Learning by Chance

By Staff

I’m constantly amazed to discover just how much historical information concerning vintage engines and equipment is still out there waiting to be discovered and shared.

A case in point is the Beetle tractor, a mini dozer manufactured by Western Gear Works in Seattle, Washington, from 1946-1948. Designed for the U.S. Forest Service for building trails and general use, the Beetle was small enough to fit in the back of a pickup truck, but powerful enough to do real work thanks to its 61-cubic-inch Waukesha 4-cylinder engine.

Until recently, I’d never heard of the Beetle, a not particularly surprising fact given its rarity and the small number built. My education began after receiving a phone call from Robert Janyk, an estate settler with a penchant for preserving old literature. Settling unclaimed estate property, Robert routinely comes across materials of no immediate or obvious monetary value, materials like a manila Western Gear Works inter-office envelope he sent me containing memos, photographs and mimeographed materials relating to the Beetle tractor.

Over the years, we’ve published several mentions of the Beetle, including a 1998 article by John Lindner following his purchase of Beetle tractor serial number 154, and a 1999 article by Gary Bural, who found a Beetle in Port Orchard, Washington, and subsequently restored it. Convinced that someone somewhere would want the envelope and its contents, Robert had conducted a little research, which led him to GEM. As you’ll read in Flywheel Forum, we heard from several readers interested in the materials following our posting of their availability last issue, eventually passing them on to regular subscriber and collector Marv Hedberg in Minnesota.

The surprise in all of this has been the opportunity not only to learn about an obscure little dozer I never knew existed, but to discover the wealth of knowledge related to the machine and its development. Marv himself knows as much about the Beetle as anyone, owning not just a Beetle tractor, but a prototype grader developed from the Beetle tractor. And a hidden page at www.rokonworld.com (www.rokonworld.com/trailbeetle/beetle.html), found only through a keyword search and not listed anywhere on the site’s main page, gives a full accounting of the Beetle’s history, complete with brochures, serial numbers, an original concept drawing and much more.

The deeper you dig, the more you find, discovering the Beetle’s inspiration in the Clark Airborne Crawler, a military mule designed in World War II to be air transported to remote installations to build and repair airfields. That tractor spawned a generation of mini-dozers, including the Beetle, the Mead Speedcat, the Agricat and more. It’s a fascinating little corner of the old iron world, one that, like many, is often discovered simply by chance.

Richard Backus

Gas Engine Magazine
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Preserving the History of Internal Combustion Engines