Let's Talk Rusty Iron

A Cletrac CO-OP?

| July 2005

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.