An Exciting Find

Old crawler tractor

Content Tools

Old Roaring Brook Road, Mount Kisco, New York 10549

The moment I opened the doors on the old storage shed in the spring of 1991, I knew that Carl Kriegeskotte and I had come on to something special. A friend of mine, a real estate developer, had bought a gentleman's farm which he was planning to turn into lots and houses.

There was a riding stable and some outbuildings on the property, but he considered these and their contents a nuisance, because he would have to remove everything as he went ahead with his development. He told me that there was some old machinery and junk in those buildings, and knowing I was a machinery buff, said I should take a look and that I could have anything I wanted.

What Carl and I saw in that shed was an old crawler tractor covered with dirt, dust, cobwebs and bird droppings. We could read the serial number. The paint was faded and dirty, the seat was worn and torn, there was grease and grime on all the running gear, and dents and bends in the sheet metal. But we were surprised at the lack of any corrosion or major rust damage. Its appearance indicated the tractor had never been stored outside.

My hobby and Carl's is steam related, and neither of us has had any experience with antique gas tractors, beyond seeing them at the shows we attend. We had no idea how old this unit was, but guessed late '40s or early '50s. We were amazed to learn, when I checked with the Caterpillar Company about the serial number, that the tractor had been built in June or July 1936.

The age clinched our decision, and we were determined to get the tractor out of there and attempt a restoration. We would chance that there was nothing major wrong with the engine. We could see no oil leaks and the pan and block had no apparent cracks. The engine had no starter and we could not turn it over with the crank. We assumed and hoped it merely had frozen pistons.

When we first looked over the tractor, we saw it had both a large and a small fuel tank. We couldn't figure out why. We subsequently found out that the tractor could be started on gasoline from the small tank and when the intake manifold had been warmed up by diverting exhaust around it, valves could be shifted to have it run on kerosene from the large tank. In the '30s, kerosene was a cheap, common commodity on the farm. Not so gasoline.

The tractor did free wheel, and with chain falls and a four-wheel drive pickup, we were able to pull the unit out of the barn, up a hill and onto a service road where a heavy duty tilt-bed truck was able to load it and bring it to my place.

From Caterpillar I was able to get a reprinted parts catalog and some reprinted servicing and operation literature. Caterpillar never had a shop manual on this model. I also contacted the local Caterpillar distributor to see what help I might have in getting parts, paints, information etc. I was very lucky that they were able to put me in touch with 'Blackie' Butler, a retired Caterpillar repair supervisor and master mechanic who now lives in my general area. He came and looked at the tractor. The model was very familiar to him, as he had worked on many of them in his time. He said he had never seen an old one in such excellent physical condition, and agreed to help and give advice to our project. It turned out that his help was most valuable, as he knew all the tricks of the trade, which saved an endless amount of time.

Since the sheet metal was in such good condition and Blackie's inspection showed no mechanical damage, he suggested we strip the whole machine so it could be properly cleaned and painted. He also recommended that we tear down the engine as far as necessary, to put it into like-new running condition. We started on this and were continually amazed how few nuts, bolts and assemblies were rusted or frozen tight. On the whole job, we only had to burn off five or six bolts.

As we tore down the engine, we confirmed that the rings had frozen to the cylinder walls. Trying to free them by soaking with penetrating oil proved futile, so we removed the caps on the ends of the rods and after removing the cylinder ridges, drove the pistons up out of the cylinders.

Valves were ground, rings replaced, rocker assemblies bead blasted, the oil pump cleaned, the fuel pump rebuilt, many new gaskets cut (although we were able to re-use the manifold and head gaskets), filters cleaned, the water pump overhauled and everything thoroughly checked. Sheet metal parts were stripped and repainted. A sign painter redid the Cat logos, and an automotive upholsterer remade the seat parts like new. The drive train and clutches were checked, and since there seemed to be no problems there, we did nothing except drain and replace the lubricants.

Reassembly went slowly and carefully. The day finally came when the drive train, engine, fuel and cooling systems were re-united. Three starting cranks and she roared into life. What an exciting moment! The track assemblies, tracks and sheet metal went on next, and then final painting and touch up.

Restoration was completed in the spring of 1992. I've taken the tractor to three shows so far, where it seems to be admired and enjoyed. We don't have too many shows in the East that I can get to easily. My plan is to make a grand tour of a number of mid-western and western shows with my tractor the first summer after I retire, and there I would get to meet some of the good folks that I have been reading about in Gas Engine Magazine.