When I was growing up, the neighbors always had the best trucks in the sandbox, and now that I'm older, it looks like little has changed. Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), headquartered just up the road from me in Peoria, Ill., is still king of the sand pile, as evidenced by the hefty growth numbers it posted this morning.

The construction and mining equipment maker notched sales gains of 20% for the quarter, topping $6.47 billion. For the year, revenues hit $22.8 billion, a 13% gain over 2002. If the 13% sales spike isn't good enough for you, consider the 38% increase in profit ($1.1 billion, or $3.13 per share) that Caterpillar hauled out of those sales.

Granted, some of the earnings and profit uptick is owed to favorable currency fluctuations (from the standpoint of American sellers), but Caterpillar is not staying idle. Management forecast another 12% increase in sales for 2004, and a 40% jump in profits for 2004.

Those are amazing predictions from such a seemingly old-school industry. But the firm looks like it's really firing on all cylinders as it cuts costs, leverages better prices on its sales, and earns some serious green through its financing division -- just like its peer producer of punier engines, General Motors (NYSE:GM).

Next year's results will be fueled by the same mix of the company's big three -- machinery, engines, and financial products -- with strength in Asia (the region produced a 22% sales gain in the fourth quarter) helping to offset softer growth in Latin America. In the U.S., Caterpillar looks for a sales boost in its new line of cleaner ACERT diesel engines.

There's a lot to love at Caterpillar these days, though the stock has nearly doubled since last January. At $82 a ticket, shares trade at 26 times trailing earnings, but 19 times management's 2004 guidance. Factor in a modest dividend yield of 1.8%, and this is one heavy industry that should earn a second look from investors.

Seth Jayson would really like a tractor. Feel free to send him one via FoolS@sethj.com.