A Publication of WTVP

The power of an idea and the talent and persistence to put it into practice drove the success of several Peoria endeavors. Today, new generations are moving forward, building on this heritage.

Starting out as a singer and a piano teacher, Peorians Jim Jordan and Marian Driscoll parlayed their talents into radio success as Fibber McGee and Molly. On August 22, the Peoria Historical Society presents singer and actor Lee Wenger and his piano-playing wife, Denise Adams, and their three talented children, Matthew, Christopher, and Kaitlin Adams-Wenger, in "A Tribute to Variety." The show highlights music from vaudeville and the golden age of radio.

The program honors the legacy of Fibber McGee and his wife, Molly, according to Leo Jordan, Jim’s nephew and program organizer. Two performances, at 2 and 5 p.m., take place that Sunday at the Performing Arts Center at Illinois Central College. The college is co-sponsoring the event, a follow-up to last year’s successful show "Peoria Remembers…Fibber McGee & Molly." Tickets again cost $10 and are available through ICC’s Performing Arts Center box office at 694-5136.

The 100th anniversary of the invention of the track-type tractor will be the focus of the Peoria Historical Society’s annual dinner September 9. The event includes displays of historic Caterpillar equipment, as well as a special presentation showcasing the evolution of the Track-Type Tractor.

"Both events preserve and celebrate Peoria’s story," said PHS President Fred Kowalske. "The musical program will be pure entertainment, while the dinner provides a great opportunity to focus on those historic machines that improved agriculture, won the wars, built the interstates, and reshaped the world. We’re pleased to have young people involved in both activities."

In the early days, draft horses and mules provided power to agricultural and freighting applications. Large combined harvesters needed as many as 40 horses to pull them. On poor roads and muddy fields, their drivers frequently faced the challenge of bogged-down animals and equipment.

Benjamin Holt’s steam traction engines gave farmers an alternative to horses, but these heavy-wheeled machines would also get stuck in the mud. To combat this problem, Holt tried to increase the size of their drive wheels, but this created steering and maneuvering problems.

He then decided to remove the rear drive wheels from machine #77, a 40 horsepower Holt Junior Road Engine, and replace them with a pair of tracks nine feet long, 42 inches wide, and 30 inches high. The first test of this steam traction engine on tracks came on Thanksgiving, November 24, 1904.

Not only could the newly tracked machine pull four plows-one more than the bigger 60 horsepower wheeled Holt machine-but it also could pull the plows at a two-inch greater depth under the same conditions. By the following March, in a tract where a man couldn’t walk without sinking to his knees and where horses shod with fan-shaped "tule" shoes couldn’t be used, the new traction engine was operated without a perceptible impression in the ground, according to an article in the Stockton (Calif.) Daily Independent and later in Farm Implement News.

A photographer, watching the machine move, commented that it resembled a caterpillar. In 1910, The Holt Manufacturing Company registered the name "Caterpillar" as its trademark.

By 1909, Holt acquired a plant in East Peoria. Holt sold the first tractor assembled there that year to Julius Funk, whose Bloomington-area family was known as leaders in agriculture and technology.

Holt’s merger with the C. L. Best Tractor Co., to form Caterpillar Tractor Co. in 1925, represents another major milestone in the evolution of the track-type tractor. The National Academy of Engineering recognized the mechanization of agriculture as one of the greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century, with Holt’s work leading the way.

In 1977, the track-type tractor took on a new shape with the introduction of Cat’s distinctive elevated sprocket, which replaced the previous oval track. The new design, with its three points, improved traction, absorbed ground shock, provided greater operator comfort, and made servicing easier.

Track-type tractors are still made in Caterpillar’s East Peoria plant and are found working around the world.

The commemorative dinner, program, and display begin with cocktails at 5:30 p.m. at the Peoria Civic Center. For more information, call 674-1921. AA!