Pittsfield man restores 73-year-old Caterpillar bulldozer

Mike Braley, owner of Mike's Auto Body in Pittsfield, shows off his fully restored 1939 Caterpillar D7 bulldozer on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012. He said it took about two years and more than 400 hours to return the 20-ton machine its original condition.
Mike Braley, owner of Mike's Auto Body in Pittsfield, shows off his fully restored 1939 Caterpillar D7 bulldozer on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012. He said it took about two years and more than 400 hours to return the 20-ton machine its original condition. Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 08, 2012, at 6:53 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 08, 2012, at 7:15 p.m.
Mike Braley climbs down from his 1939 Caterpillar D7 bulldozer in Pittsfield on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012.
Mike Braley climbs down from his 1939 Caterpillar D7 bulldozer in Pittsfield on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012. Buy Photo

PITTSFIELD, Maine — A local man has transformed an old workhorse of a machine back to its former glory.

Behind Mike’s Auto Body sits a restored Caterpillar D7 bulldozer. It took owner Mike Braley a little more than two years to make it look like it did in 1939, when it was first sold.

“I probably have about $4,000 into rebuilding it, but a lot of hours,” said Braley, whose body shop has been in Pittsfield for 34 years. “I traded an old Mercury Cougar for the machine.”

Braley said he put about 400 to 500 hours into restoring the bulldozer. He had a lot of help from his friend Tom Berry of Thorndike, who is a retired Caterpillar mechanic. Ben Gilbert, a painter for the auto body shop, painted the tractor in classic Caterpillar yellow.

The 73-year-old CAT had a fairly easy life, said Braley, and that’s why it was in restorable shape.

“Originally, it came from Central Maine Power Company. They bought it brand new in 1939 and used it down to Wiscasset at the coal-fired power plant,” said Braley. “[CMP] actually used to do their own line work and they pushed all the brush back [with the Caterpillar] and then it was sold off.”

The dozer was sold to a farmer in Brownville, who used it to make roads on his property. After it developed some problems, Braley said the owner was unable to pay for repairs.

“It sat around for 15 years without being used at all,” said Braley.

The dozer’s fate was all but sealed when the price of scrap metal skyrocketed.

It was sold for scrap, but it was never cut up. Braley said it was in remarkable shape for its age and he decided to give it a new home in Pittsfield about three years ago.

Braley traded the Cougar for the dozer and set out to restore the 20-ton beast.

“It took about two years of working in the summer part time,” said Braley. “We rebuilt a lot of the mechanical parts [inside in the winter], and when summer came along, we’d come out and put them on.”

Some parts had to be fabricated and it took some improvising for Braley to get some of it apart to work on. He said he enjoyed the challenge.

“I had it restored just for the historical significance. I like big machines that are kind of neat. And it was a challenge to see if I could do it,” said Braley. “No one [else] would probably take the task on.”

The dozer holds up to 60 gallons of diesel fuel for the engine, but has a second gasoline-powered engine to get it fired up.

“You start the gas engine first, which is the pony engine, and then it runs and it turns the big engine over,” Braley explained. “Sooner or later, it warms the bigger engine up enough to start it. It doesn’t have an electric start.”

Being able to operate it is also no easy task.

“The men that ran those machines back in the day, they really earned their day’s pay. Everything is all hand-controlled. You have to make all the right moves to make the thing work right,” he said.

The D7 isn’t just for show. Braley said he plans on using it to level about 25 acres of sand pits on his property to make it into one field again.

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