Roy's Cat

Old Cat Tractor

Content Tools

25277 Rancho Apple Valley, California 92308

When I worked for the Dana Construction Company during the 1960s, I was sent with a 966 Cat tracked loader to a small ranch on the east side of Apple Valley to clean out an above-ground irrigation reservoir. I was told that Roy Rogers had bought the ranch and the reservoir was overgrown with brush and weeds.

There was a small house on the property, a few outbuildings, a horse corral, and field of about five acres of alfalfa. While doing the job, I met one of Roy's nephews, Jim O'Dell, who was living in that house with his family and working as Roy's caretaker there, and Jim and I became good friends over the years since then.

When Roy bought the bigger ranch alongside the Mojave River, Jim bought the house and property over the hill and down in the canyon from where I live, and became my nearest neighbor at that time. His kids and mine were about the same age and we saw a lot of each other after that move.

About 1972 or '73, Jim came over and told me that Roy had his old Cat D-8 IH dozer (in the 'old days' we called that model a 'slide-bar 8') hauled up from his previous ranch in Chatsworth to his 'new' ranch and no one could get it to run. Jim knew I worked as an operator who could do a little mechanical work in a pinch, so asked if I would go to the ranch and see what was wrong with the Cat.

He told me that he had gotten the starting engine running, but when he put the starting engine in gear with the diesel engine and engaged the clutch, the diesel engine would not turn over. I was told the Cat had not been started in seven years, so suspected that someone had not thought to cover the exhaust stack, rain had gone down the pipe and rusted one of or more pistons to a cylinder, or cylinders, and that later proved to be the case.

We went out to the ranch one day and talked it over with Roy. He wanted to know how much it would cost him and I told him Jim and I would do the work for nothing, but he would have to pay for a set of top-end gaskets, which were about $45.00 then. I also told him the work would be spread over a long period of time, because I had to haul water to my place every weekend (with my Model 'A' truck) I worked steadily at construction work, and, in my spare time, built my own home.

The next time Jim and I went out there, with tools, took the manifolds and heads off, took the block side covers off, and decided which of the pistons was stuck by rocking the engine. Took that rod bearing cap off and started the starting engine. Engaged the two engines and slowly cranked that piston and its cylinder liner out the top of the engine. Luckily, only one was stuck.

I brought the heads and that piston assembly home. I had a pipe frame in the backyard that I hung round metal plates on, so I and friends I competed with, could practice combat shooting there. I hung the piston and cylinder on that by wiring the rod end to it, and soaked them with penetrating fluid, and every time I would walk by it for the next few days, I would give the line a good whack with a single jack hammer. It eventually fell apart.

I borrowed a hone from our company's head mechanic, Ike Cummins, and honed the liner. Took the rings off the piston and cleaned the ring grooves. Then I took the valves out of the heads, chucked each valve in a drill, smeared grinding compound on the valve faces, and lapped in the valves.

After a few more trips out to the ranch, and having to look at Roy's new hound dog pups in the barn (I think he was more interested in the dogs than he was in horses, or tractors), Jim and I had everything back together again and ready to see if it would run. I had the feeling that Ike would not mind meeting Roy, so asked him to come out and give the Cat a final valve adjustment for me before we tried to start it, and he did. It started up easily, ran great, idled down almost as slowly as a hit and miss engine, and there were no oil, fuel, or water leaks!

While we were standing around admiring our work, Roy and Ike got talking about a practice horse starting gate that was nearby, and racing in general. Roy said he was mad because he was having a hard time getting his horses on a certain track in Southern California, and was so mad about it that he was thinking of calling 'Ronnie' and complaining to him. Ronald Reagan was then Governor of California.

Most people think Roy Rogers just on a 'cowboy' horse, but he was in the business (hobby?) of raising race horses for the track. When one of his horses, Triggeroy, won a race at Hollywood Park in 1977, a lot of people complained, but not the people who had bought those 48 to 1 tickets on that horse.

The dozer blade and arms had been dismantled before the tractor was hauled up here and when we got ready to put the blade on we found one of the trunnion caps was missing and there was no cable. Ike supplied some used cable from our company and Jim either found a used trunnion cap or had one made.

When we got the blade on and everything working well, I was going to head out into the field that Roy wanted cleared and give the Cat a road test, but Roy asked if I though the Cat could push over a big, old cottonwood tree that was in the ranch yard. Cotton-woods are weak trees anyway, and that one was dead too, so I just idled up to it with the blade raised high, leaned into the tree, and it fell over. He was thrilled by that.

When I did start for the field, I found the right friction would not release. I was not planning on working on that old Cat forever, and did not plan on getting a boom truck out there to lift the friction out and free it up; so when I wanted to turn to the right, I would stop, put it in reverse, release the friction and lock the brakes on the left side, and aim it in the general direction I wanted to go, then go forward again. I later put a plug in that case, filled it with diesel, tied that friction back in the released position, and told Jim, to drain it someday.

While working the old Cat in the field, I found the right track frame was broken also, so got permission from one of our company owners to borrow their portable arc welder. Since I am not an expert heavy duty welder, I asked our best company welder, Ben, if he would come out there and do the welding and he did.

I then found that Roy expected me to come out there and do the dozing work for him. He said he would pay me union scale, but I had to tell him I had too much to do on my days off, that it does not take a genius to do simple dozing, and that I would teach Jim how to do the work.

He offered to pay me for the mechanical work I had done, but I told him I wanted nothing from him. I did tell him, since Desert Construction Company had loaned him the welder, and a couple of their best men had helped us, that if he ever had any dirt work or paving to do I would hope that he would think of letting our company do that work, but I do not know whether he just gave it to them or whether they got it with a normal bid.

I knew they would not buy the amount of anti-freeze needed to protect that Cat, so I parked it next to a water hydrant and drained it, and told 'Chop,' the ranch foreman then, to make sure anyone using it drained it each time it was used. I went to Arizona for the company for four years right after that time, and when I came back in 1978 Jim found me and said, 'Roy has been looking for you,' and I could pretty well figure out why. They had let the Cat freeze up again and Roy wanted me to get it going again!

I told Jim I did not ever want to see that Cat again, and I did not see it again until a few months ago.

I am sorry now that I did not think to take pictures of Roy together with his old Cat (Serial No. 1H8653SP) at the time I was working on it for him.

Roy died in the early morning of July 6 this year. I wrote this, and other happenings in my life, last year just to leave it for my kids, but now I think some of the 'old iron' restorers like myself, who had thrilled at seeing Roy's movies when they were kids, would be interested in reading it too.

I just recently took these pictures of Roy's Cat in the construction company yard of Jack Cooley, who now owns the old Cat, and who, ironically, was my boss for 2 5 years, and a friend for the last 42 years.