Beyond the Yellow Iron

Exhibits Bring Rich History to Life
by Kathryn Spitznagle
Caterpillar Visitors Center

Experience Caterpillar at your own pace… at the Caterpillar Visitors Center.

The strength of Peoria’s travel and tourism market plays an important role in driving visitors to the Caterpillar Visitors Center, with the highest volume of tourists visiting between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year. Since the center opened in October 2012, it has hosted visitors from every state and more than 45 countries. Visitors range from bus and senior tour groups to conference attendees to families traveling to Peoria for sporting tournaments, concerts and festivals.

The Caterpillar Visitors Center works closely with the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to make sure a visit to Caterpillar is on the agenda when tourists are in town. With free admission for children 12 and under and a general admission ticket priced at $7, it’s an affordable entertainment option. Special group pricing is also available, and with most visitors spending one-and-a-half to two hours, its a great option for filling time between other plans while in the area.

New and Changing Exhibits
Many families spend the majority of their visits on the product floor, where children and enthusiasts have the chance to sit in five different pieces of Cat equipment. New products are brought in each summer, representing Caterpillar’s vast product line. Coming this summer are a mini hydraulic excavator, tandem vibratory roller, telehandler, multi-terrain loader, track-type tractor and a site prep tractor used in the forestry industry. Constants to the product floor are the to-scale Cat(R) 797F Mining Truck and the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy SS Race Car.

The Heritage Gallery offers something new to repeat visitors, changing two to three times each year. These exhibits are used to tell little-known historical stories about Caterpillar’s people and its successes beyond the yellow iron.

The Caterpillar Visitors Center introduced its first historical exhibit in 2013 with the Caterpillar Diesels men’s basketball team. Peoria was on top of the basketball world in the 1950s, and these men, who built yellow iron by day, were some of the world’s greatest basketball players by night. Not only did they build Caterpillar’s world-renowned machines, they were even better with a basketball in their hands. Before the NBA became what it is today, there was the Caterpillar Diesels, later called the Peoria Cats—one of basketball’s most dominant teams. The exhibit featured a 1952 Olympic gold medal, game-worn jerseys, trophies, players’ personal memorabilia, photographs, game footage and a short film on the team. The exhibit was so popular it was repeated for a limited time in March 2015 in conjunction with the IHSA Boys Basketball tournament.

Other exhibits are selected in celebration of important historical milestones, such as the 50th anniversary of Caterpillar’s first Power Parade. Also featured in 2014 was the Manufacturing Traditions exhibit in celebration of National Manufacturing Month.

The Girls of Summer
The newest addition to the Heritage Gallery is the Caterpillar Dieselettes: The Girls of Summer exhibit. From 1936 to 1955, Caterpillar sponsored a women’s fast-pitch softball team, which achieved great success, winning regional and national tournaments and producing a handful of professional players and hall of fame inductees. The team was so successful that it continued playing even after Caterpillar’s sponsorship ceased, playing in Sunnyland and Pekin, where it still plays today. The Pekin Lettes are the world’s longest consecutively-running women’s softball team!

The Caterpillar Visitors Center is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm, with the last ticket entry at 3:30pm to allow time to visit each gallery. For more information, call (309) 675-0606 or learn more at iBi

Kathryn Spitznagle is manager of the Caterpillar Visitors Center.