A Shrine to a King and a Cat® Machine

A remarkable monument in Thailand’s Phetchabun Province commemorates a gift that King Bhumibol Adulyadej presented to the community in 1965. The royal bequest, a Cat® D8 dozer, helped local farmers, blessed with fertile soil but hemmed in by forested mountains, transform the region into one of Thailand’s most productive agricultural areas. After five decades of service, the D8 was retired from service, wreathed in garlands and put on public display, a memorial to the community’s generous royal patron and to the tractor that helped make the region “a land of happiness and plenty.

 

Tangerines. Sweet tamarind. Rice. Sugar cane. Cassava. Green beans. Cabbage. Asparagus. Corn.

So many agricultural products thrive in the rich soil and mild climate of Thailand’s Phetchabun Province that you might wonder: What can’t grow here?

For centuries, the answer to that question – ironically – was commercial farming itself.

Phetchabun’s heavily forested, hilly terrain made anything but small-scale farming nearly impossible. So for much of Thailand’s long history, Phetchabun remained on the country’s economic sidelines despite its abundant natural gifts.

That began to change in the 1930s, when a wave of determined homesteaders poured into the region and began farming and through sheer determination – and a whole lot of old-fashioned animal traction – gradually extended the boundaries of those modest farms and scaled up their operations to a commercial level.

A man named Chul Cunvong was one of those pioneers, part of a cohort who moved north from urban Bangkok to rural Phetchabun in 1936 to grow tangerines.

Chul quickly distinguished himself among the homesteaders. He experimented constantly as he pushed to increase yields from his operation. Over time he became a role model for neighboring farmers. As his influence with locals grew so did his reputation outside the region. The government appointed him “kamnan” or "subdistrict headman" for the region. One of the country’s oldest and most prestigious universities, Kasetsart University, awarded Kamnan Chul an honorary master's degree in Agriculture and Animal Husbandry – the first Thai farmer to be so honored.

His reputation even brought him to the attention of the Thai royal family. In late 1964, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit visited Kamnan Chul’s farm. The king was impressed by what Kamnan Chul had been able to accomplish without almost any mechanized equipment – and he wondered how much more Kamnan Chul might be able to do if he had the very best modern tools.

King Bhumibol decided to find out and in early 1965, he presented Kamnan Chul with a new Cat D8 Track Type Tractor. The only stipulation? Chul had to share it with his neighbors to help raise the prosperity of the whole district.

The King picked the right equipment and the right steward. The D8 was immediately put to work building a school, a hospital and water and power lines. It turned ancient ox-cart tracks into proper roads to faraway markets.

And the D8 remained in the community’s service for 41 years. During its long life, Phetchabun Province was transformed. The farms grew as the steep terrain was graded and the forests and high terraces cleared. As the farms grew, they diversified. Shortly after the King’s visit, Kamnan Chul’s moved into silk production, rice farming and aquaculture. Neighboring farms began to experiment with other farm commodities, growing everything from corn to sugar cane, cassava to sweet tamarind, cabbage to asparagus.

Today, Phetchabun Province is one of Thailand’s most important centers for commercial agriculture. Average farm incomes in the province are higher than the national average and cash crop production has continued to grow at above average rates for decades, according to experts. And the land here, always rich in mineral nutrients, is finally the land of “happiness and plenty” that Chul believed it could be.

And the Cat D8 that helped make it all possible? It was removed from active service in 2006 and has, in its retirement, become a kind of community shrine. Wreathed in garlands and put on public display, it is now the centerpiece of a remarkable monument the community has erected as a token of its gratitude to its generous royal patron and to the tractor that helped the region become everything the original homesteaders dreamed it could be.

The Cat® D8 that helped transform Phetchabun Province into one of the most productive agriculture areas in Thailand was retired from service in 2006 and put on public display.

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