Who was C.L. Best?

Dan Best (front), Ed Claessen, and Sue Claessen sign a copy of Making Tracks

Books and Beer here at the Heidrick Ag History Center on September 23 gave attendees the chance to meet Ed & Sue Claessen, authors of Making Tracks: C.L. Best and the Caterpillar Tractor Co, and Dan G. Best II, grandson of former Caterpillar Chairman of the Board C.L. Best.

Ed, Sue, and Dan gave attendees a look at the painstaking research that went into discovering who C.L. Best was, his innovative ideas, and the formation of the Caterpillar Tractor Co.  The research for the book really began in 1973, when Ed Claessen purchased a Caterpillar Sixty Tractor with bonds he received from the State of Minnesota for serving in Viet Nam.  Since that time, Ed has been dedicated to researching and restoring tractors.  He convinced his wife Sue to assist him with doing research, they formed a friendship with Dan G. Best II to learn more about the Best family, and their research has finally culminated in a book that tells a comprehensive story about C.L. Best, Best tractors, and the genious that continued the development of tracks suitable to work California terrain.

Here is a short excerpt from Making Tracks that really makes you want to find the answer to “Who was C.L. Best?”

Every company can trace its beginning to an idea, a concept, a dream. In the ensuing years of growth and prosperity, the early story of who, what, where, and when sometimes gets misplaced. When you’re dealing with men who are secure with who they are and with what they can do, the need for personal recognition pales. They are satisfied to let their achievements speak through the years. But should they have been? When a man has patent designs that continue to be used in products for nearly one hundred years and are now considered the industry standard, shouldn’t he deserve recognition? When the company he was instrumental in founding in 1925 has $48 billion in sales in 2008 and employs over one hundred thousand people worldwide, shouldn’t his name and the names of his inner circle of advisors be known? And what if this company is an international giant with products recognized around the globe? Shouldn’t the early journey leading to that success be acknowledged?

Ask people what they know about Caterpillar Inc., and most will think of huge yellow machines moving and sculpting the earth. Depending on where they live, some will think of machines preparing the soil and planting crops; some will picture forests being harvested; some will recall huge trucks moving vast amounts of ore from open-pit mines; some will think of the engines that power the trucks that move a nation’s goods; some will think of the power units that keep the hospitals functioning when the power grid fails; and a few will even think of the Caterpillar name on clothing and boots. Ask about the beginnings of the Caterpillar Tractor Co., and a few will have heard about Benjamin Holt and perhaps Daniel Best. But who was C. L. Best? What could this man have accomplished that he should be remembered and revered for?

Learn the answers to these questions and more in Making Tracks, available in the museum gift shop at the Heidrick Ag History Center.  The book is also available through from Beaver’s Pond Books.  Thank you to Ed & Sue Claessen, Dan Best, Sudwerk Brewery, Heidrick Ag History Center volunteers and staff, and all of those who came out to support Making Tracks.

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