Farm Collector

Master Sargent Snowplow: Tackles Snowdrifts With Ease

In 1985, when Dick Moody got a lead on a 1930 Cletrac K20, plowing snow was the last thing on his mind. But old iron has a funny way of calling the shots. “I didn’t know what a Cletrac was,” he says, “but I had always wanted a crawler, and being young – in my early 40s, and ‘can do anything’ – I went to look at it. It did look pretty sad, very rusty with no paint showing, no tin, gas tank badly dented, engine stuck, no magneto and no carburetor. Still, being young and stupid, I bought it for $450.”

When he got the crawler home, Dick – who lives in New Boston, New Hampshire – poured most of a gallon of WD-40 in the cylinders. “I got the biggest Stillson wrench I could find and a 6-foot pipe and jumped on the handle,” he says, “and nothing.” For three years, every time he walked by the Cletrac, he jumped on the wrench. Finally, one day it moved. After the engine finally turned over, he removed everything he could; then he sandblasted and primed all of it.

Next, he pulled the head, hand-lapped the valves and took shims out of the connecting rods and main bearings. The pistons weren’t broken (“where was I going to get new pistons anyway?”) so he honed the bores, cleaned the pistons and bought new rings.

Improvising as needed

Dick tracked down Cletrac literature, an owner’s manual and a sales data sheet. Photos in that material showed what type of magneto and carburetor he needed. He found a magneto at a Dublin, New Hampshire, engine show but the search for a carburetor took longer. “A year later I found a carburetor that would work,” he says, “but it wasn’t the right Cletrac carburetor, which has a square end. I turned the radiator around to improve the looks of it. It still leaks a little but black pepper keeps it under control. Actually it makes a great conversation starter.  People will ask, ‘Hey, did you know your radiator leaks?’”

At the Dublin show, Dick met Wayne Fisher, who had a Model K in excellent condition. He offered to loan his tin to use in making patterns for duplicate hood and side panels. Dick pounded out the gas tank and filled the dents with body putty. “The whole job was starting to come together and being the optimist I am, I painted the tractor and fired it up,” he says. “Whoops. No clutch.”

The clutch spring was broken and Dick despaired of finding a flat-wire spring wound in a helical shape. But he soon met a young man with a K20 with a good spring that he was willing to part out. “I beat feet over to his place and sure enough, he had already taken the spring out for me,” Dick recalls. “He wouldn’t take any money for it; he just wanted to see it run. Soon after, I found out he had just lost his job the previous week. I have never forgotten him.”

After timing the magneto, Dick had a running tractor. For the next few years, he showed the Cletrac regularly, until the day he couldn’t get it to start for the return trip home. “We took out the plugs and cranked it on the trailer,” he says. “Then I parked it under the barn and went off to reenacting Civil War cavalry with horses.”

Mystery lost to time

Back when Dick was restoring the Cletrac, Wayne Fisher – the man who’d loaned him the tin work – asked if he wanted an old wooden snow plow that had been used with a Cletrac Model K20 years before. Left sitting behind Wayne’s barn for years, the plow – a Sargent built in Bangor, Maine – was in bad shape. “Still being young and foolish,” Dick says, “I drug it home.”

Dick didn’t exactly rush forward with restoration. “I piled the pieces behind my barn,” he says, “where they continued to rot for another 25 years.” In 2012, his wife asked him to move the remnants and Dick gave the plow a second look. “I thought it would be a good little winter project,” he says. He and his wife literally dug the plow out of the ground; she even used a metal detector to find parts. Dick spent a lot of time studying what remained. “First I had to figure out how it was supposed to work,” he says.

He laid the pieces out in his garage but none of it made sense. He tried to find information online but had little success. He found an advertisement for a Sargent snow plow for Cletrac 12s and 20s with a line drawing and dimensions. “But I still didn’t know how the lift mechanism worked, how the plow was attached to the tractor or how the two wings were attached and lifted,” he says, “things I thought were sort of important.”

Patents solve the puzzle

Using the drawing from the ad and measurements from the parts he had, Dick tried to make scale drawings, but he still couldn’t make sense of the plow’s design. “I couldn’t see how a wooden plow made in 1926 could be that complicated,” he says. Then he tracked down a reprint of a Sargent snow plow sales brochure from the Cole Transportation Museum in Bangor, Maine. “That helped a lot,” he says, “but it only had information on the 5- and 10-ton tractors: Mine was a 2-ton tractor. It was just not enough information.”

Then a friend suggested doing patent research. In U.S. patents, Dick found all the information he needed. “The plow runs on two sets of runners,” he says. “The outside runners when the V-blade is down and the inside runners when the blade is up.” The two long levers lift the V-blade, one side at a time, using the inside runners as a fulcrum. “The wings are lifted ‘Jack Armstrong style’ by pulling the chains,” he says. “Technically, the tractor pulls the plow rather than pushes it. It’s actually pulled by the drawbar.”

Using the picture in the ad, patent information and the measurements taken from the remains, Dick made detailed parts drawings. The drawings helped him prove that the pieces would all work together and he would only have to cut the wood once. He also had a few pieces of the original wood to go by. He even bought a lot of plow bolts, thinking he would need at least some, as there are 54 bolts in each wing. “But I was able to take apart and use 90 percent of the original hardware,” he says. “They had good stuff back then, not ‘Made in China.’”

Counter-intuitive design

Dick discovered that there are two parts to the plow’s carrying frame. The outer frame is made of two sled-type runners on a large beam attached with removable pins to both runners at the rear of the tractor. The 8-by-8-inch beam is attached to the tractor’s drawbar with a large pin. These same runners are attached to the V-plow at the trailing ends of the plow.

The second set of runners, positioned inside the first set, is attached to the outside set by pivot bolts at the rear of each. Two 8-foot oak levers are attached to the front runners with pivots and the inside set of runners with fulcrums. When the plow is pushing snow, the levers are up and the outside runners ride on the ground. When the levers are pushed down with manpower, they lift the outside runners and plow off the ground, transferring the weight to the inside runners, which then carry the total weight.

The plow is attached to the front of the tractor on each side by two large chains that keep the plow going where the tractor is headed. The tractor can be detached from the plow by pulling the three pins on the 8-by-8-inch beam, unhooking the two chains in front, then backing up the tractor. “Hooking it up is just as easy,” Dick says.

The plow has two wings, one on each side, that pivot on the front of the outside runners. A brace on each side on the rear end of the wing is attached to the rear of the runners. These hold the wings out, increasing the plow’s width. The width can be adjusted and they can be raised up to any height to scrape, high wing, or do nothing. They are raised by chains attached to the two uprights.

Designed to meet two needs

An ingenious design made the plow uniquely effective in an era when inexpensive modern hydraulics did not yet exist. “It required no attachment add-ons to the tractor,” Dick says, “and it was built from inexpensive wood and iron castings.” Still, it met the needs of a different time. “Back then, they didn’t want to completely clear the road,” Dick explains. “A lot of sled-type equipment was still being used here in 1930. This plow cleared only as much of the road as was necessary.”

In the process of researching his plow, Dick learned that the town where he lives – New Boston – purchased a plow just like his in 1929. New Boston also bought a Fordson tractor equipped with a Trackson full-track conversion kit (manufactured by Full-Crawler Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin) and a tow-behind grader at the same time. The acquisition was clearly a high priority item for New Boston. Local officials purchased snow-removal equipment at a time when the town did not yet own a fire truck.

A one-crank starter

Dick has displayed the rig at several shows and been gratified by the response. “People say they’ve never seen anything like it,” he says. He’s also put it to work at his home, with surprising results.

“Using this rig from the 1930s, I found that I could plow much more snow, wider and deeper, than I could using my Chevy 2500 with a new Minute Man plow,” he says. “The Cletrac wouldn’t spin a track where the Chevy wouldn’t even budge, even with a running start.”

Despite that, the restored relics see little action. “Starting the Cletrac is a project,” Dick admits. “If it’s cold out, I have to get a bucket of hot water to put in the radiator and let that heat up the engine a little, then use ether and some real muscle to crank it by hand. It’s a one-crank starter: one crank after another. Needless to say, it is much easier to start the Chevy.” FC

For more information:

– Dick Moody, New Boston Livery Co., P.O. Box 148, 19 Baker Ln., New Boston, NH 03070; email:

  • Published on Dec 8, 2014
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