Stockton, California: November, 1904, inventor and entrepreneur Benjamin Holt tested a new idea when he fitted a steam tractor with smaller wheels driving a track system made of chains and wooden blocks. The system got the needed modifications and in 1908, 28 gasoline-powered "crawlers" were working on the Los Angeles Aqueduct project in the Tehachapi mountains. Holt went on to produce crawler tractors for military use in WWI. In the meantime, Daniel Best was putting his energy into making "crawlers" for pulling farm equipment. Best crawlers had better traction than wheeled tractors in soft dirt and mud. After a few years of competing with each other, Holt and Best joined forces to found the Caterpillar company in 1925.
Caterpillar is best known today for earth moving equipment, but it has a long history in farming. The company expanded with various models, and during the Great Depression starting painting the tractors "highway yellow," partly to make them more visible and therefore safer when doing road work, but also to brighten things up in an otherwise gloomy time.
Caterpillar technology was used widely by the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, Caterpillar focused on construction and earth moving equipment but did not stop producing agricultural tractors.
Photo above: A diesel-powered Caterpillar tractor harrowing a field in Bridgeton, NJ, 1942. Photo by John Collier, Jr. (1913-1992)
Above: A Caterpillar is used to pull a combine in the wheat fields — Whitman County, Washington, 1941. Photo by Russel Lee (1903-1986). Click on image to Enlarge.
An early version of the crawler tractor in 1914 hauling logs in Washington near the Kachess River. Click on image to enlarge.
July, 1918. Secretary of War Newton Baker gets a demonstration of a crawler tractor hauling caissons.Click on image to enlarge.
Caterpillar and combine in wheat field on Eureka Flats, Walla Walla County, Washington, 1941. Photo by Russell Lee.Click on image to enlarge.
A wheeled tractor would not have been up to this work in 1942-43 to lay a war emergency 24-inch pipeline from Texas oil fields to refineries in the East. Click on image to enlarge.
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