|By TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. — A four-ton piece of Peoria’s history returned home Thursday when a flatbed truck trailer pulled into the parking lot of Wheels O’ Time Museum carrying its weighty cargo: a 1924 Best-30 track-type tractor manufactured by the company which would become Peoria’s Caterpillar, Inc.
The black-bodied, red-treaded behemoth had just completed a cross-country journey from a Caterpillar dealership in California and will be housed at Wheels O’ Time, 11923 N. Knoxville, until Caterpillar decides what to do with it. One scenario has the tractor, which unlike most of today’s CAT machinery was used primarily by farmers, eventually being housed in the forthcoming Caterpillar museum planned for Peoria’s Riverfront. Another possibility for the tractor would be eventual enshrinement in Caterpillar’s Heritage Museum being planned for East Peoria.
The tractor will be on display at Wheels O’ Time when they open this Spring and will remain there indefinitely, said Gary Bragg, president of the museum and a Caterpillar employee. Bragg said the addition of the tractor would compliment the museum’s other Peoria-related historical items, which include ABC washing machines, a Glide automobile, a salesman’s model of an Avery Co. cultivator, and many other items of local and regional significance.
Under the watchful eyes of Bragg, other Wheels O’ Time officials and a few curious spectators the 8,100 pound steam-powered tractor was unloaded from the flatbed truck with an industrial forklift capable of handling at least 15,000 pounds, said Bobbie Rice, the museum’s marketing manager.
Once unloaded, the tractor was towed into the museum by one of the Best 30s modern cousins, a Caterpillar D-10 tractor driven by Jack Seamon, a retired Caterpillar worker, while volunteer Tremon Ellengood guided Seamon into the building. Plywood sheets were laid in front of the procession so as to not crack the concrete and brickwork that leads from the museum’s parking lot to its entryways.
In 1925 the Holt Manufacturing Co. of Stockton, Calif. merged with the C.L. Best Gas Traction Co. to produce steam-powered tractors for agricultural use.
Both Benjamin Holt and C.L. Best had been pioneers in the steam tractor industry since its inception around 1890; together they formed Caterpillar Tractor Co. and located it in East Peoria. By 1931 the company had introduced its first 60-horsepower diesel engine, rendering the Best 30 model Wheels O’ Time received nearly obsolete. Bragg said that perhaps only a dozen of the 30s remain.
Though information on individuals who may have owned the 30 is sketchy, it was apparently kept at a Caterpillar plant in San Leandro, Calif., until its closure in the early 1990s. It was then moved to the dealership’s showroom before “coming home” to Peoria.
The crank-starting tractor helped revolutionize farming as the “horseless plow” reduced costs associated with the feed and care for horses, oxen, and other beasts of burden and increased speed and efficiency for farmers.
Wheels O’ Time, one of Peoria’s best-kept secrets, will open for the season on May 3. Phone the museum at 309-243-5616 for museum hours and further information.
This farm news was published in the April 26, 2006 issue of Farm World.