‘Caterpillar’ Fifteen speeds ‘Winnie Mae’ on record flight

By Staff
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H. H. Orser drove the Caterpillar 15 which assisted the Winnie Mae at Edmonton.
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The Winnie Mae and Caterpillar 15 with H. H. Orser driving it.

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.

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