“What a journey it has been getting her restored back to the life she deserves,” Matt Veerkamp says proudly of the jewel in his antique machine collection.
Many know the story of this adventure – it’s famous (at least, in the ‘Caterpillar world’). Matt and his team devised an intricate plan to airlift an abandoned Best 25 atop a mountain and restored it back to life. It all started when Matt saw a photo of the century-old tractor at an old mine posted by a hiker online.
“The Best 25 is a very, very rare tractor – there's only a few of them left in the world. Getting that Best 25 was at the top of my list for a lot of reasons, being an avid collector and always wanting to have a really rare tractor in your collection.”
Matt and his buddy, Shawn Stover, packed 62 pounds of supplies each, drove down to the Simi Valley in California and hiked the mountain with a 1,100 foot elevation. Once there, they prepped the tractor to be airlifted and the helicopter arrived.
But many don’t know that’s when the journey really began. “We brought it home and immediately started restoration."
Matt says the first call he made was to someone with the knowledge and skills required to make the Best 25 “everything we knew she could be.” The call was to a dear friend of the Veerkamp family, Jim Chapman, who had worked for their construction company in the past before he retired (though retirement is a made-up word for Jim, Matt explains).
“When I was a little kid, I would always ride in the low-bed with Jim and move HEAVY equipment. He immediately brought over his tool boxes and dove in,” Matt says. “He was literally chomping at the bit to start.”
“Early in the restoration process we all agreed that we would not paint the tractor and leave her in the appearance of when we found her,” Matt explains. “You can't buy that patina.”
“The restoration took six months and we took every bolt out of it from the tracks, the motor, the rear-end.Everything you can imagine, we re-did and made sure it was tip top to make it what it is today,” explains Matt of the intense and thorough restoration. Jim alone put in 1,300 hours. Matt labored on the Best 25 before and after work at their construction company. His buddy Shawn was right there with him.
Matt explains the fairy-tale ending didn’t come immediately. “I would love to tell you she lit right away and drove away, but that’s not reality. The little Best wanted to test our patience and let us know that there was a reason she was left up there.”
But then she started. “Once she did it was all worth it to hear that beautiful four-cylinder song that had been silent for decades. The little Best ran so smooth! Jim’s labor really paid off, what an excellent driving machine. Just like new…or better.”
Some of the Veerkamp’s world-renowned collection will be on display at the Caterpillar Visitors Center's inaugural Antique Equipment Expo starting June 13. Go to visitcaterpillar.com for more.