Holt 120 H.P. 1917 20 Ton artillery Tractor
Fred C. Heidrick Sr. Collection, Woodland, CA
California Agriculture Museum
Holt Manufacturing Company, Peoria, IL
GAS - 26,700 lbs
Benjamin Holt created the most powerful tractor of the First World War. The Holt 120 horsepower (HP) artillery tractor was commissioned by the government for military use in WWI. This machine arrived in France just after the war ended in 1919. The museum’s Holt 120 was unloaded on the dock and stayed there until two years later when it was shipped back to southern California. There it was used as an agricultural power source until it was abandoned during WWII. It was rediscovered in 1970 near Moreno and showed up on the cover of Western Engines, March 1971. But it was initially identified as a Holt 75. The Holt 120 was thought to be the only one of its kind when it was accepted into the Fred C. Heidrick Sr. Collection where it continues to be displayed at the California Agriculture Museum in Woodland, California.
Holt Caterpillar tractors were shipped to Dr. Leo Steiner of Budapest, Hungary from 1912 to 1914. Jack Alexander’s THE CATERPILLARS ROOTS (Roots, page 127-129), site strategic letters negotiating a tractor dealership with Dr. Steiner. Dr. Steiner’s submission to the 1913 Gas Power magazine reported that: “My cables inform me that we had success in the Hungarian Plow Competition….taking first place….”
The war started in 1914 before the Holt 120 went into production. In 1915 a New York Times article reported that some 50 Caterpillar tractors Hungary and 100 Caterpillar tractors in Austria are now in the German army (Roots page 273). indicated that “some 50 Caterpillars are in Hungry and 100 Caterpillars in Austria are now in the German army . With the start of the war in 1914, all shipments to Austria were suspended (Roots page 130).
The Holt 120 was first demonstrated at Fremont, Nebraska in November 1914 (Roots page 179). In 1914, the Caterpillar was adopted by the British War Department (Roots 264). In March 1917, the US Army Corps of Engineers, Southern Department, conducted a series of tractor and truck tests at the Leon Springs Reservation, near San Antonio Texas. CATERPILLAR 45 HP, and 75 HP crawlers were tested on that overland trip. The expedition traveled 150 miles on the worst imaginable roads. (Holt Mfg. Co. letters from 1917, page 5) As part of this test, five Holt Caterpillar tractors hauled quartermaster supplies connected with the marching troops. Because the expedition was a success, all five CATERPILLARS came through in perfect condition.
British, French and Russian governments had already commissioned Holt 75 tractors for use as gun tractors and hauling supply trains during the First World War (1914-1918). The military machines were supplied by the Peoria factory. On April 6th, 1917, the USA declared war on Germany. Holt won the USA contract to produce crawlers to support the armed forces and the Holt 120 went to war.
By the time WWI ended in November 1918, a total of 676 Holt 120s were made for the war effort at a cost of about $6875 each. They represent early track-type tractors with a front tiller wheel and they were designed to outlast and replace horses that were vulnerable to gun fire, exhaustion, and famine. Crawlers continued to work alongside horses. Horses and mules were more versatile and communities were geared toward supporting draft animals. In California, for example, horses were significant power sources until 1954.
The California Agriculture Museum in Woodland showcases some of the rarest antique Caterpillar, crawlers and wheel tractors in the world. HOLT crawlers are among the gems of the collection and are supported with research by Jack Alexander.
California Agriculture Museum
1958 Hays Lane, Woodland, California