Stockton Pull-Away Tracklaying Garden Tractor


| July/August 1998



2225 North F Street Stockton, California 95205-2701

The Stockton Pull-Away was designed by Fred Lewis in the early 1940s. He worked for Holt Bros. Caterpillar at that time. Fred was a gallant old gentleman, a figure from the 'iron man' school, yet without the hard attitude. When he designed the Pull-Away in the 1940s, he was already in his 70s. He was about the same age as Daniel Best and Benjamin Holt. After their companies merged to create Caterpillar, Fred traveled a great deal, introducing tracklayers for them. Fred talked about his adventures in Russia and South America. It was sometimes thought that Fred might have been the inspiration for the 'Earthworm Tractor Company' stories that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. He could recall the early efforts to create a machine that could operate in the soft peat dirt of the Delta, and once told of an experimental machine so heavy that it actually sank and disappeared overnight.

Fred and his brother-in-law, 'Charley,' had their shop on Union Street, when they started making the Pull-Away one at a time. This accounts for the differences in the individual tractors, although many of the San Joaquin Valley farmers were known to greet each new machine they acquired with a cutting torch, a crowbar and a welder, with which to modify it according to their needs. They applied different configurations of iron and rods to fit their own farming needs. One owner put on a 55-gallon drum so he could load it with bricks and haul them up an incline to a house that was being built. One used 6' pipe to extend the tracks for better stability and traction. It was a good little work horse.

Fred made several prototypes using Wisconsin engines, about 18 to 20 of them. An agreement was reached whereby Capps Brothers, a sheet metal shop, would build the machines with an initial run of 50 units. They were always sold as products of the Pull-Away Tractor Company. This was not unusual, because Capps Brothers were primarily still steel fabricators and machinery builders, with some products, designing and building custom machines for specific purposes, as well as fabricating for others, products which would be incorporated into or sold under other sales organizations. The firm fabricated, at various times, asparagus washers, chicken cookers, gold dredger components, bulk material elevators, construction equipment, almond hullers and harvesters, sugar cane harvesters and equipment, orchard sprayers, etc. There was always the search for 'the' product. They also did millwright work, installing the railroad car damper system at the Port of Stockton. They also built harvester parts and drapers (conveyor belts), which were usually sold through Caterpillar or John Deere dealers. The Pull-Away was introduced through some of these dealers. Most of the machines were sold in the San Joaquin Valley, in California, east and west of Stockton, to truck garden farmers who raised peppers, pole tomatoes, garlic, etc. in small quantities that they sold through the produce market.

One tractor went to a mine near Volcano, California, where the tractor did various jobs in the mine, and the owner was very enthusiastic. One was sent to North Africa, among other places overseas, as samples. The various aid programs operated by the federal government after World War II attracted middlemen known as 'five percenters,' who claimed to be able to land contracts for overseas markets through the Government program. Fred had some earlier dealings with some of these individuals and nothing ever came of any samples that were shipped out.

Capps Brothers made the tractors when their own business was slow. They used only Briggs & Stratton engines on their machines, so they used Briggs on the Pull-Away as well. They also used whatever materials were handy in making the tractors, iron, tin, or cast iron. The fabrication methods and materials used reflected the capabilities of whoever happened to be building the machine and depending upon the operational demands or stresses expected for the particular part.