Dr. Reynold M. Wik, America's top scholar on farm machinery, is the author of a new book, 'Benjamin Holt & Caterpillar Tracks &. Combines', which is one of his best.
We quote Wiks' opening paragraph of his foreward, to give readers some idea of the stature of Holt and the machines he manufactured:
'It has been a gratifying experience to write this volume about Benjamin Holt because he was an inventor and industrialist who manufactured machines which lightened the burden of labor for working people in America. His development of the combined harvester revolutionized crop harvesting, and his first successful track-type tractors represented a major engineering improvement in the use of the wheel. His achievements stand in importance with the contributions of Cyrus McCormick, John Deere and Henry Ford to the history of technology in rural America.'
Wik also quotes the wording of a 'modest plaque' in front of Holt's residence in Stockton, Cal.:
'The Caterpillar Tractor, born of the brain of Benjamin Holt, straightened roads, leveled valleys, flattened mountains, stored waters, cleared jungles, and served our National Defense. Its crawler track has carried the burdens of mankind produced food for the mouths of the world.'
Keith E. Dennison, director of the Haggin Museum at Stockton, notes in the preface that the human stories of Benjamin Holt and his brothers are told for the first time in this book. Dennison and Raymond W. Hillman, of the museum, gave the impetus for the book, and the museum aided with both historical materials and a fund grant. The museum has a Holt Memorial Hall and exhibits many Holt machines and memorabilia.
The paperback book, with handsome cover and pages, is filled with facts, sidelights, records, photographs and drawings. Samples of information:
Benjamin Holt built 'Betsy', his first steam traction engine, in Stockton in 1890.
The Vancouver World newspaper called the Holt track-type tractor 'the most powerful traction engine in the world,' in its issue of March 2, 1912.
A British general, who saw a track type Caterpillar in Belgium, credited it with the giving him the basic idea for the tank which was introduced for the Allies' use in World War I.
The Caterpillar Tractor Co. was formed in 1925 through a merger of the Holt Manufacturing Co. and the Best Gas Tractor Co.
Ample information is presented on both Benjamin Holt and his brothers, and Daniel Best and his associates. The book's emphasis on people is to be lauded, for it gives a rounded picture of the personalities behind the machines. And there is so much about engines, both in text and picture, that every collector should be more than satisfied.
The book is published by the. American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
Francis Blase Jr., of Telford, Pa., has put together an excellent book on Heebner and Sons, 'Pioneers of Farm Machinery in America 1840-1926', which should be on every collector's shelf.
We like the colored cover of the paperback, showing Sam Kreibel, of Mainland, Pa., threshing grain with his Heebner stationary thresher. We like the back cover too a Heebner poster in color, owned by Blase.
The 184-page book is painstakingly documented and contains many illustrations of Heebner products. It is refreshing history, telling the story of the enterprise from the time when founder David S. Heebner, who was well known as a clockmaker, started making implements which opened an enterprise known around the world.
Among the products coming from Heebner's were the Level Tread Horse Powers, on which oxen could also be used without shoes; 'Little Giant' threshers and cleaners; the 'Pennsylvania' threshers and cleaners; ground hog threshers, peanut threshers, feed and ensilage cutters, farm feed mills, saw machines, straw cutters with blowers, corn shellers, land rollers, spring tooth harrows, and steam heaters.
The company received a tremendous boost at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, when the Centennial Medal was awarded to the firm for its horse power and thresher. This was a signal honor. Orders were placed on the exposition floor, and many came from around the world. One of the orders taken at the exhibit was for five level tread powers, to be shipped to Capetown, South Africa. The shipment was made by sailing vessel from New York; delivery took three months.
Since Heebner was one of the biggest manufacturers in its time, many of our readers are undoubtedly familiar with its products, either in actual use on the farm, or in the formation of collections in more recent years.
David S. cut all the parts of his first level horse power with a hand saw. William D., partner and sole owner 1887-1926, was a state legislator and introduced the bill for purchase of Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge. Isaac D., who was a partner for some years, helped build the first Lansdale schoolhouse.
The goal of the author is to set up a Heebner agricultural museum in Montgomery County, Pa., where he lives. He collects farm machines, and has every machine Heebner made, stored in a barn.
Blase gives talks and slide shows. Some of the slides were taken at the Schwenkfelder 250th anniversary celebration, for which he set up the machinery exhibits. The book was printed courtesy of the Hatfield Packing Co., Hatfield, Pa.