The opening page from a surviving product catalog for the Golden Gate tractor, date unknown. It's interesting to note the address at the bottom is actually a paper slip glued over the original page. Under the slip the words 'McLaughlin Manufacturing Co.' are just visible.
Never heard of the Golden Gate Gas Tractor Co. of Berkeley, Calif.? Don't feel too bad, because until recently, neither had we. And truth told, we found out about the company almost by accident.
While researching the history of steam tractor manufacturer McLaughlin Manufacturing Co. for sister publication Iron-Men Album (see Iron-Men Album, May/June 2002, page 14), I received an e-mail from Ed McLaughlin, the grandson of McLaughlin Manufacturing Co. founder Dennis W. McLaughlin. Filling me in on what he knew of Dennis McLaughlin's steam tractor business, Ed casually mentioned that Dennis, after going out of the steam tractor business, went on to manufacture gas-powered tractors under the name of the Golden Gate Gas Tractor Co.
A search through various reference sources failed to find even a single mention of the company, and never having heard of the Golden Gate Gas Tractor Co. I wanted to know more.
Golden Gate Tractors
Like its predecessor, McLaughlin Manufacturing Co., Golden Gate Gas Tractor Co. was a small-scale manufacturer, and the company's launch was clearly a reaction to the waning influence of steam tractors in the agricultural market. The McLaughlin Manufacturing Co., which is thought to have launched sometime around 1902 or 1903, was likely in business for less than five years - and is thought to have made as few as five steam tractors.
From surviving patents (six, to date) we know that Dennis McLaughlin was an inventive man. In 1903 he received patents for a traction wheel and a steering mechanism for steam tractors, and he employed those designs in the construction of his own steam tractors. In response to the increasing importance of smaller tractors in the market, he continued his pursuit to further refine the tractive capacity of tractors in various conditions, and on July 4, 1916 he was awarded a patent for a traction wheel for 'small' tractors.
A surviving copy of McLaughlin's 1916 patent shows it was submitted in 1913, a year before the incorporation of the Golden Gate Gas Tractor Co. We know from a surviving embossing stamp in the possession of Ed McLaughlin that Golden Gate Gas Tractor Co. formally incorporated Feb. 24, 1914.
A Golden Gate tractor working an orchard, date unknown. The traction wheels are Golden Gate founder Dennis W. McLaughlin's own patented design, which he tried unsuccessfully to get Ford to use on its Fordson.
A Golden Gate tractor pulling a road grader, date unknown. Just visible on the grader are the words, 'Built By M. Haynes, Visalia, Cal. Pat. Applied For.' Visalia lies midway between Fresno and Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley.
We don't know how many tractors were made, nor precisely where. A surviving product catalog lists an address of Carlton St. at 7th, Berkeley, Calif. Current Berkeley street maps show a 'Carleton' St., but no 'Carlton' St., but it's believed these are one and the same. This would put the Golden Gate Gas Tractor works a few blocks east of the San Francisco Bay in far west Berkeley - just east of present day Interstate 580 and within the general area of the original McLaughlin Manufacturing Co. Interestingly, the address printed on that surviving catalog is a paper slip pasted over the words 'McLaughlin Manufacturing Co.,' suggesting the Golden Gate Gas Tractor was originally conceived as a complement to the original manufacturing concern.
This photo shows a Fordson Model F equipped with McLaughlin traction wheels. Dennis W. McLaughlin supposedly campaigned hard to get Ford to use his traction wheels on Fordson tractors, apparently with little success.
A close examination of the picture shows a sign in the upper left center with the words 'Fordson Tractor,' suggesting this photo was shot at a Fordson dealership in the Berkeley area.
Surviving photographs in the possession of Ed McLaughlin present some interesting details. A close look at the tractor shows a pulley drive coming straight off the front of the engine crankshaft - not a particularly convenient location, since it required whatever device being belted to also be the adjustment point for belt alignment and tension. Apparently this arrangement was dropped, as it doesn't appear in any other photographs. Further examination shows the tractors used a 4-cylinder engine featuring cylinders cast in pairs and mounted on a common crankcase, common practice for the time. The engine was likely outsourced, as it's highly doubtful a company this small would have manufactured its own engines when there were many proven engines readily available from a variety of manufacturers.
On this point, however, it's interesting to note that the surviving product catalog refers to the engine as a '4-cylinder, 4-cycle, vertical, of the automobile type, fitted with automatic governor.' Note the reference to 'automobile' type. Under the heading of 'specifications' (of which precious few are actually given), the surviving catalog cites a horsepower rating of 40 based on the A.L.A.M. rating, which might suggest the engine used was sourced from an automotive manufacturer.
Short for Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers, the A.L.A.M. ratings first appeared around 1908 and were used by automotive manufacturers to give comparative horsepower ratings. In computing horsepower, the A.L.A.M. rating compared bore, the number of cylinders and running speed, but not stroke. The A.L.A.M. rating was not, it appears, an engineering formula. Interestingly, a look at Brake Horsepower Ratings (BHP) versus A.L.A.M. ratings from the period suggests the A.L.A.M. ratings to have been fairly accurate, if a bit conservative.
To further confuse the issue of power, the catalog also calls the Golden Gate Gas Tractor a 20 HP machine. It is unknown if these different references constitute a distinction between belt horsepower and drawbar horsepower, but that's the only logical conclusion. A look at these tractors makes it clear their intended use was on the drawbar, not the belt, and this may explain why the majority of horsepower citations (four in all) are for 20 HP.
A look at surviving photographs makes it clear that Golden Gate Gas Tractors were designed with orchard farmers in mind. Weighing in at a claimed 3,800 lbs., these tractors were 12-feet, 6-inches long, 4-feet, 10-inches tall and 4-feet, 2-inches wide. Clearly these tractors were not designed with breaking the prairie in mind. Considering their California heritage and the importance of orchard farming of one stripe or another in that part of the country, this comes as no great surprise.
Also evident in the photographs is the patented traction wheel designed by McLaughlin, and it's interesting to ponder the thought McLaughlin might have launched his gas tractor concern as a platform for his traction wheel. According to Ed McLaughlin, Dennis was keen to get other manufacturers to pick up on his design. Ed remembers his grandmother, Dennis' wife, telling him that Dennis spent a considerable amount of time trying to interest Ford in using his wheels on the Fordson tractor.
That bit of information helps to explain the photograph, which shows an early Fordson Model F equipped with McLaughlin traction wheels. A close examination of the photograph shows a sign on a building bearing the words, 'Fordson Tractor.' Additionally, another surviving photograph also shows a Fordson Model F equipped with McLaughlin's wheels, this time churning up dust while evidently roaring through an orchard.
A copy of Dennis McLaughlin's July 4, 1916 patent for his 'improved' traction wheel for small tractors. His application was filed May 26, 1913. The Golden Gate Gas Tractor Co. was incorporated February 24, 1914.
For now, this is about all we know of the Golden Gate Gas Tractor Co. There are no known surviving tractors, and Ed McLaughlin has been unable to locate any company records. And while Ed is actively searching for more information on his grandfather's company, it's possible the history of the Golden Gate Gas Tractor Co. stops here. With any luck a surviving tractor will be found, and given the resourcefulness of tractor collectors and hobbyists, that's not too unlikely a prospect.
Richard Backus is editor of Gas Engine Magazine. Contact Ed McLaughlin at: 13362 Montagne Dr., Santa Ana, CA 92705-2016, or e-mail: EHMcLaughlin@aol.com