| February 2003

Research sheds new light on Cleveland-made tractor

The Cleveland Tractor Co. is justly famous for its long line of tracked, crawler tractors. Conventional wisdom among rusty iron aficionados has it that, in addition to Cletrac crawlers, the firm made just one model of wheeled tractor, the little, three-wheeled General GG, built from about 1939 until some time in 1942. However, it seems that another wheeled tractor also called a General was built by the Cleveland Tractor Co. works starting about 1929.

In 1994, Larry Walker of Ravenna, Ohio, visited a junk dealer in Jefferson, in northeastern Ohio, looking for a plow and cultivator for a John Deere H. He found the plow and cultivator, but also in the yard sat an unusual, little tractor. The serial number tag that read, 'The General Tractor Co. Cleveland, Ohio. Serial No. D-240. Made in U.S.A. Patents Pending.' Larry was intrigued and bought the tractor. The dealer was very close-mouthed about where and how he came to have the machine, only saying that it had once been used in a vineyard in Kingsville, Ohio, not far from Lake Erie.

Research turned up very little information about the tractor and even less about the General Tractor Co. The 1929 issue of the Tractor Field Book has a picture of a General Model D, made by the General Tractor Co. of Bellevue, Ohio, a town some 70 miles west of Cleveland. The Model D in the picture is obviously identical to Walker's General. A picture in the I & T book, Farm Tractors 1926-1956, shows the same tractor, identified as a General 10-12 and manufactured by the General Tractor Co. of Cleveland between 1928 and 1931. A 1930 buyer's guide lists the tractor as well. Tractor researcher C.H. Wendel makes no mention of the General in his Encyclopedia of American Farm Tractors, nor does R.B. Gray in The Agricultural Tractor 1855-1950.

Two patents exist, however, one for the steering mechanism and another for the unique wheel mounting of the General tractor, both issued in 1931 (although they were filed in September of 1927) to Rollin White, the owner of the Cleveland Tractor Co. No patent for the tractor itself can be found under White's name, although he has many patents for the crawler tractors he built under the Cletrac name. The trade name 'General' was registered with the patent office on Feb. 19, 1929, by the General Tractor Co. of Cleveland, which claimed to have used the name since Oct. 1, 1927.

Adding to the confusion is the 1919 listing in an old book for the Ohio General Tractor Co., 719 Citizens Building, Cleveland. Its tractor apparently was called the Ohio General, but no other information about the firm or its tractor can be found, so it's unknown whether Rollin White was involved in that venture.

Larry found an original sales brochure for the General tractor that's dated 1929. The brochure shows the tractor in action, using implements made by the Ohio Cultivator Co. of Bellevue and gives the price as $550. The brochure also lists the General Tractor Co. at 19300 Euclid Ave., which would have been 'right next door' to the Cleveland Tractor Co., which was at 19340 Euclid Ave. in Cleveland, with the sales office at Bellevue.