by Chris Allan
Few machines are capable of moving over Alaska’s snow- and ice-covered terrain, much less while hauling heavy cargo. The Caterpillar-style tractor is one such machine, and it caused a revolution in northern transportation, construction, and mining. During the 1910s and 1920s when the first Holt-brand tractors arrived in Fairbanks and Anchorage, they transformed what was possible. Suddenly a “cat train” could pull hundreds of tons of supplies over mountain passes and across rivers and through winter and summer without having to be fed and rested like dogs or horses.
This photograph shows a Holt “Caterpillar” tractor pulling two track-equipped wagons and several wheeled vehicles full of freight during the construction of the Alaska Railroad, October 8, 1920. In this way, “endless tread” technology and the gasoline-powered tractor transformed Alaska by opening up remote locations to supply. University of Washington Photographic Library, Alaska Engineering Commission Collection (AWC5932).