Allis-Chalmers Crawlers: An Impressive Track Record

Tracing the history of the Allis-Chalmers crawler and its parent companies.

| November 2016

I love crawler tractors. I’ve always been a huge fan of them. I think it’s genetic, as my grandfather bought a J-T crawler in 1918 and family members down through the line have been “cat skinners” all along, including my uncle who served with the Seabees in World War II.

The first vehicle I remember driving, at about age 9, was an Allis-Chalmers crawler. My father – a forest ranger – was discing a fire lane, and I was along for the ride. I suppose he got bored with it and offered me the controls. The feeling of irresistible power got hold of me then and has never let go. My dad worked for the Wisconsin Conservation Department, where Allis-Chalmers, one of two major tractor makers in the state (along with Case), was a featured supplier. During World War II, brands such as Cletrac and Caterpillar were also used.

I did own a crawler for a time, a 1959 John Deere 440C bulldozer, and I know that a collectible crawler is more of a commitment than a wheel tractor. They are generally too heavy for your pickup and trailer, they churn up your turf and driveway, and something always seems to be wearing out in the boggie wheels or track pins. Nevertheless, this hobby includes a dedicated group of crawler collectors.

Foundation laid by Holt, Best & Monarch

Soft bottomland soil, mud, hillsides and snow caused traditional wheel tractors to bog down. Enter the crawler tractor with its larger footprint for better flotation and decreased soil compaction. The first of these were made by the Holt and Best companies for farmers in the northern California delta country. Holt and Best eventually merged to become Caterpillar, but crawlers with many other names followed, including Monarch, which was later taken over by Allis-Chalmers.

Monarch Tractor Co. was organized in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1913. The first products were a 10 hp Lightfoot developed for the smaller farm and a 20 hp Neverslip aimed primarily at the logging industry. Production facilities were in Watertown and Berlin, Wisconsin; Passaic, New Jersey; and Brantford, Ontario, Canada. The company reorganized in 1919 as Monarch Tractors, Inc. Varied sizes were offered, powered by Beaver, Stearns and LeRoi engines. Features included patented double-tooth sprockets, link chain final drive and the use of a steering wheel, rather than levers to release drive clutches for steering. The company again reorganized in 1925 as Monarch Tractor Corp. and moved to Springfield, Illinois. Allis-Chalmers acquired Monarch in 1928.

Good timing moves new company forward

E.P Allis & Co. and Fraser & Chalmers Co. had roots going back well into the first half of the 19th century, but they did not come together as Allis-Chalmers Co. until 1901. A new trademark advertised “A-C the Company of the Four Powers – Steam, Gas, Water and Electricity.” Products included steam power plants, sawmills and mining equipment. By 1913, that diversity led to inefficiencies resulting in bankruptcy and the appointment of a receiver, one Brig. Gen. Otto H. Falk, who was retired from service in the Wisconsin National Guard.