bear a serial number beginning with "L". The 1929 Caterpillar Twenty pictured below was produced in Peoria.4
The Caterpillar Thirty and the Caterpillar Sixty crawler tractors were the most popular tractors of their time. Production of both ended in 1932. All Caterpillar Thirty crawler tractors produced at the San Leandro plant have a serial number beginning with an "S". A serial number that begins with "PS", such as the serial number for this 1928 Caterpillar Thirty crawler tractor, signifies a tractor from the Peoria, Illinois plant.4
The Sixty's chassis was used for Caterpillar's first diesel engine, the D9900.5 The chassis was made stronger to support the heavier engine and the transmission was changed. When the Sixty was first manufactured by Best it was finished in black and gold. When Caterpillar took over production, its colors were changed to grey and red. Red was used as an accent and for the raised "Sixty" running vertically on both sides of the tractor's radiator. The Diesel Sixty went on the market in 1931. Only 157 of the Caterpillar Diesel Sixty crawler tractors were ever produced5—and one of them (see picture below) will be sold on April 10 in Williamsport.
From grey and red to Caterpillar yellow
By 1932, the Sixty became the Sixty-Five and Caterpillar had moved away from the grey and red finish and opted for today's widely recognized Caterpillar yellow. The 1932 Caterpillar Sixty-Five crawler tractor being sold on April 10th in Williamsport, PA was the 29th diesel tractor produced by the Caterpillar Tractor Co.6
If you would like to learn more about the history of the Caterpillar Crawler Tractor, Keith Haddock and Eric C. Orelmann's book Classic Caterpillar Crawlers is a good resource for in depth information and photos. Plan on attending the Williamsport, PA auction to view or purchase a piece of crawler tractor history that will be on display among other work-ready equipment. Or view and bid on antique collectible tractors for sale at the Williamsport, PA auction online. If you are looking for something a little newer, search our current inventory to view all tractors selling soon at upcoming auctions.