As Dr. Jim Sheppard drove down a back road in Sutter Creek, California, he spied a rusted crawler tractor behind a barn in neck-high weeds.
He stopped to check it out.
“I thought it was an old Caterpillar because I could just see part of it,” he recalls. “When I waded through the weeds to where I could see it, I realized it was actually a Best.”
The trip through California in 1994 was one of dozens Sheppard had made over 44 years. He’d pick a state, rent a car and hit the road for two weeks, taking a break from his medical practice in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, to search for antique tractors. Nearly five decades and 42 states later, the 85-year-old retired cardiologist has amassed a 175-piece collection of vintage John Deere and Caterpillar tractors that he has restored. His collection has caught the eye of Walton County, Florida, which is considering purchasing it to establish a museum.
His favorite tractor was discovered on that back road in Sutter Creek.
The tractor’s owner had considered selling it for scrap but found it cheaper just to let it stay by the barn in the weeds. He wanted it hauled away. Sheppard says it was a Best 60 Logging Cruiser, a Best 60 Tracklayer model made for the logging industry.
The gasoline-powered Best 60 Tracklayer was the most popular model of the C.L. Best Tractor Company, according to Caterpillar. After Best merged with the Holt Manufacturing Company in 1925, the Best 60 was renamed the Caterpillar Sixty.
Sheppard’s parts search and restoration of the tractor took more than 10 years. He said it was missing pieces, and part of the engine had been replaced at one time. He had to get parts cast and made. “I rebuilt everything on it,” he says. “It looks exactly like a Best coming off the assembly line in 1925.”
It also runs like new, he says. He used it once to drag a large fallen cypress tree out of the swamp on his farm. After starting the tractor by using a prybar to turn the flywheel, he put it in low gear.
“I push the hand clutch over and as I eased off, the cable started grunting and squeaking,” he says. “It lifted the front end of the tractor about 6 inches, and it just crawled right on out across the field with that log. It didn’t even hesitate.”
Sheppard continues to work on restoring old equipment and enjoys the restoration work.
“I was just doing it for the fun of it,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to compete or do it for profit. I just wanted to see it looking brand new again.”
For some more views of the Best 60 Logging Cruiser, see below: