Caterpillar’s remarkable Australian roots

Australia provided Caterpillar's pre-yellow proving ground

On Farm
HISTORY: Holt Manufacturing Company was one of two predecessor companies that become modern day Caterpillar.

HISTORY: Holt Manufacturing Company was one of two predecessor companies that become modern day Caterpillar.

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Caterpillar machines were working in Australia even before the company even began painting the iconic equipment yellow.

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DID you know Caterpillar machines have been working in Australia since before the company even began painting the iconic equipment yellow?

It’s true! In 1913, Holt Manufacturing Company representative JM Pawley and his team landed in Sydney on a quest to prove the value of Holt track-type tractors.

The Holt Manufacturing Company was one of two predecessor companies that become modern day Caterpillar. The journey was long, and the men shared the voyage with some revolutionary new technology: two Holt Caterpillar 60 track-type tractors and one Holt combined harvester.

Although it was not Pawley’s first time in Australia, it was the first appearance of a Caterpillar product in the country. After a hunt for a suitable demonstration field, Pawley took the machines by rail to Young Station. They then traveled overland to the property of Young and Ralli, about 25km away. Three days before Christmas, history was made with the first demonstration of Caterpillar machinery in Australia.

A Holt track-type tractor in action in Australia.

A Holt track-type tractor in action in Australia.

Pawley overcame many challenges before the machines were even demonstrated. First, his team had to assemble the machines from parts - down to the last bolt and screw – for the inspection of the customs officers at the port of entry.

Next, the machines had to be partially dismantled for shipment by rail, as they were too large for the cars and too high for some of the nine-foot tunnels on the journey. Off came the canopy and exhaust pipe from the tractor, as well as the wheels from the harvester. The machines were stripped down until the shipment was ready to pass through the smallest tunnel in the Australian hills.

The Young and Ralli property sat on 9700 hectares of land and was equipped with the most modern machinery of the day. Ploughing and hauling were no longer done by horses, but were instead performed by a tractor. Harvesting was done by an immense electric-drive combined harvester, built to their specifications, that was the largest of its kind in that part of the world.

When the Holt machines arrived harvesting season was well-underway, and three-quarters of the grain had already been cut. But there was plenty left to give them a trial. Some of the land was level, and there the grain averaged thirty bushels to the acre. In other parts the land was rolling and the grain lighter, but it gave the Caterpillar and harvester a better opportunity to show their all-around ability under different conditions.

A large number of people witnessed the demonstration. Many were farmers and landowners, but some were public officials, and everyone was interested in purchasing the Holt products if they proved successful at providing a cheaper and better method of performing agricultural work.

The demonstration certainly did not disappoint, with both the Caterpillar tractor and the harvester impressing the Australian ranchers. One of the first trials was pulling the harvester on heavy red soil, which was very sticky from a 50mm rainfall. Another non-track-type tractor had been laid up to await dry weather, but the Caterpillar easily got to work. Before long, the clay-like soil had stuck to the harvester wheels and locked them tight, but the Caterpillar continued pulling the machine, even with harvester’s wheels frozen in place.

The trial was a complete success, and the demonstration machines were purchased soon after by spectators from the Stokes and Thomson property, who used them for harvesting and plowing thousands of acres of land. Two more Caterpillars were sold within a short time to a 800ha property near Wellington.

By early 1914 cable orders for six more Caterpillars were received at the Holt factory. The Caterpillar had proven itself on the Australian continent.

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