The Cleveland Tractor Company began in 1911, when Rollin H. White, with the help of his brother Clarence, worked to develop a farm tractor. White already had a successful steam car, as well as a line of both steam and gasoline powered trucks on the market.
After trying several unsatisfactory wheeled tractor designs, White came up with a promising crawler design, featuring his patented Controlled Differential Steering mechanism, which was used, with many improvements, until Oliver ended crawler tractor production in 1965.
The Cleveland Motor Plow Company was incorporated in January, 1916, to build the new crawler tractor. In 1917, the name was changed to the Cleveland Tractor Company, and a year later, the “Cletrac” trademark was adopted.
Between 1916 and 1944, Cletrac produced some 75 different tractor models, one of which was the HG. Introduced in 1939, the little HG crawler was powered by a Hercules IXA-3, 3” X 4” engine that developed about 14 drawbar horsepower. In Nebraska Tractor Test No. 324, of August, 1939, the 3500 pound Model HG pulled 2800 pounds, almost 80% of its own weight while using 1.5 gallons of gas per hour.
Sometime after Oliver bought out the Cleveland Tractor Company in 1944, an improved version of the HG came out. It now had a 3 1/8” X 4” Hercules IXK-3 engine, turning about 16 1/2 hp, and was available with a belt pulley and PTO shaft, as well as a variety of track pads for different applications.
The Cletrac HG could be ordered with center-to-center track widths of 31, 42, 60, or 68 inches, allowing them to be used in very limited spaces, as well as for row crop work. One interesting variation of the HG that came out in the late ‘40s was a rubber tracked version known as the HGR. It was a great idea, anticipating today’s popular Challenger and other rubber tracked machines, but back then it didn’t work. The rubber belt tracks kept stretching, while stones and other debris got between the belts and the drive wheels, tearing up the rubber. Although Oliver and the three major rubber companies tried to make it work, Oliver finally had to recall some 200 rubber treaded machines and convert them to steel tracks. A few rubber tracked HGs survived and one is occasionally seen at Oliver themed shows.
The HG was built until 1951, when it was replaced by the OC-3, which looks nearly the same. The OC-3 has a slightly larger Hercules IXB-3 engine of 132.7 cubic inch displacement, capable of about 22 hp.
Oliver sold several attached implements for the HG and OC-3, including a two-row, front mounted cultivator, as well as a two-row corn planter. An Iron Age crop or tree sprayer could be fitted to the tractor, while Detroit Harvester built a front-mounted mower, as well as weeders and crop dusters. Several firms offered hydraulic loaders, bull-dozer attachments, and V-type snowplows for the HG and OC-3.
Cleveland Tractor and Oliver ads stressed the agricultural uses of the crawlers and printed many testimonials by farmers. In a 1949 ad, one farmer said, “I pulled a manure spreader through 12 inches of snow, and spread manure with it when it was almost impossible to get horses to haul an empty wagon.” Ads pictured the little crawlers pulling a 2-bottom plow, a one-row corn picker, and cultivating corn with a 2-row, front-mounted cultivator.
A picture exists of an OC-3 that has been modified to provide 72 inches of crop clearance. Apparently intended for spraying and de-tasseling standing corn, the rig has the track frames, rollers, and idler wheels at ground level, while the tracks go up and over the drive sprockets at the rear of the tractor. The OC-3 looks as though it were on stilts, especially since a man is standing beneath the tractor with six inches of clearance above his head. Lanny B. Ross from southeast Pennsylvania showed a less extreme HG Hi-Crop at the National Pike Steam, Gas, and Horse Association show near Brownsville, PA in 2008.
The Oliver Cletrac HG-68 Hi-Crop belonging to Lanny Ross at the National Pike show in 2008. A standard Oliver Cletrac HG-42 is parked to its left, while a 1944 Cletrac HG-42 is behind it. (Photo by Sam Moore.)
Though primarily intended for farm use, thousands of HGs and OC-3s were used in other roles. Small crawlers were used extensively in logging operations and, equipped with hydraulic loaders, in materials handling where their small size and maneuverability made them ideal. Fitted with a bull-dozer blade, the tractors were extremely handy for light grading and dirt moving. I remember hauling coal out of a strip mine in western Pennsylvania about 1952, where an HG dozer was used to clean the last layer of dirt from the top of the coal vein before the coal was loaded on trucks.
The HG and OC-3 crawler tractors were built from 1939 until 1956 when Oliver introduced the OC-4. They were handy little machines that found hundreds of uses in both agriculture and industry.