208 West Main, Box 406 Oakland, Illinois 61943
In 1934, Mr. Clyde F. McLean Sr. of Indianapolis, Indiana, and his brother, Cleo, started building two-wheeled garden tractors. Since his father was a business man and fine mechanic and machinist (I have seen his work and it was the finest), and Clyde inherited his father's talents and skills, he had no problem in building these fine tractors.
The first tractor Clyde produced was a chain-driven machine, with cast iron drive wheels that were about 16 inches in diameter. It didn't take him long to learn that the wheels were too small. They let too much dirt get into the drive chains. He changed the diameter of the wheels to 21 inches, and this solved the problem. This McLean tractor remained unchanged for the rest of its production years which ended in 1941 or 1942. The tractor then was changed over entirely to Briggs, Clinton and Kohler 3 to 6 HP, with rubber tires. I might add that rubber-tired wheels were available after 1937-1938.
These tractors were powered by the world famous Model 92 Maytag washing machine engine. Clyde McLean Jr. told me that they employed two 'pickers' who traveled all over the country 'picking' and purchasing these Maytag engines for them. At this time, the average price they paid for these engines was five dollars apiece. These engines were cleaned and repaired, given new rings and any carburetor (or mixing valve) parts that were needed were replaced. They also replaced all gaskets and repainted the engine. The flywheel magnetos were re-charged and adjusted before they were installed on the tractor. These Maytag engines had adequate power, as they could spin the wheels under any condition.
These tractors were made to till and cultivate the soil, so several different shovel arrangements were available. They also made a front-mount sickle-bar mower, which proved to be a very useful attachment.
About 1936, the buyer was given an option. For twelve dollars extra, a back-geared Briggs & Stratton engine was available.
During 1934-1937, this country was still under the crunch of the Great Depression. Even though the economy was poor, Mr. McLean was able to sell his tractors, because the complete tractor sold for $38.00 for the first few years they were produced. Mr. McLean said they found a good market among the W.P.A. workers, since they were working and had a little money.
Mr. McLean had a very good machine shop, but had no foundry or casting facilities. He was able to make a deal with a semi-employed preacher, who had a small foundry. This preacher and foundry owner's name was Paul Smith, and he lived in Indianapolis. He made all the wheels and other castings that were used in the McLean tractors.
The name 'Universal' was established in 1930, after the fall of 'Air More Equipment,' of which Clyde and Cleo were both part owners.
In 1936 Clyde Jr. started helping his father in his shop. Since he was only sixteen years old, he could only work after school and on Saturdays.
After Clyde Jr. finished his education, he worked full time and gradually took over the engineering of the many yard and garden equipment tools that they manufactured. Under Clyde Sr.'s management, and Clyde Jr.'s shop experience, the factory expanded very fast for several years.
A new three-wheel model was developed and put into production. This tractor was a radical change, as it had one large drive-wheel in the back, and two small guide wheels in front. The best thing about this tractor was the addition of a seat, which made it a 'rider'-no more walking. Many attachments were available for this tractor, namely: a fine front-mount rotary mower and a snow blade. Later they produced a four-wheel garden tractor; a shredder; tillers; and even a utility cart. They also produced lawn mowers.
Recently I visited with Clyde F. McLean Jr. and found him and his wife very fine people. I am, indeed, in debt to him for this information.
I was fortunate to be able to purchase one of these early McLean tractors with the Model 92 Maytag engine. These McLean tractors are in great demand today, especially among Maytag collectors. Most of you know I have been an avid one for many years.