Tracks and Trails

Historical Sequim tractor continues trek as collectors look to restore three other WWI-era tractors

  • Monday, March 24, 2014 12:47pm
  • Life
Tracks and Trails

A long-time fixture in the foothills of Sequim is going to create history three times over.


David Melvin, who discovered a 1918 Maxwell Crawler, a World War I-era tractor, on his rented property last summer, has found three collectors from Washington, Oregon and California. They are looking to take pieces from the tractor and convert them into three similar tractors and make them working again.


Melvin said the tractor has ties to Holt Manufacturing Company during wartime, which contracted the tractor’s construction to the Reo Motor Car Company and Maxwell Motor Company.


Leroy Roth, a collector from Lebanon, Ore., said it’s one of a handful of tractors like it in the world with armor still on it. However due to the Sequim tractor’s condition and the rarity of its missing parts, it would be hard to refurbish it, he said.


The 5-ton tractors were sent overseas for towing vehicles and large weapons and helping lay roads but when the war ended, cities and counties mostly bought out surplus tractors for building roads.


Roth said finding armored tractors is rare because either farmers or Holt pulled the armor off the tractors.


Fellow tractor collector Alan Schurman, who owns Schurman’s Iron Ranch in Ridgefield, said they’ll take armor, engine and track parts, and more to renew their tractors.


All three collectors, including Tom Madden of California, are Caterpillar tractor collectors and like the Sequim tractor because the Holt Manufacturing Company went on to become a part of Cat.


“I’m an old Cat collector,” Roth said. “I love the old iron.”


How it came to be

Robin Collins, the property owner where the tractor was found, said it’s been in the same spot since 1926. She said over the years her family thought of many things to do with it but never acted on it.


“I didn’t realize its worth until David told me,” she said. “It’s been a great conversation piece for many years.”


Collins, originally a Schmith, said her family is one of Sequim’s pioneer families and that the tractor was used by her great-grandfather and great-uncles to clear the land for a mill.


Many of the property’s trees were cleared out in the 1920s and 1930s with some of them at least 150 years old, she said.


Her great-grandparents William and Julia Schmith met in Hawaii while cutting sugar and homesteaded here to farm.


They had almost 600 acres which was divided among nine children.


When Melvin found the tractor he also discovered a piece of the steam engine for the mill. Schurman also bought this.


Melvin and Collins split the money they received for the tractor and engine but how much they received is not known.


One last chance at history

Over the last year Melvin investigated the tractor, he learned that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a 28-year old lieutenant colonel in the Army and traveled on a transcontinental convoy in 1919.


Eisenhower wrote about tractors like the Maxwell Crawler and how the tractors helped them traverse the at times hard-to-maneuver roads.


Melvin said he did research online and made several calls including to the U.S. Army Rock Island Arsenal, which Melvin said are the Army aficionados of items like the tractor.


Even with serial numbers still intact on the tractor, Melvin said he couldn’t confirm or deny if this tractor was one Eisenhower saw on his travels.


“It’s a loose end, but the chance was slim anyways,” Melvin said.


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