I first saw a restored Deardorff crawler in Grants Pass, Ore., in September 2010. Designed for cultivating, that crawler had a rear hitch and manual lift lever to raise and lower implements. The Deardorff name caught my attention, since my mother’s maiden name was Deardorff, and I made it my goal to add a Deardorff to my collection.The one I found — I traded some old tractor parts with Alan Schurman, near Vancouver, Wash., for it — had been designed for use in the timber industry in western Washington. It was equipped with a winch, roll cage and dozer blade to snake logs out of the woods.
These crawlers were built by Earl I. Deardorff & Sons, Portland, Ore., probably just after the end of World War II. The company apparently produced many of these units, although only a few are known to exist today. The Deardorff was made using car parts. Mine, for instance, has a 1937 Ford rear end that was made narrower and used for the steering brakes. Two Chevrolet transmissions from the late 1930s and early 1940s were incorporated: one for the winch and one to propel the crawler. The Wisconsin Model AHH engine, built in January 1951, replaced an earlier engine of the same model. The engine is rated at 9.2 hp at 2,200 rpm.
When I got my Deardorff, it was pretty much a basket case. In fact, several people suggested I take it to the recycling center. I spent the winter of 2011-’12 restoring it. One transmission had been open to the Washington climate and rain and needed extensive repair. An axle shaft in the rear end was twisted and needed repair, and several bearings had to be replaced. A brake drum was cracked and had to be welded. The small aluminum rear wheel rims were broken and unusable. I made a pattern from a good one and sent it to a foundry to have them recast. The tracks were completely worn out, so I made new ones.
From the looks of the old tracks, which had seen a lot of use, the basic design was successful. Earl Deardorff received a patent for this track design on Nov. 14, 1939 (no.2,179,587). Deardorff died in 1959; the last of his sons, Merle, died in 2011 at age 92. I was able to connect with Merle’s daughter, who was helpful in providing me with more pictures of Deardorff crawlers.
I researched the Deardorff genealogy and found that my great-great-great-grandfather, John Deardorff (born April 26, 1779), was Earl Deardorff’s great-great-grandfather. So there is a family connection with the people who built this crawler. FC
Know more about the Deardorff line? Contact Dick Tombrink, Worden, Mont., (406) 690-4080; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.