In 1902, Jess Hardy joined Holt Manufacturing Company, a predecessor to modern day Caterpillar. In his 44 years, he witnessed the birth, rise and worldwide acceptance of the commercially successful track-type tractor.
In the early part of 1904, he made drawings for a steam engine in the engineering room of the Holt Manufacturing Company in Stockton, California That steam engine went into Holt Steam Tractor No. 77, which was used that summer in the harvest field. In the fall, Jess later recalled, the side wheels were taken off and tracks were put on.
"That was the first Holt tractor to be equipped with tracks," Jess points out proudly. "I had nothing to do with that first track installation. It was all made from verbal instructions from Benjamin Holt and sketches by Pliny Holt."
Two years later, Jess drew plans for Holt's first gas engine track-type tractor built in the fall of 1906. "It looked so insignificant compared with our big steam wheel tractors that the men in the shop dubbed it 'The Pullet'," Jess recalls. "It was assigned the number 1001 and was used for plowing that fall and winter. Such an unheard of thing as that machine could not but show defects of various kinds, and considerable changing was done.”
When Jess returned from a trip east in 1907, Pliny Holt told Jess: "Redesign the Pullet, and when you've done that, forget all about it and design another from the ground up."
"So I redesigned the Pullet, they rebuilt it and got it out plowing again," Jess recalls. "The new one was built in the spring of 1908. It was numbered 1002. After it was designed and while it was being built, I was designing a third. Five were made in 1908, No.'s 1003 through 1007."
First Farm Crawler No. 1003, 1005 and 1007 all went to work on the Los Angeles aqueduct. No. 1004 was sold to a group of three farmers in San Joaquin County, the first Holt crawler Tractor ever sold for use on a farm. Early in 1909, No. 1006 was shipped to an oil company in central California.
"Another lot of five was designed and built and still another was started but not finished for several months because the city of Los Angeles gave us an order for 25 tractors that tied up our shop for five months as the Aurora Engine Company (a subsidiary corporation) could only make five engines a month."
Early in 1909 Pliny Holt went east to locate a new plant at Peoria. When he left, Jess Hardy was made assistant superintendent. During World War I, he was superintendent of the production department and then in 1921, he became head of Engineering Records.
Jess was an engineering legend by the time the Holt Manufacturing Company merged with the C.L. Best Tractor Co. to form Caterpillar. In 1946, Jess retired but his spirit for innovation lives within our employees today.