Tom Pfeifer drives a 1918 Holt 75 owned by Peter M. Holt, former CEO of HOLT CAT. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

In the center of a muddy, rock-strewn field crisscrossed by deep tire tracks, the engine on a rust-red and green Holt 75 rumbled to a start and a driver climbed behind the wheel.

The sound of the 100-year-old tractor cranking to life Friday drew the attention of camera-wielding tractor enthusiasts attending the Antique Caterpillar Machine Owners Club (ACMOC) National Show, opening on the campus of HOLT CAT headquarters as it celebrated 85 years in business.

The rare, century-old construction and farming equipment sitting in contrast to imposing, modern-day machinery served as a visual showcase of just how deep the history of this Caterpillar dealership, the largest in the country, actually goes.

The family-owned HOLT CAT sells, rents, and services Caterpillar machines, engines, generator sets, and trucks in a territory that spans 118 Texas counties. Operating from a campus off Loop 410 and East Southcross for more than 50 years, the company last year completed construction on a $24-million corporate headquarters building, effectively planting deeper roots after earlier talk of moving to Dallas.

HOLT CAT’s new 80,000-square-foot headquarters was completed in late 2017. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Though the company officially turns 85 this year, the Holt name has been associated with heavy equipment and Caterpillar for more than 100 years. In 1904, Benjamin Holt developed the first practical track-type tractor to enable farmers to plow through loose California soil. After a journalist compared the track motion to a caterpillar, Holt named it the Caterpillar.

That innovation and more is on full display at HOLT CAT headquarters this weekend, with collectors young and old showcasing tractors of every size and color.

Art Oleson of Elkader, Iowa, brought a 1932 CAT 35 Diesel, the first diesel Caterpillar tractor ever made and one of only 10 remaining in the world.

Tom Pfeifer, a HOLT CAT shop supervisor who is caretaker of Peter Holt’s collection of 25 antique tractors, showed off the Holt 75, a 75-horsepower machine that could do the work of 100 mules when it was made in 1918, as well as a 1906 Best Steamer that is valued at $300,000 even though it no longer runs.

Andy Haberle, ACMOC president and a Caterpillar corporate employee who also owns five antique tractors, said the 2,900-member collector’s club brought the show to Texas for the first time on the invitation of former HOLT CEO Peter M. Holt in 2014.

Click through the gallery below to see more images from the ACMOC National Show.

Three years later, Holt, 69, a great-grandson of Benjamin, turned over the reins of HOLT CAT to his son and daughter. (In 2016, Holt also stepped down after serving as Spurs Sports & Entertainment chairman and CEO after a 20-year run.)

Today, CEO Peter J. Holt, 32, and President Corinna Holt Richter, 34, are the driving force behind a company that comprises not only HOLT CAT, but also nine other related businesses, including HOLT Ventures, a venture capital firm.

Friday, after the siblings formally welcomed local and state dignitaries, Caterpillar executives, partners, and others, and accepted a proclamation from Mayor Ron Nirenberg, they sat down with the Rivard Report to talk about the anniversary, the role their father plays, and planning for the future.

Rivard Report: Why is it important for you to mark this anniversary by hosting this show and other events?

Corinna Holt Richter: The tractor show is a visual of our legacy, a living breathing thing right here on our campus. Also, to see the juxtaposition of the old, antique machines and the new together, that innovation and how it’s developed and grown over the years and to know our grandfather had a part of that, is incredibly humbling.

Peter J. Holt: For me, it makes me incredibly proud because you really see the decades of innovation and how that has evolved over time. Now we get to stay a part of that and also put our own thumbprint on what the future will look like. In a lot of industries, people struggle to find a higher purpose and we don’t because we get to literally be part of building the world. A lot of people can figuratively say that but our products and services and employees and teams and technologies can literally be part of a bridge, a new community, or powering the world. And that’s a pretty proud thing for us.

Siblings (from left) Corinna Holt Richter, president, and Peter J. Holt, CEO, are the fourth generation to lead the HOLT CAT dealership business. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
RR: What has it meant to you to take over the leadership of this company?

CHR: We’re fourth generation in the dealership. It’s been incredible. We’re coming up on our first full year of ownership. It was planned, and we prepared for it and we had a lot of mentors to help us get here. But to have been able to accomplish it and now to have some wind in our sails with our strong Texas economy, it’s been awesome.

PH: We have an opportunity to lead a large organization, close to 2,700 employees and that’s a lot of responsibility. It’s exciting for us because we know that the industries we serve are so fast-paced and the change is constant, and the opportunities are so big that we have to rely on all of our team members to be successful. I think we’re really proud to have that responsibility, but we also realize it’s going to take a village to continue that success. But it’s a very fun industry with a lot of great people.

RR: What is your father’s role in the company today?

CHR: In his style, he’s allowed us space to make our own path within the business. He’s really helped us as individuals to put our mark on what we want our careers to look like, and he continues to do that. We have an informal advisory board and he’s our dad so we see him in that capacity and can always bounce ideas off him.

PH: We understood that we were young and, in moving into this type of role, it was important to learn by doing, by getting our hands dirty really fast. Our father allowed for that to happen and other executives were open to us challenging the status quo and getting gainful positions in the organization that weren’t simply placeholders until we took over. We had serious roles that necessitated success and execution and it allowed us to learn by having some failures and successes.

RR: What do you see as your greatest challenge going forward?

CHR: Finding, recruiting and retaining talent for our workforce. We’re always looking to develop and grow our team. But when you look at our technical workforce, the pipeline is not there. We want to focus on growing that pipeline, developing those employees, and making this a great place for them to work.

PH: People are our No. 1 asset and we have to ensure that is taken care of and there is succession – a bench – and the people are feeling highly valued and feel the same priority of our higher purpose that we do.

The ACMOC tractor show continues through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is open to the public with a $10 per car admission fee.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is a journalist and writer in San Antonio, and a business reporter for The Rivard Report.