Les Ashworth had a unique opportunity to see Caterpillar grow. He watched working conditions change and employee benefits develop, but his job went one step further. Les’ job was to report on whether these changes and growth were for the better.
Les retired from Caterpillar in San Leandro, California, in 1957 after almost 49 years of service with Caterpillar and its predecessor companies. He was one of three employees known to achieve this accomplishment. At the time, he was second only to a former Caterpillar Chairman to achieve 49 years of service.
It was in 1907 that Les started work as a machinist at the Daniel Best Manufacturing Company plant in San Leandro, a few months after finishing grade school. He was mechanically inclined and heard he could make fairly good money there. "What I'd heard was right," Les recalled. "The pay was good for those days - $1.25 for a 10-hour day and I worked six days a week."
The company, which made horse-drawn and steam-powered farm machines, was the biggest employer in San Leandro. Les said, "My first job with Dan Best was threading bolts and spokes for harvester and steamer wheels. We worked with good tools, but the assembly lines were crude. The big wheels had to be wrestled around by hand. It took three of us to move one wheel." Lacking today’s automation of conveyors and cranes, the machines were made by hand.
When Dan Best sold his interests to The Holt Manufacturing Company, Les stayed on with Holt at San Leandro. In 1911, he left the firm in favor of another Bay-area employer but was fortunate to maintain his credited service time. His new employer was C. L. Best, Daniel's son, who merged with Holt to form Caterpillar Tractor Co. in 1925.
With C. L. Best, Les went to work as a layout man in the blacksmith shop, where he spent the remainder of his years. When Les began work, it was in the era of the steam traction engine. He saw gasoline replace steam, then diesel replace gasoline. He also saw tracks replace wheels.
Tractors, in their early days, were a novelty and operators were few. Les recalled that the men who assembled the steamers were called "steam engineers." Many left their regular jobs at harvest time and traveled around the country to run the products they had built.
Les is not the only Ashworth with Caterpillar ties. His brother retired recently with more than 45 years of service. Three other brothers were also said to have worked for Caterpillar.
Speaking from 49 years of experience, Les offered these views:
"Through the years, it always looked to me like Best, Holt and then Caterpillar would get ahead. They had products that couldn't be beat. From my first day with Dan Best, I was proud of what I was helping build. And I'm proud now that I played a part in Caterpillar's progress.”