Cleveland Tractor Company: Ohio Family Starts and Ends with Cletrac

What started as the White Sewing Machine Company grew to manufacture crawler tractors

| July 2010

  • The earliest White tractor was a wheeled motor plow, from about 1912.
    The earliest White tractor was a wheeled motor plow, from about 1912.
  • When this photo was taken in about 1918, this Cletrac was being used as a
    When this photo was taken in about 1918, this Cletrac was being used as a "plow horse." Note how narrow this Model F (the first Cleveland tractor to carry the Cletrac name) is. In 1918, farmers were not yet totally sold on the merits of track-style tractors.
  • This 1921 ad declares the Cletrac the
    This 1921 ad declares the Cletrac the "tank-type tractor," piggybacking on the success of the armored tank during World War I. In this ad, the manufacturer, the dealer and the farmer who bought this "regular mud hen" were described as "three wise men."
  • Patent 1,261,082, for endless track of track-laying tractors, was granted April 2, 1918, to Rollin White. It was considered his most significant patent.
    Patent 1,261,082, for endless track of track-laying tractors, was granted April 2, 1918, to Rollin White. It was considered his most significant patent.
  • Cleveland Model W 12-20 with front-end pulley.
    Cleveland Model W 12-20 with front-end pulley.
  • The Cleveland Model W finished the troika of lettered models (R, H and W) named after Rollin H. White. This
    The Cleveland Model W finished the troika of lettered models (R, H and W) named after Rollin H. White. This "Cleveland" model was renamed "Cletrac" at some point.
  • The Cletrac Model F was the first Cleveland tractor to carry the Cletrac name, in about 1918.
    The Cletrac Model F was the first Cleveland tractor to carry the Cletrac name, in about 1918.
  • This 1920 ad shows the Model W after the price was cut $200 (nearly $2,200 in 2010's terms) in an effort to boost sales during the Agricultural Depression of the early 1920s.
    This 1920 ad shows the Model W after the price was cut $200 (nearly $2,200 in 2010's terms) in an effort to boost sales during the Agricultural Depression of the early 1920s.
  • The Cletrac 15 replaced the Model 12-20 starting in 1930. The model was discontinued in 1933. Instead of a Cletrac-built engine, it used a Hercules 4-cylinder engine, a first for Cletrac.
    The Cletrac 15 replaced the Model 12-20 starting in 1930. The model was discontinued in 1933. Instead of a Cletrac-built engine, it used a Hercules 4-cylinder engine, a first for Cletrac.
  • The Cletrac Model F in three convertible types,
    The Cletrac Model F in three convertible types, "which can be changed to any other in very little time simply by substituting a few parts." These models include the original Model F, one 10 inches wider and a third that was 6 inches higher.
  • Cover of a Cletrac catalog.
    Cover of a Cletrac catalog.
  • A 1934 Cletrac Model 15 from the collection of Dr. Jim Sheppard, Ponce de Leon, Fla.
    A 1934 Cletrac Model 15 from the collection of Dr. Jim Sheppard, Ponce de Leon, Fla.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • This ancient Model W shows the range of Cleveland tractors: It is part of the display of the Museum of Transport & Technology in Auckland, New Zealand.
    This ancient Model W shows the range of Cleveland tractors: It is part of the display of the Museum of Transport & Technology in Auckland, New Zealand.
    Photo by Bill Vossler
  • A Cletrac Model F displayed at the Albany (Minn.) Stearns County Pioneer Days show.
    A Cletrac Model F displayed at the Albany (Minn.) Stearns County Pioneer Days show.
    Photo by Nikki Rajala
  • A rare Oliver-Cletrac Model HG-31 crawler, owned by Bob Zimmerly, Baraboo, Wis. Cletrac offered this model in three gauges: 31, 42 and 68 inches. The narrow gauge was designed for vineyard use.
    A rare Oliver-Cletrac Model HG-31 crawler, owned by Bob Zimmerly, Baraboo, Wis. Cletrac offered this model in three gauges: 31, 42 and 68 inches. The narrow gauge was designed for vineyard use.
    Farm Collector archives
  • 1918 Cletrac Model H, owned by Bob Anderson, Verona, Wis.
    1918 Cletrac Model H, owned by Bob Anderson, Verona, Wis.
    Farm Collector archives
  • Street cleaning with a Cletrac.
    Street cleaning with a Cletrac.
  • A Cletrac Model F 9-16 (left) and Cleveland Model W 12-20.
    A Cletrac Model F 9-16 (left) and Cleveland Model W 12-20. This full-page ad appeared in Chilton Tractor Journal Dec. 1, 1921, and made two predictions. First, within six months, "the popular sized and popular priced tractor will become an active and profitable seller in every farm center in the country" and second, the farmer is "thoroughly sold on the advantages of the crawler type tractor and the demand for Cletracs will exceed the capacity of the factory to supply them."

  • The earliest White tractor was a wheeled motor plow, from about 1912.
  • When this photo was taken in about 1918, this Cletrac was being used as a
  • This 1921 ad declares the Cletrac the
  • Patent 1,261,082, for endless track of track-laying tractors, was granted April 2, 1918, to Rollin White. It was considered his most significant patent.
  • Cleveland Model W 12-20 with front-end pulley.
  • The Cleveland Model W finished the troika of lettered models (R, H and W) named after Rollin H. White. This
  • The Cletrac Model F was the first Cleveland tractor to carry the Cletrac name, in about 1918.
  • This 1920 ad shows the Model W after the price was cut $200 (nearly $2,200 in 2010's terms) in an effort to boost sales during the Agricultural Depression of the early 1920s.
  • The Cletrac 15 replaced the Model 12-20 starting in 1930. The model was discontinued in 1933. Instead of a Cletrac-built engine, it used a Hercules 4-cylinder engine, a first for Cletrac.
  • The Cletrac Model F in three convertible types,
  • Cover of a Cletrac catalog.
  • A 1934 Cletrac Model 15 from the collection of Dr. Jim Sheppard, Ponce de Leon, Fla.
  • This ancient Model W shows the range of Cleveland tractors: It is part of the display of the Museum of Transport & Technology in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • A Cletrac Model F displayed at the Albany (Minn.) Stearns County Pioneer Days show.
  • A rare Oliver-Cletrac Model HG-31 crawler, owned by Bob Zimmerly, Baraboo, Wis. Cletrac offered this model in three gauges: 31, 42 and 68 inches. The narrow gauge was designed for vineyard use.
  • 1918 Cletrac Model H, owned by Bob Anderson, Verona, Wis.
  • Street cleaning with a Cletrac.
  • A Cletrac Model F 9-16 (left) and Cleveland Model W 12-20.

The story of the Cleveland Tractor Company is the story of the gifted and inventive family of Thomas H. White and his sons, Thomas II, Rollin, Windsor, Clarence and Walter. Thomas White started White Sewing Machine Company in Cleveland in 1866. The company also manufactured roller skates and bicycles, and by 1899 produced 10,000 bicycles per year. But bigger things lay ahead.

The Whites and Tractors

By 1912, Rollin and Clarence White turned their design prowess toward development of a motor plow and Cleveland Motor Plow Company “Their design was revolutionary,” said C.H. Wendel in Oliver Hart-Parr. “It incorporated the implement as an integral part of the tractor.”

These White-made wheeled tractors went through multiple design changes. “They never saw more than very limited production,” Wendel noted, “if in fact they ever went beyond a few prototypes.” A patent for “Power-Propelled Agricultural Machinery” was applied for in 1912.

Beginning in 1914, Rollin spent months developing a crawler tractor at an older brother’s pineapple plantation in Hawaii. By January 1916 he was finished. The 1912 patent request was granted in 1918, but by then, everything had changed at the White company. Wheeled tractors had been abandoned, the Cleveland Model R crawler had come and gone, Cleveland Model H was in full production and the company’s name had been changed to Cleveland Tractor Company. “White finally concluded that the crawler design would be ideal for farm work,” Wendel wrote, “especially since this design compacted the soil far less than conventional wheel-type tractors.”



Out of this came the controlled differential steering mechanism, called Tru-Traction. “This essential design would forever remain with the Cletrac design,” Wendel noted, “despite numerous modifications and improvements.”

An Early Trio: The R, H and W

The Cleveland Model R was followed in 1917 by the Cleveland Model H. These Cleveland models were clearly aimed at farmers, as demonstrated by prominent Cleveland displays at power farming demonstrations. Company literature proclaimed that the crawler “travels on top of the soil – doesn’t sink or pack.” The design was fairly well established, Wendel said, including use (on some models) of a front-mounted belt pulley.



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