In 1889, Daniel Best’s Agricultural Works (later renamed Best Mfg. Co.), began to manufacture steam engines at his plant in San Leandro, California, producing models ranging from 30 hp to the massive 110 hp model. Upon retirement in 1908, Best sold his company to Ben Holt, owner of Holt Mfg. Co. His son, C.L. Best, operated the company under the Best name until 1925, at which time it merged with Holt Mfg. and the two formed Caterpillar Co.
The Best’s single front wheel (5 feet in diameter) is steered by a chain-and-pulley system. Manned by a crew of three (engineer, brakeman and stoker) and sometimes described as the “monarch of the fields,” it could pull 34 7-inch plows, covering 12 acres per hour in clay and adobe. This model was designed not only for agricultural fieldwork, but also for long-distance freight hauling and was used as a road engine for the mining and logging industries.
It measures 9 feet, 7 inches wide, and weighs more than 18 tons. Its 8-foot-diameter rear drive wheels allowed for up to 15-foot width extensions to gain stability on the soft California land.
In December 2006, No. 185 was moved to the Roots of Motive Power Collection in the Mendocino County Museum, Willits, California, where it remains on long-term loan from the Oakland museum. Roots of Motive Power is an all-volunteer organization founded in 1982 to preserve and restore steam- and diesel-powered equipment used in California’s North Coast logging industry from the 1850s to the present.