March 15, 2016
Good Things Come in Threes
Gus Luedtke was one of the first employees to work for the Holt Manufacturing Company when they came to Peoria. He was the third person hired in Peoria, to be exact. Gus said, "In 1909, I went to work down there for Pliny Holt. He said he was looking for men with strong backs who would put in a day's work for a day's pay. He hired me right off, the third man he'd hired. That was March 7, 1909—two weeks after Holt's set up their plant at East Peoria."
Tall, powerful Gus —the first of three generations of employees to work in that plant—was also the first of three Luedtke generations to make their livelihood at either Caterpillar or one of its predecessor companies, The Holt Manufacturing Company.
William Howard Taft had just been sworn into office as 27th president of United States three days before Gus came to work. Hired in as a carpenter for $.22 cents an hour, Gus worked the standard work week of that year: 72 hours, or 12 hours a day, six days a week. Payday came once a month.
Gus soon found his specialty as carpenter didn't much matter in the new and busy Holt plant. He also worked those first days as a laborer, a machinist and an assembler. Shortly after he came to work, he was assigned to a three-man crew to assemble the first Holt 60 produced at the Peoria plant. For lack of better methods, they used hammers and chisels to fit parts. When they needed additional parts for the machine, they designed them on the spot and had them cast. It took three months to assemble that first crawler tractor.
When the first five machines — all experimental models—were completed, the employees eagerly awaited reports from the field on the machine’s performance. When the experimental "60" were actually bought by the customers testing them, there was real joy throughout the plant. Additional orders came in for machines, adding excitement to the joy of the employees.
Things were looking up at Holt. Gus’ wages went up to a quarter an hour. He was made foreman, one of the first promoted to supervision. The new job carried more responsibilities, including part-time watchman chores on Sundays.
By World War I, Gus was a superintendent of assemblies for Holt. The Holt 75 and 120 had been added to the line. Scores of men did the work that a pioneer three-man crew had done on the first assembly line. Men came and went. Among Gus's men was a serious-minded and devoted employee who took his early task of listing bolts and nuts on the assembly line very seriously. His name was Louis Neumiller who, years later, would become president and chairman of the board of Caterpillar Tractor Co.