EDWARDS — The tractor that helped spark the merger creating Caterpillar Inc. and that made the company a global player in the heavy equipment market turns 100 years old this year.
And one of its models is freshly refurbished to its original state.
This summer marks the anniversary of the first sale of the Best 60 Tracklayer, a machine designed by C.L. Best Tractor Co.
A model dating to 1919 has recently been displayed at Caterpillar's Edwards Demonstration and Learning Center to mark the occasion after renovations by Minnesota collector and restoration expert Ed Claessen.
"If it wasn't because of this machine you might not have had a merger because this is really what put Best on the map," Caterpillar corporate archivist Lee Fosburgh said in a recent interview.
The Best 60's reputation helped make the company attractive for a merger with Holt Manufacturing Co. in 1925 into Caterpillar Tractor Co.
It also helped set the direction of that company.
"This was the machine that first moved the gap for us going from agriculture to earth-moving equipment — mainly due to its reliability and quality of manufacture," Fosburgh said.
Its tread-prints are all over famous projects in the United States.
"It was also the first tractor that really kind of started on these mega projects," Fosburgh said, ticking off several, including Hoover Dam and what is today called the Hollywood sign. (At the time of its erection in 1923, it actually advertised a real estate development, Hollywoodland.)
It also became a "global product" for the company, operating on every continent except Antarctica.
It was tweaked and changed over the years, remaining on the company's product line into the 1930s. Later iterations took on new technology, too.
For instance, company leader Leo Best had been interested in diesel technology since seeing a demonstration of Rudolf Diesel's engine at the World's Fair in San Francisco, and the merger into Caterpillar allowed the company to innovate.
The first diesel model Caterpillar put out? It was referred to as the diesel 60.
"Two years after we came out with the diesel tractor, we were making over half the diesel horsepower in the world," Fosburgh says. "It was really kind of a game-changer."
Further innovations always kept something of the original, as well.
"The DNA of this machine ... its lineage really goes to our D8 tractor today," Fosburgh said of the modern-day track-type tractors produced in East Peoria.
From the tractor's tracks on down, most of the construction is "really kind of based on what Best put out there."
The reliability of the 60 also became something of a hallmark, first for Best and then for Caterpillar.
"What (Leo) Best used to say was, before this tractor, you would sell a tractor and you'd run that check to the bank before it broke down and they'd complain. This tractor was not that," Fosburgh said.
That reputation eventually evolved into Caterpillar's modern brand promise.
"A lot of people believe that brand promise came from Best, where you might be making a machine that might be a little more expensive than your competitors, but it's going to pay for itself because of the quality," he said.