Shay Stutsman is relatively new to collecting antique construction equipment, but in a short time he has acquired and had restored some rare specimens.
His first find was in 2016 when he came across a 1949 Cat D4 in Missouri on a used-tractor sales website. The excitement of adding that antique crawler tractor increased his desire for vintage equipment, but he also decided to focus more on the rare and hard-to-find pieces.
“As I started collecting more pieces of Caterpillar old antique tractors, I learned that there is really not a lot of significance with that particular model; there were a lot of D4s from that era made,” he says. “So as I've started my process of collecting more tractors, the goal is to go after more unique, much more rare antique tractors.”
That desire led him to a 1940 Cat D6 with a rare wooden cab that he has had beautifully restored. And though he focuses on Caterpillar equipment, he made an exception for a rare 1987 John Deere 15 mini excavator, the same model that was the first piece of construction equipment he operated – when he was 3 years old.
The wooden cab
The 1940 D6 was being sold online out of Montana in 2020. It had been well taken care of. What’s more, it had a rare wooden cab.
Stutsman bought it and had it sent to Wyoming for restoration by Antique Crawler Parts & Restoration.
“We actually had a cabinet company in Wyoming take the old cab, and they basically took it apart piece by piece and remeasured and re-cut each piece of wood,” he says.
The cab was then rebuilt one piece at a time to the exact specs of the tractor.
Stutsman prefers his equipment to be shiny and new looking, but some markings on the D6 changed his mind for this particular project.
“What's so cool about this tractor is that there were a lot of pencil-drawn marks from when the machine was actually serviced,” he says. The markings were on the dash and air cleaner showing when it had been maintained while used as a wheatland tractor in northern Montana. “It would have been a shame to strip it and paint it and get rid of these handwritten service dates and notes.”
Antique Crawler Parts & Restoration finished the restoration about a year later, on August 26, 2021. Along with rebuilding the cab, work included getting it running, fixing leaks, fixing the generator and lights, and new seat. This particular D6 model was produced by Caterpillar from 1937 to 1941. It had previously been introduced in 1935 as the RD6, but the “R” was later dropped. It runs on a 3-cylinder diesel engine and is started with a gasoline pony motor.
The restoration was so impressive Stutsman and his fiancée decided to use the D6 in their wedding, just weeks after it arrived at their home in Aspen, Colorado.
“We actually had a hay trailer that was towed behind, and so the whole wedding party pulled away from the church on this nice D6 tractor,” he says. “We drove around Aspen, made a few stops, had a couple of drinks here and there, and then went back to our reception.”
At first, he wasn’t sure how well his bride-to-be would react to using a tractor instead of a fancier, more traditional ride. But he was pleasantly surprised.
“She was totally for it,” he says. “It was something very rare and unique – not a lot of people can say they did it.”
“Some people use limos,” he adds. “We used the old Cat tractor.”
A boy and his … excavator
“I was pretty much born in a piece of heavy equipment and just kept bugging everybody to play on one,” says Stutsman.
His grandfather cofounded the family excavation company, Stutsman-Gerbaz Earthmoving, in 1960 in Aspen, Colorado. As a child, Stutsman would go to work with his father and ride in the equipment. Today he is the third-generation president of the company.
Back in 1987, when Stutsman was 3, a part of the family owned a John Deere dealership selling mostly farm tractors when a Deere 15 mini excavator arrived at the lot.
“In the late 80s, mini excavators were very rare, kind of a new thing, not really many people had them,” he says.
They brought it to his grandfather to give it a try at the excavation company.
“According to my dad and mom, when I saw that little mini machine when I was 3 years old, I wouldn't stop crying, screaming and throwing a tantrum until I got to sit in it,” he says.
His dad relented.
“So I just started running it.”
He’s got the picture to prove it:
The lone Deere
Recently he was making his usual monthly online search for vintage equipment when he typed in “John Deere 15 for sale.” An owner in Maine had one he was willing to part with.
“Man, I’ve got to get that thing restored,” Stutsman said to himself.
So he called the owner.
“I tried to haggle with him on the price,” Stutsman says. “He did not want to budge $1. And I don't know if he could sense the excitement in my voice or whatever, but he was like, ‘No, no, no.’
“I wired him the money and had it shipped out to Colorado.”
Stutsman is a self-declared diehard Caterpillar guy. But the nostalgia kicked in when he saw the same model Deere he had operated as a child. He also loves the look of it.
“To me, it's all about body lines. And I think that this machine has really good lines,” he says. “And how John Deere did the paint back in the day, it's just really, really well done.”
It also is a rare find.
“It's extremely rare because it has a cab on it,” he says. “I'm hearing it's rare from John Deere.”
Stutsman’s Deere 15 arrived about six weeks ago, around the time his first son was born.
When asked if he plans to let his son operate it when he turns 3, he didn’t hesitate to respond.
“100 percent,” he says. “We’ve got to get the exact same pictures.”
To see more of Stutsman’s classic Cat collection, check out the photos below:
Restored 1940 Cat D6
1949 Cat D4
1938 Cat D7
1980 Cat 977L track loader
Cat 983B track loaders
The following photos are of three early 1980s Cat 983Bs Stutsman acquired. The 983B is the largest Cat track loader ever produced. Stutsman plans to use all three to restore one to mint condition.