19 December 1997

Old Caterpillars dont die…

Old Caterpillars dont die…

By Mike Williams

THERE is never a shortage of tractor power on Ian Steels Essex farm. If he fancies a change from driving one of the farms Massey Ferguson or Inter-national Harvester tractors he can take his pick from his collection of 20 Caterpillar tractors.

Mr Steel inherited his enthusiasm for Caterpillar tractors when his father was running the farm. He preferred using crawler tractors for top work in the spring because the tracks helped to reduce soil compaction – and there was usually a Caterpillar tractor on the farm.

"My father tried other makes including an Allis-Chalmers M, but he always came back to Caterpillars," Ian Steel explains.

"He preferred the smaller models for top work, particularly the D2s, and they were always very reliable. I was brought up with the idea that Caterpillars were special, and I was probably about 10-years old when I started to take a real interest in them."

When Ian took over from his father at Knights Farm, Colne Engaine, Colchester, the Cater- pillar tradition continued. He still has a D2 tractor his father bought second-hand and used on the farm, but it has been joined by another 19 Caterpillars of various ages – and the collection is still growing.

His oldest and rarest tractor is a Caterpillar Fifteen built in 1930 and now awaiting restoration. It has a four-cylinder petrol engine which developed 20hp when it was originally tested at Nebraska.

Next in order of seniority is a 1936 model Twenty-Two, one of Mr Steels favourite tractors and the one he prefers to take to rallies. It is fully restored, small enough to be transported on a trailer pulled by a 4X4, and sufficiently old and rare to attract interest from other vintage tractor enthusiasts. The Twenty-Two is also reliable, and Mr Steel says he can always be confident that it will start easily and keep running.

Other rarities include a late version of the D4 equipped with an electric starter motor instead of the single-cylinder petrol donkey engine used to start earlier Caterpillar diesel engines. The collection also includes one of the few surviving D6 tractors powered by a three-cylinder diesel engine, and what is believed to be the only U Model D2 in the UK, which is complete with the original front blade, Hyster winch and special steering gear.

There are also some non-tractor items, including a rare Huber road roller powered by a Caterpillar D2 tractor engine. It was made in America and shipped to the UK during World War 2 for making runways for US bombers and fighter aircraft.

The newest addition to the collection – it arrived from a Cambridgeshire farm in September – is a D8R weighing 15.6t and powered by a 131hp six-cylinder diesel engine. It was built in about 1942 and was one of a batch of new D8s supplied to the British army during World War 2. Mr Steels tractor is still finished in the armys khaki green colour painted over the original Caterpillar yellow, and it still has its army number clearly visible on the fuel tank mounted behind the drivers seat.

"I was pleased to find this tractor because it is basically in good condition and is very original," says Mr Steel. "I think the only important item which is missing is the winch, and that may not be easy to replace, but otherwise the D8 is in good working order and should not be too difficult to restore – apart from being very big.

"I hope to start work on it in about two years time and I shall repaint it in the army colours."

Some of the surviving D8s are still used by contractors for jobs such as subsoiling and pulling a mole plough, and Mr Steels D8 could earn its keep by working on his 500 arable acres. Some of the other Caterpillar tractors in his collection are regularly used on the farm to handle the jobs for which they are particularly suited.

He still uses one of his small D2 tractors to reduce soil compaction by pulling a gang of rolls in the spring – just as his father did. A 1968 Caterpillar D6C from his collection pulls a Cousins seven-leg subsoiler, in some years covering up to 121ha (300 acres). The D6C also does some of the ploughing, pulling a rare Dowdeswell six-furrow DP2 plough equipped with a specially designed carrier which fits the rear linkage of the Caterpillars.

Landpacker soil press

Another working tractor from the collection is a D4D made in 1975, the most recent Caterpillar Mr Steel owns. It was bought new for a fenland farm and now pulls a Landpacker soil press and does some of the ploughing at its new home in Essex.

An important attraction of the collection is the fact that it gains in value – while his modern wheeled tractors lose value.

&#8226 Mr Steel is a director of the Antique Caterpillar Machinery Owners Club formed three years ago for UK enthusiasts and organises working rallies and other events for its members.

One of Ian Steels 20 Caterpillar tractors. This is a fully restored D4 version manufactured in 1948 which has an electric starter motor rather than the more usual donkey engine. It is hitched to a Ransome TS46 plough.

Ian Steel: "I was brought up with the idea that Caterpillars were special."