July 25, 2022
Claude Keefer couldn’t wait to get to work on his first day at Caterpillar. And he felt exactly the same way each of the following days that comprised his 33-year Caterpillar career. An electrical engineering graduate from Bradley University, Claude started in the instrument lab in 1979 and spent the next few years working on instrument applications. After spending time on the machine development of large Off Highway Mining Trucks, he was assigned to a group pioneering the Caterpillar Computer-Aided Earthmoving System (CAES) – figuring out how GPS could enhance our mining and construction products.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Our employees at the Peoria Proving Grounds (PPG) in Washington, Illinois, will likely recognize Claude Keefer’s name. It’s on a plaque mounted outside PPG’s dome structure that bears his name, “Keefer Dome.” Now, not everyone at Caterpillar has their name on a building. We think it’s witness to the caliber of leader, mentor and friend Claude was during his years at this company he so loves.
Claude Keefer at Keefer Dome at Peoria Proving Grounds in Washington, Illinois
Early CAES base-station at Peoria Proving Grounds in 1996.
We caught up with Claude at the Caterpillar Archives in Mossville, Illinois. He was delivering the original CAES production model and other artifacts that have been in his care to take a proper prominent place in Caterpillar’s physical history among our archives collection.
Although Claude retired some 10 years ago, his passion for our company and its people is as present as ever. Happy to see these treasured artifacts returned, Claude believes in their ability to tell the story of Caterpillar’s role in using GPS-aided instruments to modernize industries we serve. But Claude isn’t one to waste time or resources. During his years as caretaker, Claude has been using the equipment (containing pieces now more than 25 years old) to further his other passion – teaching. He’s a dedicated volunteer at the local school, teaching numerous classes through the years, demonstrating technology, and promoting hands-on training for the trades.
Spend more than two minutes with Claude, and it’s impossible to miss his enthusiasm and natural penchant for technology and teaching. Ask him how GPS can assist a blast driller, and Claude will grab a nearby envelope and unclip the pencil from his hat holder (for which he’s contemplated filing a U.S. patent). Watch his eyes sparkle as he draws an easy-to-understand diagram and explains the processes both with and without GPS – suddenly, you’ll understand.
That’s Claude’s magic. He traces his love for teaching to a freshman Algebra teacher who took an interest in Claude after the youngster had failed a first-semester test.
“That teacher saved my bacon. He took me to his farm, taught me how to drive a tractor, and showed me how to tend livestock. He taught me to care. All the rest – everything I’ve accomplished, my dedication to the school – is because of one teacher,” Claude says. “My goal around everything in my career at Caterpillar has been, ‘How can I take what I know and teach somebody to do that?'"
Claude’s advice for those just starting out?
“Do whatever you can to get hands-on experience. It doesn’t matter what the trade is, and it doesn’t matter whether you will ultimately be the person doing the task. At least you will understand what you’re asking for.”
After a silent moment of reflection, Claude adds softly, “Look outside yourself for ways to help somebody else. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on so much joy.”
Join the conversation about how Claude touched the lives of so many at Caterpillar and in his community – check out this LinkedIn post about Claude’s recent visit to the Caterpillar Archives. Leave Claude a note, letting him know we appreciate the groundwork he laid for GPS-enabled technology and his legacy of leadership.
Claude Keefer with GPS-enabled CAES production model at Caterpillar Archives
First demonstration of Cat® CAES at Minexpo 1996.
Although the average consumer was introduced to GPS tracking in the early 2000’s, the research to build the infrastructure started decades earlier. Caterpillar was at the forefront early-on and remains so today, developing GPS capabilities and products to help our customers improve productivity, efficiency and safety using the latest technology.
Claude Keefer, whose Caterpillar career spanned more than 33 years, was at the center of GPS capability and development for our products, both engine and machine. Perhaps that’s why former colleagues often refer to him as “The Godfather of Caterpillar GPS.”
Because he did field research from his home on the weekend, Claude was entrusted with working production models of Caterpillar GPS equipment through the years. Now retired, Claude has returned the equipment he meticulously cared for during his career. The pieces now take their rightful honored place among Caterpillar’s artifacts in the company’s archives at Mossville, Illinois.
“We’re grateful to Claude for the safekeeping and donation of Caterpillar’s early GPS hardware. We’ve also received the paper records and documentation of the company’s GPS journey. Together, these artifacts comprise one of the most complete and significant collections we’ve ever received,” said Caterpillar Archives Manager Lee Fosburgh.