October 17, 2022
Daniel Oyer carefully examines a handmade nail he keeps in a box full of memories. That nail, clearly made before automation, was one of many that held together Building J, one of Caterpillar’s first buildings in East Peoria. For the Oyer family, history, legacy, and Caterpillar are often intertwined.
“I hold onto this nail because it signifies the beginning of what this facility ever was. It’s the history of the beginning of Caterpillar,” Oyer said. “There’s been an Oyer working in East Peoria pretty much since before it was Caterpillar.”
Oyer, an assembly and test specialist at East Peoria’s SS building, is a fourth-generation employee. Working in a non- traditional role, he’s in charge of ordering material like lines, fluids and critical tools for the building’s Torque Lab. He is proud to have worked on every assembly area in East Peoria’s RIOP facility.
“Not everyone gets to go build multi-million-dollar yellow bulldozers. When people see one it’s hard to miss. They think of you and it’s here. It’s built here,” he said.
Oyer’s great grandfather, Joseph Oyer, started his career in 1915 washing windows at what was then known as a Holt facility in East Peoria. He picked up valuable skills by observing the shop floor employees, eventually landing himself a job inside the factory, retiring in 1961 as a supervisor.
Oyer’s grandfather, also Joseph Oyer, returned from the army to take on a machine apprenticeship role, working his way to a supervisory role and eventually the equivalent of the modern-day building manager at SS. He even came back for a stint as a retiree working with different facilities. Oyer’s grandmother, Barbara, helped the Morton office start up its IBM punch card system and worked there for 35 years. Oyer’s uncle also worked for Caterpillar, and Oyer’s father was employed by Caterpillar briefly out of high school, eventually finding his calling in another line of work.
That family connection is something that drives Oyer’s future. Growing up, he had a front row seat to Caterpillar’s evolution, sometimes even tagging along with his grandfather on site visits.
“I got to see the knowledge and experiences working here brought my relatives, including the opportunities they got to rise through the ranks,” he said. “It’s not a job it’s a career. It’s an end goal, my job right now is proof of that.”
He said he feels a great deal of pride continuing the work his family has done for generations. And it all started with washing windows more than 100 years ago.