New Ashford, Massachusetts 01237
Every time a group of old Cat skinners get together, the color of old Caterpillar tractors becomes a topic of serious discussion. I have also received several letters inquiring about the color of early Holt and Best tractors. Contrary to the belief of the young fellows, Caterpillars were not always painted what is now known as 'Caterpillar Yellow.' In my short sketch of Caterpillar history I stated Caterpillar went to the now-famous yellow in 1933. Caterpillar of Peoria reviewed this and stated it was about this time although there was some plus or minus variation of this date, also from my own experience and memory, this is about right.
First, all the old Holt Caterpillars were painted grey. I would like to back track here and bring in the fact that Holt registered Caterpillar as their trade name in 1910. No other tractor manufacturer can use this name. Through common usage it is applied to all crawler-type tractors but never as part of the official name. Greys were used by numerous early tractor manufacturers and Holt called their grey 'Battleship Grey.' Everyone has their own idea of Battleship Grey and my idea is a medium grey with more blue than black being used in the original mix to obtain this color. They also had the wavy track of a Caterpillar in a dark red band about an inch and a half wide on the hood side panels extending the full length of the panel and Holt or Caterpillar in cast-raised letters on radiator. This varied. Some had Holt on each side panel of the radiator and Holt on the front of the radiator; some had Holt on the sides and a wavy Caterpillar on the front. Some had only one or other on the front and lettered model number on side panels. These letters were always painted a dark red.
Now here is how yellow came in one might say through the back door again from experience. In the 1920s new parts that required painting came through with a prime coat of medium yellow or light grey. Also one could see some grey tractors were primed with yellow and some with grey. Numerous towns, counties and states bought tractors for use on snowplows and requested they come through with a prime coat only and they applied their official color. I have seen them with several different colors on the working model, apparently some liked the original yellow prime and applied a finished yellow.
I have seen yellow Caterpillars as early as 1928. The state of Massachusetts paints all their equipment orange so orange was common here as early as 1924.
Now when Holt and Best merged in 1925 the grey was continued with some variation. The Best 30 and 60 were continued with all Best name-plates removed and Caterpillar substituted and painted a light grey. Early Bests were painted a very dark grey with white lettering and the last were a lighter grey some with black and some with white lettering. It appears the newly-formed Caterpillar Tractor Company continued this except the Caterpillar name-plates were painted red or black. They also used the lighter grey on the new model 15s and 20s up to about 1931.
About this time numerous yellow ones appeared and some time thereafter the official Caterpillar yellow appeared with black lettering. As I recall all the diesel models came through painted yellow and so to this day I recall seeing a couple of D75s in the mid-30s painted a nice dark red with gold and black lettering and I was told they came through that way. They may have been a trial run. I do know they were not the color the construction company painted all the rest of their equipment. At the time we thought the 75s were the ultimate in power, operating efficiency and class, now they are entering the antique category.
If any of the above needs clarification or I can be of help to anyone restoring old Caterpillar tractors, do not hesitate to write. My collection includes a Holt 2-ton, a 5-ton, a Cat Thirty really Best 30 and a 3 cylinder D40. Someday I hope to find a Holt 10-ton and a Cat 60 to round out the early series.