Tom Pfieffer could only look at the picture of a rusty 1929 Caterpillar Thirty sitting in a field in Garland, Texas, and dream of owning it.
A friend had spotted it sitting there with some other vintage equipment and left a note tacked to the owner’s house letting him know that Pfieffer was interested in buying it. The friend later left another note and eventually got an answer.
“No,” the owner said.
He and his son had recently restored it for operating in a parade and weren’t interested in parting with it.
Pfieffer kept the photo of the Thirty on his computer. It was rare to find one in Texas, which was John Deere tractor farm-country, while the old Cats were more popular in California and the Midwest.
Two years later, though, Pfieffer would get his Thirty.
Pfieffer is the shop supervisor at Holt Cat in Little Elm, Texas, where he has worked for 39 years. He loves antique equipment and has amassed a 10-piece collection of vintage machines, including a 1929 Cat Ten, two 1929 Cat Fifteens, a 1929 Cat Twenty, two 1935 diesel Cat Forty crawlers and a 1947 D2. (You can watch him start the D2 in a video at the end of this story.) He also has a Holt Five-Ton and recently bought a Cat No. 10 Auto Patrol grader.
“I've always liked old things and antiques, and it just was a good fit for me to collect the antique Caterpillars,” he says.
He also tends to Holt Cat’s collection of antique Holt crawler tractors. “Out of 3,000 employees, it seems like I'm the only one that really has an interest in them,” he says. “I take care of them.”
About two years after his friend told him about the Thirty in the field, he got a call form a supervisor at another Holt Cat store.
“There’s a lady that I know of, and I knew her husband,” the supervisor told Pfieffer. “They had a small construction company, and they have tractors for sale. They're all old, and I thought you might be interested.”
Pfieffer said he was.
“He sent me a picture,” Pfieffer recalls. “And It was almost the identical picture of that field with that Cat Thirty.”
The owner had passed away, and his wife wanted to sell it. But there was some competition for it.
“She decided to sell it to me because I told her that I'd fix it up – ‘It'll look like new, and I'll take it to shows,’” Pfieffer says.
“That's what I did.”
Pfieffer first got the old Thirty running, tending to the carburetor, magneto and the gas tank. “When you first tried to start it, there was hardly any compression, because the rings got kind of tight on the pistons,” he says. But after it was running for a few minutes, it built up compression, making it easier to start the next time.
The Thirty is started by a hand crank on the front. “It can be a bear at times, but it usually starts in three or four pulls,” Pfieffer says.
The next thing to address was its color. The previous owner had painted it yellow. But that was not its original color. Any Caterpillar built before December 7, 1931, was gray. So Pfieffer took it to a body shop owner who paints old tractors to get it restored to its original color.
Pfieffer also decided to add a canopy to it, which was a common option back in its day. He and two of his friends each owned a Thirty, and they obtained a pattern for a canopy, which is made of angle iron and corrugated tin across the top. His friend made one for each machine.
“Of course, it's noisy underneath it,” Pfieffer says. “But it just kind of proportionately makes the tractors look better with the canopy on it.”
Pfieffer has kept his promise to the widow who sold the Thirty to him. He keeps it stored at a tractor club in Temple, Texas, and brings it out for shows. He and his daughter, Emily, who graduated from Texas A&M as a mechanical engineer, also attend shows around the country as spectators.
The vintage Cats tend to draw crowds, as they are less common than the antique Deere and other tractors you often see.
“They get a lot of attention,” he says, “especially when you go to start them.”
Video: Cranking a 1947 D2
Check out the video below of Pfieffer starting his 1947 D2 with pony motor: