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A Cletrac CO-OP?

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Tracing the history of CO-OP tractors

Someone asked me if I'd ever seen a CO-OP crawler tractor that looked just like a Cletrac HG crawler. I had to admit that I never had, and seriously doubted that any such machine ever existed, even though I knew the CO-OP name was put on tractors from several different manufacturers. However, I've learned in almost 20 years of studying this stuff to "never say never," as in: "They never made one of those!"

By way of background, in 1867 the Grange was started by a Minnesota farmer named Oliver Hudson Kelley, who believed that farmers, because of their independence and the way they were scattered, needed a national organization to represent them, like unions were beginning to do for industrial workers. Farmers were at the mercy of merchants for farm supplies and marketing their crops, while the railroads and grain companies were taking advantage of farmers as well.

From this beginning, a number of local farmer cooperatives (Co-ops) evolved, with many carrying the Farm Bureau name. These organizations attempted, through the power of group purchasing, to get the farmer a better deal on prices for seed, fertilizer, feed and other essential supplies, including farm machinery.

Probably the first tractor to carry the name CO-OP appeared in 1934. Huber Manufacturing, in Marion, Ohio, took some of its Modern Farmer series tractors, cast the CO-OP name into the radiator tank, and painted the machines red. A couple of years later, Huber was out, and a tractor designed by Dent Parrett and built by Duplex Printing Press Co., Battle Creek, Mich., was being sold by the cooperatives. Three models were made: the 1-plow CO-OP No. 1, with a 4-cylinder Waukesha engine; the 2-plow No. 2, with a 6-cylinder Chrysler engine; and the 3-plow No. 3, with a larger Chrysler power plant.

In 1938, trouble developed with Duplex, and another change was made, resulting in the formation of the National Farm Machinery Cooperative. NFMC seems to have built some of the No. 2 and No. 3 CO-OP tractors in Shelbyville, Ind., as well as a few in Minneapolis, and some in Arthurdale, W.Va.

About 1940, a new CO-OP B-2 tractor started rolling off the Shelbyville assembly line. Considered a replacement for the old No. 2, the B-2 had a Chrysler 201 cubic inch displacement (cid), 6-cylinder engine, 38-inch tires, a streamlined and tapered hood, and clamshell fenders. Soon, the CO-OP B-3 followed with a bigger, 242 cid Chrysler engine, followed by the smaller CO-OP B-2 Jr. The B-2 Jr. had a 4-cylinder Continental, 162 cid engine, and used a transmission and rear end supplied by the Silver King factory at Plymouth, Ohio.

Starting about 1939, and continuing into 1942, the Ohio Farm Bureau Cooperative sold the small General GG, a three-wheeled tractor made by the Cleveland Tractor Co., as well as that firm's Cletrac HG crawler tractors. I don't know if they were painted red, but at least some had COOP decals on the hoods. The Indiana Farm Bureau Cooperative Association sold the General in 1941 and 1942, first as a CO-OP Model G, and later as a Model B-1.

In 1942, the Shelbyville plant was converted to war work, and Model B tractor production stopped in 1942. Engineers had been busy designing the Model C, which was to be a light, modern, 2-plow tractor, weighing less than 3,000 pounds and powered by a 124 cid, 4-cylinder, Continental Red Seal engine. The Model C tractors were built during the last years of the war, although no one knows how many, with production probably ceasing early in 1945.

Although records are pretty sketchy, it appears a couple other CO-OP tractors were built by NFMC right after the war, as examples have been found and restored. In 1945, the Shelbyville plant turned out 200 Model D-3 tractors. A somewhat updated version of the old CO-OP No. 3, the D-3 was built to power threshing machines in the wheat belt and production was tied to special permits from the War Emergency Farm Machinery Board.

Starting in 1948, and continuing for two or three years, the Farmers Union Central Exchange of St. Paul, Minn., built the CO-OP No. 3S. The 3S was another update of the old No. 3, with a 250 cid Chrysler engine, and streamlined sheet metal, although the old crowned fenders were retained. The postwar demand for tractors was waning by the end of 1949, and only some 1,500 CO-OP 3S tractors were built.

Meanwhile, in 1946, NFMC signed an agreement with Cockshutt Farm Equipment Limited of Canada, allowing Cockshutt tractors to be sold in the U.S. by the cooperatives. Cockshutt had introduced its new Cockshutt 30 tractor in 1946, and had agreed to paint U.S. models orange with black CO-OP lettering. Called the CO-OP E-3, the new tractor was powered by a Buda, 153 cid, 4-cylinder engine, and had a 4-speed transmission and rear end from Wisconsin Axle Co. that provided a live PTO. Thus, the Cockshutt 30, and its twin CO-OP E-3, were the first tractors with a fully independent, live PTO. With their fresh, sleek styling, they were miles ahead of models from the larger manufacturers, who were still building tractors of pre-war design.

As Cockshutt developed different tractor models, their CO-OP equivalents were introduced in the United States to supplement the E-3. The larger E-4 came out in 1949, while the smaller E-2 and the much larger E-5 hit the cooperative's showrooms in 1952.

Even though the CO-OP E-series tractors sold well, the NFMC was badly over-extended and filed for voluntary bankruptcy in 1952. Cockshutt bought the NFMC plants at Shelbyville and Bellevue, Ohio, sold the Shelbyville facility, and closed Bellevue in 1955, after transferring some of the Famous Ohio machinery lines to Brantford, Ontario. After 1953, all tractors and machinery sold by the cooperatives bore the Cockshutt name.

So, there could have been a CO-OP crawler tractor that looked like a Cletrac, although I have yet to see one.

- Sam Moore grew up on a farm in western Pennsylvania. He now lives in Salem, Ohio, and collects antique tractors, implements and related items. Contact Sam by e-mail at letstalkrustyiron@yahoo.com