The Caterpillar Tractor comes to the Woods of Newfoundland.

Newfoundland was one of the first places, if not the first place,  in Eastern North America where tractors were used in the hauling of pulpwood.

In this treatise on the Mechanization of Forest Harvesting East of the Rockies, Ross Silversides boldly mentions that: “The first crawler-tractor sleigh haul, the Holt tractor,
appeared in eastern Canada in 1922.”

Seeing this it might be hard to believe that tractors were used in little old backwards Newfoundland two years before this date. Maybe it was because Newfoundland was a separate British Dominion at the time. But in 1920, somewhere between Grand Falls and Badger tractors were first used to haul pulpwood.

It was noted in a history of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company that:

“Tractors were first used during the winter months of 1920 at Badger. This was due to a wood shortage at the mill and it was necessary to haul logs to the railway several miles away, too far to be hauled by horses. Two years later tractors were used to haul fire-killed wood at Millertown. It was not until 1934 that tractors came into general use for hauling, due to the increasing distance the wood had to travel to the streams or railway and also to the growing expense of maintaining horses.”(AND Unpublished History 1955) 

With regards to the first instance, two types of tractors were first experimented with; the Linn and the Holt. Two of each were acquired by the AND Company during this era. I don’t know which type was used in 1920, however I am inclined to believe that they were Holts. It is very likely the machines were used in the vicinity of Cassandra, Langsdown’s or Aspen Brook. It was also noted that two 2-Ton Holt Machines were used at Billy Pope’s camp at Black Duck in Badger Division in 1922. This would have been not far across the river from the first operation.  As for the second instance two years later there is quite a bit more information.

Taken as a screen capture from a video from Heritage NL. This may be one of the earliest photos of Caterpillar Tractors operating in Newfoundland. It was noted that AND was operating 2-Ton Holts at Black Duck in 1922, it is my opinion that these two machines are 2-Ton Holts, especially when one notes the location of the seats on the back. Also note that the wood in the piles is longer wood. It was once noted that Albert “Bert” Milley drove the first crawler tractor to come to Badger-a 2-Ton Holt at William Pope’s camp on Black Duck. 

In the Winter of 1922 two Holt 10 Ton tractors were used in Millertown Division. Two 10-Ton Holt “Caterpillar Logger” tractors were brought in to haul pulpwood in the Victoria River area. The distance between the cutting operation and the river was 4-5 miles. The machines appear to have been purchased from the Canadian Holt Company of Montreal, who sent down a Mr. Davis to maintain the machines and instruct in their operation.

slide 033
Holt 10 Ton tractor hauling pulpwood circa 1922-23. Though not definite, this picture is most likely from from the 1922-23 operation in Millertown. (Abitibi Price-Via Andy Barker)
Nine sleds loaded with 57 cords of green pulpwood. (Canada Lumberman)

Between December 19, 1922 and April 14, 1923 the two 10-Ton Holts operated an average of 110 days each and in total the hauled 10,984 cords of pulpwood an average of 5.38 miles (Canada Lumberman 1923). On each trip the tractors hauled an average of 24.68 cords of wood. But the bragging rights went to the haul in which 9 sleds containing 57 cords of wood was hauled 4 miles by one tractor. This load was so big that the sticks used as horns to keep the loads in place accounted for an additional cord of wood! This massive haul over four miles took 2.15 hours. I can picture it now, Mr. Harry S. Crowe, the divisional superintendent from Millertown and probably Mr. Gilmour woods manager from Grand Falls, standing in the snow with Mr. Davis from Holt, and one of them says”let’s see what she can do!” Holt took full advantage of this stunt and used it over the next year in their advertising.

Holt Ad AND Co Canada Lumberman July 1923..JPG
After a thorough trail in Newfoundland the results were so good the Canadian Holt Company used the example in Newfoundland in its advertising. (Canada Lumberman, 1923)
Holt Ad AND Co Canada Lumberman July 1923 Text..JPG
Closeup of the above.

I think it would be understated to say that the woods staff of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company was impressed with these tractors. J.D Gilmour Woods Manager and Director with the Company noted that they would be looking in to incorporating some of the smaller 5-ton machines into operations for shunting together trains of tractor sleds. Gilmour also stated that on hauls of 3 Miles or more that the tractors reduced hauling costs by at least 50% (Canada Lumberman). True to the words of Mr. Gilmour, an additional 6 Holts were purchased for the 1923-4 haul-off. An Advertisement from that time period notes that the A.N.D Company owned 10 Holt tractors, which leads me to believe that they either bought two more or had two machines prior to 1922-23 as noted above. Around 1960 it was noted that “The Company at one time had the largest fleet of tractors of any company in the world.” If the advertising is to be believed their ten machines in 1923-24 were double the number of the next largest owner.

Holt Tractors AND CO 10 machines Canada Lumberman.JPG
It appears that by the fall of 1923 the AND Company had more tractors than any other forest products company in neighboring Canada. (Note that it is erroneously listed as being in Bishop’s Falls) .
Holt Tractor AND Co Canada Lumberman July to December 1923 Additional orders.JPG
Close up of Holt advertisement in the Canada Lumberman 1923.  6 additional machines were purchased for next years hauling season. Other advertising from that year notes that the Company had 10 Holt Tractors. 

Special sleds were built for the operation as it was noted that horse sleds were “altogether unsatisfactory for the job.” The sleds were 12 feet long and approximately 11 feet wide, the space between the runners was 6 feet 8 inches. To test their ruggedness loads of some 40,000 pounds were tested on the sleds.

Holt AND Company shorter wood
An early Hot tractor hauling in Central Newfoundland. The fact that this tractor is hauling shorter wood suggests that this may be at a later date than 1923.

Unfortunately there isn’t much information on how well things turned out the next year. I would venture to say that they probably turned out pretty good. The Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company would go on to acquire scores, if not hundreds, of Caterpillar tractors for its hauling operations before phasing out tractor hauling in 1967.

Note that these tractors were acquired a number of years before the formation of the Newfoundland Tractor Company and prior to the merging of Holt and Best that formed the Caterpillar Tractor Company. Holt was using the trademark Caterpillar for it’s tractors prior to 1925.

-Bryan Marsh


Peoria is a long way from Badger Brook.

While doing some research I stumbled upon an account of a double wedding at Badger in 1924. Mr. William D. Alcock, married Miss Vera Cunningham of Springdale; and Mr. Jesse J. Davis of Peoria Illinois Married Miss Helen Cunningham, also of Springdale. The two Miss Davis’ were sisters, with a third sister being the wife of Andrew Porter, long time accountant with the AND Company.

Note the reference to Mr. Davis from Holt in the above article. And where was headquarters for Holt (soon after Caterpillar)? Peoria, Illinois. It looks like Mr. Davis spent at least a couple of winters in Newfoundland looking after tractors as the AND Company put them through their paces. I guess most of the kinks must have been ironed out, since Mr. and Mrs. Davis were noted to be moving to Peoria after the wedding. Mr. and Mrs. Alcock would remain in Newfoundland, and Mr. Alcock would eventually be the Superintendent of Bishop’s Falls Logging Division.

http://Double Wedding at Badger Brook April 1924

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