The Neighborhood Cat

| September/October 1997

  • Caterpillar model 22

  • Caterpillar model 22

22711NE 16th Street, Camas, Washington 98607-9220

I have collected old iron in one form or another most of my life. Luckily it is not a serious disease and my friends and loved ones have learned to humor me. Recently, however, I think I may have stepped off the deep end.

We recently purchased a fairly large and largely unclear piece of land with a house on it. The house was for my family. I wanted the land. Why? Well for tractors of course. I knew that I was going to need some fairly heavy duty equipment to handle what looked like jungle around us so I began watching the local want ads. After a while up popped an ad for a crawler.

When I went to look it turned out to be a 1934 Caterpillar model 22, a cute little adolescent bulldozer made in the good old U.S. of A. back when men were men and had biceps like Popeye. Someone had hung a Holt blade on the front end that looked like it had originally been a storm anchor for the Queen Mary. It ran on gasoline or tractor fuel (a combination of stove drippings, bug spray, hot sauce and moonshine). It ran well, the price was right, and I was apparently mildly off my rocker.

Now, of course, I wasn't going into this completely blind. I mean, I have watched my little boy's road machinery video tape at least fifty times. But I had never actually driven one of these things before. The only real problem I could see is that there were quite a few more controls to handle than I had limbs. Besides, I wasn't sure that I would ever get the thing started anyway.

A previous owner had altered the crank start handle to be removable, I guess so the victim could get a head start in outrunning the thing. When I warily approached the beast to start it the first time, I was gripping this handle with some trepidation. I guess you could say I was a blue knuckle cankers. I squared my shoulders, took a wide stance, fitted the handle to the shaft, and gave a mighty heave. The handle came off the shaft, spun around in my hand a couple times, knocked my hat off my head, and deposited me on my rear in the dirt in front of the blade. Cat one. Myself zero. After I had calmed down a little and worked out the starting sequence well enough so I wasn't being maimed each time, there came my first driving challenge. Now, I live on a pretty large chunk of dirt, and the Cat was pointed long ways across my property, so I reasoned that I had quite a bit of time to think about how to steer this thing be -fore endangering any surrounding neighbors. So while the gearshift system on this beast was pretty straightforward, the steering seemed a little beyond all reason. To turn, one was required to pull back on a lever and then stomp on a pedal (hopefully the correct one). I hoped that with luck I would run out of gas before I had to avoid anything. I did quite well until somebody moved my house into the way while I wasn't looking. We are still getting estimates on that repair work. Cat two. Myself zero.

After a while I was roaring around happily ripping up turf and running over molehills with impunity. Now I wanted to take on the big stuff. Berry vines! My target was an old burn pile that had been long overgrown with these nasty things for many years. With flags flying and overalls flapping in the breeze I charged headlong into the berry vine pile, ripping and snorting the green devils right and left. Ah, the exhilaration; ah, the power; ah, the blown hydraulic hoses! All was cut short when I rammed into the mass one time until the front end began to climb and the engine began to bog down. In went the clutch and nothing happened. The Cat kept right on climbing! It rose to about a 35 degree angle before it gave a wheeze, quit dead, and slowly sank into the berry vines right up to the treads. Here I sat on a three ton lump of iron that gave obvious indications of hating me, and the only way to restart the thing was the crank handle that was buried three feet deep in berry vines. Cat three. Myself zilch.

The very next morning, while I was hacking berry vines and mole hideouts out of the works, I happened to notice that the tracks looked a little funny. One was pointed to the southwest, and the other was tending more toward the southern Democrats. Close examination revealed that every sixty-year old lock washer on the entire under carriage had chosen that moment to retire from active service, leaving every single bolt sloppy loose. Now, please understand. Caterpillars are not assembled with regular bolts as we know them. Cats use bolts made at the factory with their heads rounded off and rusted solidly to the nuts. This prevents the machines from vibrating apart while still in their packing crates. The only approved method for removing them was by cutting them off, either with a torch or a chainsaw. I spent the next two weeks, down on my knees, in the mud, alternately sawing, alternately praying, trying to cut out all twenty bolts, then squirming the new ones into place. Cat about thirty. Myself Oh heck. Who's counting?

I was gaining a great deal of misplaced confidence by now. I was master of my machine. I even owned a cap with a Caterpillar emblem on it. Even the oil and gas leaks, the hydraulic fluid blowing all over my newly painted house, and the mashed down flower beds were becoming old hat by now. I decided to take on a tree. There was a roughly forty foot tall deceased alder tree in my backyard that I thought I would coax into falling over using the Cat. I was more careful by now. I eased into the tree gently with the blade about four feet up for leverage. I put the power to it very smoothly and with great respect, the tree began to move, and every limb that had ever considered falling off at anytime in the future panicked and did so immediately. On looking up, I felt like the French coastline on the morning of the D-Day invasion. Amazingly, nothing hit me. After few deep breaths, I tried it again, reasoning that there was nothing left to fall. I put the power to it again and the tree began to fall over. Apparently the upper half of the tree didn't care for the direction the lower half was taking in life, so it struck out on its own, directly over me!! I guess I must live right, because it never touched me! I will never try that again.

Amazingly, I have formed a working relationship with my Caterpillar. It really is a fine machine and has done some very useful work. I imagine I will restore it fully one day, just like new. But frankly, I just enjoy running the thing so much nowadays I just don't know when I'll find the time.


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