On Tuesday, April 23, 2013, the Illinois River flooded, cresting in Peoria at 29.35 feet and breaking the previous record of 28.8 feet set in 1943. So far, no Caterpillar facilities have been damaged thanks to preventative measures and teamwork taken by Caterpillar employees and the local community. The same can be said when looking back at the flood of 1943.
During the flood in May 1943, Caterpillar executives feared the river would rise over the levees and, despite a strong focus on producing machines to help with World War II, decided shut down the East Peoria factories so employees could help prepare the area for the flood.
More than 6,500 Caterpillar employees helped fight the rising flood waters and rotated between 12-hour day/night shifts from the morning of Saturday, May 22, until the evening of Tuesday, May 25. Most worked the levees around East Peoria while some employees were sent to the East Peoria facilities to enclose more than 300 openings by bulk-heading walls, plugging manholes and lifting materials to higher ground inside the facilities.
Bob Gilmore, former Caterpillar Chairman and CEO, was working at the East Peoria facility at the time, having just completed the four-year machinist apprentice program and recently enlisted in the Army. "I volunteered, reported for duty at 7 a.m. jumped in the back of a truck with a bunch of other guys and was delivered to the levee just west of Building HH," said Gilmore, who helped sandbag the levee. "We worked for 12 hours or as much as we could tolerate with an occasional break for sandwiches and coffee."
Caterpillar, as well as other local manufacturers, donated the use of over 150 tractors, motor graders, drag lines, elevating graders and generator sets. To get materials to the Peoria area,and specifically the levees, the typical required paperwork was suspended and the State of Illinois even lifted the speed limit restriction for shipments into the area. Caterpillar's main facility cafeteria also supplied food to all helping fight the flood - not just Caterpillar employees -including: 154,293 sandwiches, 5,080 gallons of coffee, 5,075 gallons of soup, 552 miscellaneous lunches and 6,912 candy bars.
"After about a week the crisis was over and clean-up work began," added Gilmore. "As a result of that near disaster, a number of flood control measures were undertaken."
Thanks to each person's efforts, many residences and every Caterpillar facility were saved from flooding in 1943.