HCEA Canada: Preserving the machines that built Canada

A vintage loader owned by HCEA Canada moves dirt

Paul Leavitt’s fascination with dozers began when he was five years old. 

At the time, his father had hired a contractor to bring in a dozer and cable shovels to complete work on the family farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario. When Leavitt and his father went to pay for the work, the contractor had just taken delivery of a new Caterpillar D8. 

“He said, ‘c’mon, you have to go for a ride.’ I was so little that my head didn’t catch the top of the tracks, but when my dad lifted me up, I was sold on things with tracks,” Leavitt said.

“I bought my first one when I was 19 years old.”

Today, Leavitt has built an impressive collection of antique dozers, including several Caterpillar and International machines and the second last Model 10 ever built.

Considering his collection, joining the Historical Construction Equipment Association (HCEA) Canada was a natural fit. 

“You get to coexist with all these other guys that like this stuff too. So that’s what started me in HCEA,” Leavitt said, who joined the association in 2005.

“So, it’s just the camaraderie. It’s everything. It’s just fun.”

At HCEA’s Canada’s Wheels & Tracks in Motion event, held June 10-11 at the Simcoe County Museum, Leavitt brought his 1931 Caterpillar 30 Snow Special to operate during the demonstration. 

“You’ve got to crank it to start it. You have to know a little bit about it. And when you’re driving it, you’re operating a part of history,” Leavitt said. “Old stuff is just neat. It’s a hard thing for me to describe.” 

HCEA Canada’s mandate

Leavitt is one of about 300 HCEA Canada members. The group’s mandate is to ensure current and future generations are aware of the antique construction equipment and personnel that built Canada from Confederation onward.

“We needed to do something to preserve the equipment, so the kids can find out how Canada was built,” said Frank Rooney, HCEA Canada President and author of Equipment Journal’s Looking Back section. 

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The group was formed with 15 members in 1996 in Hillsburgh, Ontario, before finding its permanent home on the grounds of the Simcoe County Museum near Barrie. In conjunction with the Simcoe County Museum, HCEA Canada is the only national antique equipment association to host two annual demonstration events with working vintage equipment. 

Museum partnership

Through the museum partnership, HCEA volunteers provide the manpower to assist with ongoing maintenance and operation of the museum’s antique equipment, its own fleet and machines on loan to the association by its members. Combined, the group restores and manages about 60 machines in working (or near working) condition, as well as numerous static machines on display at the museum. HCEA Canada has also created a digitized database of more than 2,500 antique equipment manuals, sales literature and related items.

Stan Lougheed, owner of Osprey Equipment Repair in Singhampton, Ontario, is one of the technicians that helps restore the vintage machines. He’s also a founding member of HCEA Canada. 

Lougheed explained many of the machines in the collection were donated by family run construction companies after they were bought out by larger firms. 

“Maybe it was the first machine they ever had. So, it came here, and that’s how this has just exploded into what we’ve got. And you know, we have some unique pieces,” Lougheed said. 

HCEA Canada’s new show piece

HCEA Canada’s 1940s Ingram three drum roller.

The current show piece for HCEA Canada is a recently restored 1940s Ingram three drum, 10-to-12-ton roller. Lougheed purchased a replacement engine for the machine in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to restore it alongside other association members. 

“The engine was completely worn out. It used to be just a cloud of blue smoke coming out,” he said.

“Now it runs really nice. There were some major changes to make to it. We had to tear it apart and put it back together again. But, you know, I enjoy that sort of thing. It’s a labour of love type of thing.”

At the recent Wheels & Tracks in Motion event, Lougheed was joined by his son Richard and his grandson Dallas. 

“It’s become kind of a family affair type of thing. We’ve had a lot of fun out of it,” Lougheed said.  

Like his grandfather, Dallas plans to pursue a career as a heavy equipment technician. 

“The only way to learn for the future is to learn from the past,” Dallas said.