General Interest: The Cletrac General GG

A Cletrac General GG takes its place in an Oliver tractor collection.

Cletrac General GG

The Cletrac General GG as it looked when purchased from an estate auction.

Photo by Richard E. Frantz

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One might ask what a little Cletrac General is doing sitting in a building full of Oliver green tractors. I grew up on the seat of a 1946 Oliver 70 that my father purchased new after World War II, when tractors were hard to come by.

My blood runs green, dark green that is, with red and yellow trim. My stable sports a 1948 Oliver 60 row crop, three Oliver 70s (1937, 1938 and 1946), 1951 Oliver 66, two 77s (1949 and 1952), two Super 55s (1955 and 1958), a Super 77 and a Super 88. Three of the four Supers are diesels. And of course I have one three-number series: an Oliver 440.

Rare entry in the Cletrac line

I knew that Oliver Corp. purchased Cletrac in 1944, but was unaware that Cletrac had built a wheeled tractor. One day, while checking on the progress of the restoration of my Super 88 diesel, I found the men working on a Cletrac General. It was an odd-looking little tractor with a single front wheel, little 9 x 24-inch rear tires and it was orange.

That encounter sparked my interest. After having my Oliver 44 restored and showing it at a tractor show or two, I got the urge to collect little tractors. I could find only one Cletrac General in my vicinity, but the owner was in failing health and would not show it to me. After his death, I purchased it at his estate sale.

The former owner’s sons pulled it to start it, and it sounded good. Many things were wrong with it, though. The radiator leaked like a sieve. Someone had used a torch to cut off the yoke for the front wheel. A spindle with two front wheels had been welded into its place. An International Harvester carburetor and magneto had been installed. The whole air cleaner mechanism was missing. And oh, what a nasty color: It had been painted red with a brush.

Double-checking bloodlines

The restoration process began. In researching, I learned that Montgomery Ward & Co. bought some of these, painted them red, changed the serial number plate to read Montgomery Ward and called them Twin-Rows. They sold these through their catalog. Since mine was painted red, I checked the serial number plate to be certain it was a General: It was.

Through Landis Zimmerman of Zimmerman’s Oliver Cletrac, Ephrata, Pennsylvania, I purchased a whole new air cleaner system, carburetor and magneto. From his parts tractor field, I purchased a correct yoke and single front wheel. Since it is nearly impossible to find new 9 x 24-inch rear tires, I located two 9.5 x 24-inch matching used tires. When my mechanic was finished with the mechanical work, I sent it off to my tractor painter.

This tractor is a 1939 model. There was no battery or starter. There is not even a place to mount a starter. There is a crank. Someone did a field conversion, adding a Ford Model A truck transmission between the engine and the transmission. I believe that was to slow the tractor down so it could pull a transplanter for tobacco and/or vegetables. The General was developed from a Cletrac HG. The tracks were removed and wheels added. I read an article written by Chris Losey in the Hart-Parr Oliver Collector about the Cletrac HG. According to Losey, farmers complained that the HG moved too fast when they were trying to push dirt. Oliver Corp. did field conversions, adding a transmission.

Tracing connections

Amazingly, as it turns out, I know the original owner of this tractor. Clayton Schmehl, Bethel, Pennsylvania, bought the tractor from Shollenberger’s Equipment of Calcium, Pennsylvania, north of Reading. The tractor cost $595 ($9,979 today). He also bought a 1-bottom trailer plow and mounted cultivators, for a total of $633. I have a photograph of Clayton with the tractor when he was a young man. He is now 97 and enjoying retirement. I assume I will never learn who owned the tractor after he sold it.

One last observation: I will not travel on the open road with this little tractor. It has no foot brakes, only hand brakes. You must take your hands off the steering wheel in order to apply the brakes.

My bright orange Cletrac General GG feels right at home surrounded by lots of Oliver green. FC


Family Tree with Many Branches

Cletrac General GG tractors had a way of popping up in unexpected places – or at least a way of wearing badges with unexpected names. The only rubber-tired model in the Cleveland Tractor Co. line, the General GG was paired with B.F. Avery implements in the late 1930s, and was tagged as the Ward’s Twin-Row for Montgomery Ward & Co., as a Co-op tractor (in Indiana only) and as a Massey-Harris Co. tractor in Canada.

The Ward’s Twin-Row and the Co-op were both painted red. According to Mike Ballash, author of The Cletrac General GG and the B.F. Avery A: A Bit of History, their serial numbers were intermingled with those of the General Model GG as they came off the production line.

Designed to pull one 14-inch plow, the tractor was capable of 19-belt hp. The GG used a 4-cylinder Hercules IXA3 flathead engine of 113 cubic inches and 3-inch-by-4-inch bore and stroke. Some sources say the GG was made from 1939-’41; others suggest production continued into 1942. After 1942, Cletrac never resumed production of the General.

But B.F. Avery & Sons Co., Louisville, Kentucky, did. On Feb. 14, 1942, Avery announced purchase of the equipment, inventory, dies, jigs, fittings, patent rights and other property from Cleveland Tractor Co. in order to manufacture the General as Avery’s own tractor in its Seventh Street plant in Louisville.

The first B.F. Avery & Sons tractor was the Model A, an exact duplicate of the Cleveland General GG. Meanwhile, according to Ballash, “Cletrac supplied almost 850 B.F. Avery tractors from (its) Cleveland plant for B.F. Avery, even when B.F. Avery was first producing the same tractor in Louisville.” Cleveland Tractor Co. built the tractors for Avery until the Avery plant was retooled and ready. Curiously, some of the Model A tractors made by B.F. Avery still carried the “GG” designation.

Farm Collector staff

For more information:

- Richard Frantz 35 Wintersville Rd., Richland, PA 17087-9611; (717) 933-4719; email: rfrantz35@comcast.net.