Caterpillar anniversary event planned

Jeanette Kendall

A planned Sunday afternoon in the park is reminiscent of the Georges Seurat painting, depicting families picnicking in a park next to a body of water. The event at RiverFront Park will mimic this as well, but antique tractors will be sprinkled across the landscape.

“Industry to Ingenuity, a 100 Years of Holt Caterpillar in East Peoria” is planned from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the city park behind Wal-Mart.

East Peoria Mayor Dave Mingus said the city is coordinating the event with Caterpillar Inc., the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce, Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club and Simantel Group.

Featured at the park that day will be about 15 antique Caterpillar machines from 1912 to the 1950s.

Tricia Potts, executive director of ACMOC, said the club formed in 1991 and is the only non-profit licensee of Caterpillar. It was founded by two men in Oregon, Dave Smith and Marv Fery.

Potts said city officials contacted ACMOC about participating in the event.

“The highlight will be a 1912 Holt 60. It is one of the first machines produced in East Peoria. This particular machine that will be there is the only one known to exist,” Potts said.

The 1912 machine is owned by club member Bill Peterson of Lowell, Ind.

In addition, Potts said they will have tractors coming from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The founders of ACMOC were interested in finding ways to restore older Caterpillar machines and wanted to find like-minded companions. Now they have more than 3,600 members in 78 different countries.

“Cat is very much the same way. Cat is global and so is the interest,” Potts said.

Mark Hanback, general manager of the East Peoria facility for the Americas Operation Division, provided some of the history of Holt Caterpillar Co.

Hanback said Peorian Byron Dehan was commissioned in the 50s to research the start of the company.

Through his research, Dehan learned that Murray Baker, an agricultural equipment dealer in Peoria, was instrumental in bring Holt to Central Illinois.

“The Colean Manufacturing Co. was here and it was bankrupt,” Hanback said. “Murray Baker brought a guy by the name of Pliny Holt here. They toured the Colean Manufacturing Facility and liked all the equipment there. Since that company was bankrupt, it was available. That coupled with the fact it was on the Illinois River and there was a railroad, it was a hub. And with the labor force it made it a pretty good fit,” Hanback said.

Although Holt Caterpillar Co. was officially founded Feb. 16, 1910, Oct. 25, 1909, marks the date that an application to the court signed by circuit judge L.D. Peterbaugh allowed the process to move forward.

“We’re very excited about the whole event. I sit on the board of directors of the chamber of commerce and the mayor is on that as well. It’s a good collaboration between the city and Caterpillar for this. It really kicks off the whole process. Well be having some things at Caterpillar through 2010,” Hanback said.

Looking to the next 100 years, Hanback said, “Our intent is we want to be competitive with this manufacturing base for the next 100 years. It’s been a great relationship. Caterpillar has been able to blossom as a company because we have been competitive from this manufacturing base. From this location in East Peoria, we sent our tractors all over the world. We’ve been competitive world wide, which says a lot about this area.”

Mingus said the free Sunday event will give citizens the opportunity to have a picnic or some refreshments and view the antique machinery. There will also be an East Peoria fire truck available for viewing. Vendors Cracked Pepper and Eysal’s Coffee Roasters will be on hand. A portion of the East Peoria Community High School band will perform as well as Peoria attorney, Joe Bembenek, who will play guitar.

“Someone who worked there in the 40s and 50s can come by and see something they built,” Rick Swan, executive director of the chamber of commerce, said. “We’re going to stage these throughout the park,” Swan said.

“It’s going to be really neat and picturesque,” Mingus added.

Mingus said the event was purposely kept simple with a focus on recognition.

“Recognition is what’s important to Caterpillar and all those employees who have contributed so greatly to our community,” Mingus said.

The relationship between Caterpillar and the City of East Peoria continues today with the Downtown 2010 project. Caterpillar Inc. donated 7 acres on its former downtown site for a planned Heritage Museum. Caterpillar Inc. deeded the rest of the 70 plus acres to the city for development of a new downtown.

“We’ve had a good relationship throughout the years ... They’ve been good to our community. Many of our citizens have had good lives working there,” Mingus said.

Potts echoed Mingus’ comments.

“I think it’s a great way for the city to say thank you to a company that has really made a difference in their community. Caterpillar has employed a lot of people in this region ... The club is honored for being asked to participate in this event,” Potts said.

Those interested in the Caterpillar machinery range from retirees to youth, and even women.

“It’s a really wide range of folks and we do have female members. For a lot of people, it’s a very family oriented hobby. Individuals own the machines. There are guys with barns full of them. There are guys who still operate them in their businesses or on their farms,” Potts said.

ACMOC makes scale models of antique tractors to sell as its main revenue producer.

“It allows us to do other things. We go to shows all over the country where the guys get together with machinery and do some work products or just play in the dirt,” Potts said.

For more information about ACMOC, visit www.acmoc.org.