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Streight: Komatsu plans will open view to river, preserve history

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PHS LeTourneau steel home Peoria Heights 1
PHS LeTourneau steel home Peoria Heights 2

Some Komatsu buildings are coming down – and a beautiful view of the Illinois river is coming up.

Those old  brownish red  former Avery Tractor structures on Adams Street are being torn down to make way for a lovely scenic spot that will let people look out on the river. You'll be able to enjoy a snack at the Ice Cream Shack while enjoying a river view. This is the part of Averyville where the LeTourneau company built earth-moving and mining machines using Caterpillar engines, a business that was sold to Westinghouse Air Brake Company (WABCO) for $25 million.

The structures targeted for removal have appeared to be past their prime for quite a while now, but there is a unique historic treasure hidden in their midst. An R.G. LeTourneau steel house, preserved and converted into an office by Komatsu, will not be demolished. The Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation, in cooperation with Komatsu, is looking for a home for this LeTourneau building, a place where it can be preserved and exhibited to the public.

R.G. LeTourneau was a leading inventor of heavy machinery, particularly earth-moving equipment, and supplied most of the Allied troops' World War II heavy machinery, though LeTourneau never got past the 7th grade in school.

A rebellious boy and business failure until he was 44 years old, R.G. LeTourneau pressed on to fulfill his industrialist dreams in spite of being severely under-qualified. To this day, he is known as the greatest inventor of earth moving machinery. He gave the credit for his success to God and was a popular speaker, labeled as “God's businessman.”

In 1935, he built a factory in Peoria, Illinois. His company manufactured earth-moving machinery and even had a Steel Buildings Division offering a line of steel homes to provide simple, low-maintenance  housing for workers and their families.

These peculiar LeTourneau houses were advertised as all-steel, frameless Carefree Houses, with “The House Thought Built” as their slogan. In a Carefree Houses catalog, they're also called Thermobuilt because, like a worker's coffee thermos that he lugged along with his lunch box, the homes were constructed with thermal panels.

The catalog goes on to say these steel Carefree Houses were “safe – a perfect ground in case of lightning and neither cyclone nor earthquake can tear or twist it.” Even more amazing, the structures were hygienic: “germ proof – with doors and windows closed, there is no place for germs to enter, no place for germs to lodge, and nothing for termites, vermin, or germs to live on.”

Versatile to an extreme, with plastic floors and all the familiar comforts of air conditioning, heating, electricity, and plumbing, their flat roofs were promoted as great for gardens or sun parlours, just by adding a movable companionway (stairway) and canvas canopy on a metal frame.

Behind the MaxFit 360 Fitness Training Center at 201 Spring Street there is an abandoned LeTourneau steel Carefree House. It's really amazing to see the thickness of the steel walls. To think that people once lived in it seems apocalyptic and cool. I could easily envision the home transported into a Road Warrior scenario. And did you know that these incredible steel homes floated on water and were easily towed across a river by a tugboat?

Speaking of rivers, a breathtaking view of the Illinois River will soon greet residents and tourists! And it's at such an historically rich area of Peoria. The Averyville area now occupied by Komatsu was once a world famous track for bicycle racers who, if they thought they were the fastest on earth, had to “prove it in Peoria.”

The dilapidated buildings, designated as T, L, M, and N by Komatsu, will undergo demolition that was expected to start May 7 and continue through August 5, 2014. Leaning west as they aged, these buildings have served their various purposes and are now scheduled to be removed to open a spectacular river view that will aesthetically enhance the Averyville area.

Post-demolition construction will also be accomplished with an aim at visual appeal. New curbs will be installed, along with a grassy spots and strolling sidewalk, set off by a black decorative fence matching the current fenced area.

In 1882, St. Mary's Cemetery was located here but was relocated to St. Mary's in West Peoria. As a precaution, with the help of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, Komatsu will enlist an on-site archaeologist to help them ensure that nothing was missed during that relocation.

Komatsu has been commendable in working with the local interests, communicating with representatives of the people who live in the Averyville section of Peoria. Meetings and discussions were held with Komatsu to address the wishes, needs, and concerns of the community.

Neighborhood representatives involved include Tim Herold of the North Valley Alliance, Bill Ordaz of Detweiller Marina Neighborhood Association, and Rosilee Walker of the Averyville Improvement Association.

Soon, all Peoria area residents will be able to enjoy a view in a spot they probably never considered aesthetically pleasing, but merely historically valuable. Thanks to Komatsu and community leaders, we'll have the best of both worlds.

To read more about R.G. LeTourneau visit


About the Author
Steven Streight is a man of many skills. He’s a talented writer, web content developer, internet marketing consultant and photographer. He’s a trustee on the Peoria Historical Society, a member of SCORE Peoria and the author of the Peoria technology history book, “Bicycle Fever.” In his downtime, he’s hangs out with his beloved Min Pin and tries to get some rest. Considering how involved he is in the community, it sounds like he could use as much as he can get.