LET'S TALK RUSTY IRON

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Sam MooreSam Moore

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Research sheds new light on Cleveland-made tractor

The Cleveland Tractor Co. is justly famous for its long line of tracked, crawler tractors. Conventional wisdom among rusty iron aficionados has it that, in addition to Cletrac crawlers, the firm made just one model of wheeled tractor, the little, three-wheeled General GG, built from about 1939 until some time in 1942. However, it seems that another wheeled tractor also called a General was built by the Cleveland Tractor Co. works starting about 1929.

In 1994, Larry Walker of Ravenna, Ohio, visited a junk dealer in Jefferson, in northeastern Ohio, looking for a plow and cultivator for a John Deere H. He found the plow and cultivator, but also in the yard sat an unusual, little tractor. The serial number tag that read, 'The General Tractor Co. Cleveland, Ohio. Serial No. D-240. Made in U.S.A. Patents Pending.' Larry was intrigued and bought the tractor. The dealer was very close-mouthed about where and how he came to have the machine, only saying that it had once been used in a vineyard in Kingsville, Ohio, not far from Lake Erie.

Research turned up very little information about the tractor and even less about the General Tractor Co. The 1929 issue of the Tractor Field Book has a picture of a General Model D, made by the General Tractor Co. of Bellevue, Ohio, a town some 70 miles west of Cleveland. The Model D in the picture is obviously identical to Walker's General. A picture in the I & T book, Farm Tractors 1926-1956, shows the same tractor, identified as a General 10-12 and manufactured by the General Tractor Co. of Cleveland between 1928 and 1931. A 1930 buyer's guide lists the tractor as well. Tractor researcher C.H. Wendel makes no mention of the General in his Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, nor does R.B. Gray in The Agricultural Tractor 1855-1950.

Two patents exist, however, one for the steering mechanism and another for the unique wheel mounting of the General tractor, both issued in 1931 (although they were filed in September of 1927) to Rollin White, the owner of the Cleveland Tractor Co. No patent for the tractor itself can be found under White's name, although he has many patents for the crawler tractors he built under the Cletrac name. The trade name 'General' was registered with the patent office on Feb. 19, 1929, by the General Tractor Co. of Cleveland, which claimed to have used the name since Oct. 1, 1927.

Adding to the confusion is the 1919 listing in an old book for the Ohio General Tractor Co., 719 Citizens Building, Cleveland. Its tractor apparently was called the Ohio General, but no other information about the firm or its tractor can be found, so it's unknown whether Rollin White was involved in that venture.

Larry found an original sales brochure for the General tractor that's dated 1929. The brochure shows the tractor in action, using implements made by the Ohio Cultivator Co. of Bellevue and gives the price as $550. The brochure also lists the General Tractor Co. at 19300 Euclid Ave., which would have been 'right next door' to the Cleveland Tractor Co., which was at 19340 Euclid Ave. in Cleveland, with the sales office at Bellevue.

Blake Malkamaki of Girard, Pa., who runs the Cletrac Web page (http://cletrac.org), and whose grandfather, Howard van Dries, was an engineer for Cleveland Tractor, says his grandfather told him some of the wooden floors in the Cletrac factory showed damage from the sharp cleats on the General tractors when they were built there. So, it seems certain that the General tractor was built by Rollin White in the Cleveland Tractor factory, although the nature of the connection to Bellevue and the Ohio Cultivator Co. remains unclear. A search of the Bellevue library turned up no mention of the General tractor either.

The General is a two-wheeled machine operated from either an attached sulky, like the one shown in the photo at left, or from the seat of a horse-drawn implement. The 'Universal Sulky' was designed to carry a single 14-inch plow or two 10-inch bottoms, a one-row cultivator or an orchard cultivator. By removing eight cap screws and rotating the off-center axle housing, 'any clearance can be obtained from 4 to 14 inches.'

This illustrates the features of the Universal Sulky

A two-cylinder, water-cooled, L-head engine, apparently made in-house, powers the tractor. With a three and a half-inch bore, and a five and a quarter-inch stroke, the engine displaces 101 cubic inches. The transmission is planetary, with a forward drum and a reverse drum, giving a single speed in each direction. Two ropes, the handles of which hang down just ahead of the steering wheel, operate the transmission. A slight pull on the right-hand rope moves the tractor forward, and a stronger pull locks it into position. The left rope is pulled to stop, which shifts the tractor into neutral. To back up, the left line is pulled farther back and held in position. When the line is released, the tractor stops. There is no clutch or brake.

Larry's tractor sat in his barn for several years and, in 2000, another General surfaced. Dale Steadman of Cochranton, in northwestern Pennsylvania, owns it. He found the tractor, serial no. D260, in west-central Ohio after he answered a magazine ad. Dale's General has the original cleated steel wheels, and is disassembled at the present time awaiting restoration.

About the time Dale found his tractor, Larry began to restore his to like-new condition. Larry Solak of Mantua, Ohio, rebuilt the engine, although everything didn't go quite as smoothly as he could have wished. New valves were made by welding a head of the right size to an appropriate stem. The first time the engine was started, one of the welds failed, and the valve went through the engine head. The head was sent to an Indiana machine shop, where it was repaired to like-new condition.

The tractor and sulky with attached plow were taken to Larry Lietzow's shop, also in Mantua. He rebuilt worn parts and made new ones when necessary. New tires were mounted and, finally, Ray Lucht, also of Mantua, applied the paint and striping. Larry had decals made from a tracing of the original that could still be seen on the front of the radiator when he bought his machine.

If anyone else has a General tractor, or any information about them, please contact the author through Farm Collector magazine or Larry at 9150 Coit Road, Ravenna, Ohio, 44266; (330)626-3324. FC

-Sam Moore became interested in agricultural machinery while growing up on a farm in western pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items.

New valves were made by welding a head of the right size to an appropriate stem. The first time the engine was started, one of the welds failed, and the valve went through the engine head.