RIGHT here in Sarawak over the past 50 years, CATs have been roaming the jungles. And they are not the furry kind but heavy machinery which have been part and parcel of the modernisation and progress of Sarawak
And you have to believe that behind the scene are hundreds of well trained mechanics and technical and administrative personnel who look after them and have thousands of stories to share.
Some 60 former Tractorians (many already retired) will be having a Reunion in Miri where they all started their training and service.
This privately arranged reunion will be held at Grand Palace Hotel on March 3, 2019. And many of the attendees will be travelling from other parts of Malaysia just to be at the reunion.
Excitement fills the air whenever some of them get together to discuss the forthcoming function.
The organisers have been trying to contact as many Tractorians as possible and the response has been good.
Former general manager, Miri, Chang Chin Seng, told thesundaypost: “Tractors Malaysia was the name used when I started serving in Sarawak. I was born in Penang but after graduating from University of Malaysia as an engineer, I was recruited and posted to Miri as manager.
“Today, the name of the company is reverted to Sime Darby Industrial Sdn Bhd. We dealt with heavy machinery supplying to SHELL and many timber companies. Most of the road construction in Sarawak saw our equipment, the famous Caterpillars, being used.
“Caterpillars were used in coal mining, petroleum mining and boat buildings, before the Japanese machinery came into the scene.
“I was, therefore, a kind of pioneer in the field. It was both challenging and eye-opening, I was exposed to the vast jungles of Sarawak, travelled along the treacherous rivers and stayed a few days in some of the smallest towns in Sarawak.
“All these have enriched my life. Definitely, then Tractors Malaysia had given me a life long career and a love for heavy machinery, so to speak.”
Took a chance
Patrick Bong was a young man in search of a good career. He was earning $250 with Public Works Department, Sarawak, but took a chance to become an apprentice with Tractors Malaysia 50 years ago, which offered him only $130, a little more than half of the government salary.
Many people considered that a crazy move but in 1974, Bong joined Tractors Malaysia as the third batch of apprentices.
The following year saw the beginning of a recession but Patrick told thesundaypost he had no regrets.
The training was so good that he was able to join SHELL later which, in turn, offered wonderful opportunities in life and even migration overseas.
During the training, Bong said he and his fellow apprentices were taught to dismantle and re-assemble heavy equipment, adding that those were memorable experiences.
The senior servicemen in the company became mentors to the younger recruits and that created a great bond among the employees.
How did Caterpillar get its name?
In the early 1900’s, seeking a way to improve the mobility and traction of his company’s steam tractors, Benjamin Holt replaced the wheels with wooden tracks bolted to chains.
The innovation worked so well that one bystander was said to have remarked the machine crawled along much like a caterpillar.
Holt agreed, and dubbed his new machine ‘Caterpillar’ — a name he eventually trademarked in 1910.
Cats is a short form for Caterpillar machinery, popularly used by logging companies and construction companies.
A grateful Tractors Malaysia staffer is Dennis Tan who told thesundaypost: “Working for the company in the 70’s felt as if I was part of a big family; 1976 to 1986 was an incredible period of my life.
“From 1977 to 1980, I was TMB sales representative in Brunei, followed by sales supervisor in Miri for a further six years. I’m happy to say I have had a good record.
“I sold the first 516 Cat Pipelayer to M/S Yong Tze Kiok of Seria in Brunei. Later I chalked up best sales to a competitor user, Interhill Enterprise.
“The development of the logging industry in Sarawak actually saw Caterpillar equipment being used for opening trails, log skidding, loading and stacking and power generation in the timber camps. That was truly a very exciting period in Sarawak and for every one working for TMB.
“The company has trained us well and we have remained close like siblings.”
Today, former employees continue to remain loyal to the company and are proud it has expanded, covering a large part of Asia Pacific Region.
A retired personnel noted: “In Malaysia, the company continues to offer a comprehensive list of heavy equipment and services, ranging from the sales of new machines, engines and used equipment to after sales support and rental equipment through its chain of Cat Rental Stores nationwide.
“I’m proud I have been part of this Sarawak branch of the Company in Miri.”
Excited about reunion
Patrick Bong was very excited about the reunion.
“It’s time for a reunion. We have been friends for more than four decades and are definitely getting on. We have formed a Whatsapp Group to contact friends and organise this grand reunion which hopefully will gather many of the first few batches of apprentices of TMB, Miri. It has been 50 years for many of us, especially leaders like Mr Chang.”
He added that reunions could also mean making new friends, noting that some good old hands from Tractor Malaysia could remember their work experiences like yesterday.
“We all recall them with great fondness.”
Bong revealed some from the first few batches of trainees for Tractors Malaysia Miri, would be organising the reunion this year.
“We also have help from the Miri branch office.”
Chang Chin Seng chipped in: “I’m looking forward to the reunion with my life-long friends. Our shared experience and loyalty to each other have really made our lives richer. It will definitely be a big event for us to get together, have a good dinner and then visit our old office in Miri.”
A retired employee who wished to remain anonymous, and had attended many different kinds of reunion — be they school, church or association — told thesundaypost that 40 years later, he is comfortable ‘with my white hair’.
He said everyone had had some misfortune although many were successful and no one should judge anyone because “we should just come together and enjoy each other’s company.”
He added that not too long ago, he met for the first time many people who never attended reunions and some who loved reunions.
“It was good they came and talked about their health problems, many issues and found we were all alike in so many ways. We could laugh at ourselves. And share our memories.”
He is always looking forward to meeting old friends, saying: “It wouldn’t be just a limp handshake but lots of hugs for every one of us. We will have anecdotes and jokes about events of long ago.”
For the love of CATs, their old company, and a town they worked in, a great band of workmates will be coming together for a meaningful anniversary.
It will be a celebration of 50 years of achievements and success — thanks to a good company with vision and mission.