At 5:40 A.M. on the morning of July 22nd a shout went up from the crowd that had waited all night at the airport in Edmonton, Alberta, to see Wiley Post and his staunch ship 'Winnie Mae' complete the treacherous flight from Fairbanks, Alaska, and take off on the last hop that was destined to bring them to New York City at midnight of the same day with a new globe-girdling record of 7 days 18 hours 49 minutes.
But as the weary watchers kept their vigil through the stormy night many doubts assailed them. Could flesh and blood stand such a gruelling test? Could the plane maintain its almost miraculous pace and could it land and take off again from the soggy Edmonton Field? For hours the rain had been falling and the field was a sea of mud. What if the ground crew couldn't get the Winnie Mae to the fuel pumps? What if she couldn't take off from the short concrete runways?
But the airport officials had provided for just such an emergency. They had secured a 'Caterpillar' Fifteen from the Union Tractor and Harvester Company and had brought it to the field the night before. Driver and tractor were ready, and no sooner had the fleet plane come to rest on the soggy field when the tractor was in position in front of it. As its weary pilot was assisted to the ground by the excited throng, the ground crew attached the tow lines to the plane and the tractor taxied it across the field to the big electric pumps. Five hundred gallons of fuel went into the tank, twenty-eight quarts of oil went into the engine and once more the 'Caterpillar' was on its way with its precious cargo. This time the plane had to be towed to Portage Avenue which was to be used as an improvised runway on account of the rain-soaked field.
The inspector warned the tractor driver that the under-carriage of the plane had been weakened in a previous landing and the slightest jerk or strain might result in injury that would wreck all hopes of a new world's record. Deep mud, ditches and a high bank lay ahead, but the tractor accomplished the journey without the slightest mishap. Just before the huge engine was started it was found that new spark plugs were necessary. No one had brought a ladder and it was a long way back to the hangar, but the driver whirled the 'Caterpillar' around in front of the big plane and the mechanic climbed up on the fender and made the necessary replacements.
In an hour and fifteen minutes from the time she touched the ground the 'Winnie Mae' and her daring pilot were in the air again. How they sped from Edmonton to New York without a stop, how they landed in the middle of the night at Roosevelt Field with a new world's record on the first solo flight around the world are facts that have been flashed to every corner of the earth; but back of this thrilling story is the story of the 'Caterpillar' Fifteen that answered a hasty summons to the Edmonton airport and gave dramatic proof of dependability and unfaltering traction by overcoming the handicaps of soft soil and wet weather to send Wiley Post speeding to his goal.
This article from the Caterpillar DOTTED LINE magazine is treasured by Hulbert H. Orser, who sent it to us, Orser drove the tractor which figures in the story. The article appeared August 18,1933. Orser lives at 188 Westview Drive SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T3C 2S2.