The Alaskan 'Christmas Cat'


| December/January 1995



24' tandem trailer

Harold Sheaffer, Bob Hake, Harold Hake and Alan Hake with the Cat.

15190 Kutztown Road, Kutztown, Pennsylvania 19530

It all started with an ad from Gas Engine Magazine last fall, the fall of '94. My friend, Bob Hake, said to me, 'How would you like to take a trip?' The adventurous person that I am, I said, 'Yes.' After pondering over his question, many thoughts started to clutter my mind. You have to know Bob to understand him. He is one of the few no-nonsense persons I know. Straight forward and with unbelievable fortitude, Bob will take almost any task in hand and render positive results. With reservation, I asked him when? Where to? How? And do I have enough time? I learned a long time ago that one should ask questions up front to avoid surprises later down the road. His reply was, 'When the time is right, maybe in the spring or early summer or maybe before that.' I traveled much of the east coast with Bob and know that two or three day trips were not uncommon with him when he went on tractor hunts. Bob has amassed quite a large collection of the old styles and makes of John Deere two-cylinder tractors. When I travel with him it gives me a chance to look for the old horse drawn equipment, steam engines, and Farmalls for a museum collection.

Bob looked at me and said, 'You're not going to believe this! Homer, Alaska, is where we are going! If everything goes alright we should be able to turn the trip in 10 days.' Almost in shock I said, 'Alaska! For what?' He said, 'I found an ad in GEM by Jim Van-Oss of Homer, Alaska. He has a 1931 Caterpillar 25 for sale and my boss, Ken Beamer, would like to have it.'

Ken is an entrepreneur of historical preservation when it comes to old Caterpillars. Over the past three years Ken has acquired 15 Cats. In his collection he has a two-ton, #10, #15, #20, #22, #28, #30 and some others, but not a#25. When it comes to finding, making buying arrangements, hauling, and restoring these almost forgotten pieces of history, Bob Hake is Ken's right-hand man.

After a couple of weeks and several phone calls to Jim in Alaska, Bob stopped by and said, 'The Cat is on a first come, first serve basis. Jim won't take money down and hold it. Ken asked me to go get it ASAP.' I knew Bob was right. I asked, 'What do you have in mind?' He said, 'You have a ten day break over Christmas and New Year's and I can arrange for my vacation, so I think we ought to go at that time.' 'Christmas!' I said. 'That's in the middle of winter and we will probably be up to our eyeballs in snow trying to ward off frostbite in 40 degree below zero weather.' Bob replied, 'Ken thinks if we don't go now when we have the chance we might miss our chance.' The old adage came to mind, 'He who hesitates' is lost.' I knew he was right. I agreed. The next few weeks were spent making more phone calls to Alaska; reading up on Canada and Alaska; studying road maps; inquiring about the legal ramifications on transporting equipment through another country; getting fuel stickers and permits; making lists of maintenance items that should be taken along; making lists of personal items; deciding on the kind of vehicles we would use; deciding on the need for extra drivers; discussing possible problems and solutions; recording and documenting the trip on VCR and camera; doing time studies; being realistic; using common sense; and keeping Mr. Beamer informed constantly. These are just some of the things we had to do. You know how it goes when you plan a trip. You always forget something. It doesn't seem to matter how hard you try. And you take the darn dest stuff along and don't ask why. We were determined to forget as little as possible. I think we were fortunate. With Mr. Beamer's approval and support, the final plans were made. We would leave for Homer, Alaska, Friday evening, December 23, at 8:00 p.m., a journey that would take us about 4600 miles. The mission to bring back a #25 Cat over the Christmas holidays for Ken Beamer!

The party consisted of Bob Hake, his two sons Harold and Alan, and myself, Harold Sheaffer. We would leave Thomasville, York County, Pennsylvania, in two Ford trucks, an F700 straight bed with a 24' tandem trailer and an F150 pickup. We took an old vintage camper along on the trailer and the pickup for emergency purposes. In case of a major breakdown we would have a place to stay and a way to go for help.