100 Years of Cletrac

Hart-Parr/Oliver collectors celebrate Cletrac centennial at a summer show in New York.

HG wide

An Oliver HG wide track owned by Dave Hilliard, Sarver, Pa.

Photo by Paul Trowbridge

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The Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Assn.’s annual Summer Show, celebrating 100 years of Cletrac, was held during the New York Steam Engine Assn.’s 56th annual Pageant of Steam, Aug. 10-13, in Canandaigua, New York.

The event was said to be the largest showing of Cletrac and Oliver crawlers ever. I counted more than 300 pieces of Oliver-related exhibits, ranging from a very unique Oliver baler to many Hart-Parr tractors. The feature tractor was the Cletrac Model F.

The two host organizations (and numerous vendors) were housed in a beautiful new barn that will be used for feature tractor displays in future shows at the Canandaigua grounds. Landis Zimmerman had a nice vendor spot and was a huge wealth of information on Cletrac tractors. He displayed Cletracs outside as well as all his vendor parts, and he was the keynote speaker at the banquet Friday evening. Landis is quite the historian on anything Oliver-Cletrac.

Marc Shuknecht, a member of the Empire State Oliver Collectors, said that club was very excited to host the event this year. In addition to helping with his fellow club members produce the show, Marc and his family transported at least 30 tractor exhibits to Canandaigua.

The oldest and the biggest

Bob Burkhouse, Bradford, Pennsylvania, displayed a 1945 Cletrac FDE – the biggest Cletrac I’ve ever seen, and the biggest Cletrac at the show – once used in the oil fields of Pennsylvania. I watched him unload it, put the blade back on and go push dirt alongside a Caterpillar D6, and the FDE did the same or better than the Cat.

I also had the privilege of talking to Roland Bleitz of Grants Pass, Oregon, who earned the distinction of showing the oldest Cletrac on display at Canandaigua. His 1917 Model R Cleveland Motor Plow, the forerunner to Cletrac crawlers, is about the oldest Cletrac known. Restored to original specifications, Roland’s motor plow (serial no. 101) is just an amazing crawler. I wonder what we could make today that would do what it was meant to do 99 years from now. My cell phones usually last two to three years, and that’s a long way from 99 years.

I happened to catch up to George Coryn, a local dealer who was displaying a 1755 Oliver Front Wheel Assist. His tractor had amazing history. Only about 40 of these were built. This one was shipped Oct. 8, 1975, to Pleasant View Farms, Montour Falls, New York.

Innovation put Cletrac on track

Early car manufacturer Rollin H. White grabbed an opportunity to participate in an ever-expanding tractor market. He experimented with a wheel tractor, but he decided what the farmer needed was a light, affordable track machine.

His first product, a crawler, was the Model R in 1916. The Model R was replaced by Model W 12-20, the model that truly launched White’s Cletrac Tractor Co. line. (The Model W was also the first crawler tractor tested at the Nebraska Tractor Test Laboratory.) The company became so successful that Holt Mfg. Co., Stockton, California, a dominant early crawler manufacturer, began building small crawlers like the Caterpillar Ten.

Cletrac’s Model W sold for $1,385 in an era when the very primitive Fordson, which was introduced in 1918, sold for $795. Cletrac also started the use of air cleaners and roller bearings, making the tractors lighter and durable. The Model W also reduced compaction, and could deliver more power to the ground than a wheeled tractor.

In 1920, White started building a smaller version of the W – the Model F – to use in cultivating row crops. The Cletrac Model F was one of the first machines to use a top drive sprocket (a feature still in use today), and was one of the first crawler tractors designed for adjustable row crop use.

Oliver Corp. bought the Cletrac line in 1944. Oliver continued to build crawler tractors until 1965, but plenty remain in use today. White Farm Equipment Co. bought Oliver Corp. in 1960 and continued production of Oliver wheel tractors until the mid 1970s. FC


For more information:

Paul Trowbridge is “a retired farmer still farming” in Corfu, New York. Email him at johndeere4010@frontiernet.net.

Hart-Parr/Oliver Collectors Assn., online at www.hartparroliver.org.