145 Amapola Pacifica, California 94044
The phone rang. My friend Bill Cox, a retired paving contractor, asked if I wanted a steam roller and two engine-compressor units. As usual, my curiosity and enthusiasm went into high gear. I next found myself looking at a two-ton roller and two large engines that, try as I might, I just couldn't figure a use for. It is always difficult to pass up such goodies.
However, between these mechanical potentials, and overshadowed by them, was a small, nondescript crawler tractor. Now this was worth jumping over the fence for to take a look at! Little did I know that I had just jumped into three years of dedicated research and trouble.
After locating the owner (not Bill), and after much on-again, off-again negotiating, I bought the tractor with the stipulation that it would run. It did. Barely. I now owned a new piece of old iron.
The brass plaque on the dash announced it to be a 'Beetle Tractor,' a Pacific Western Gear Works Product of Western Gear Works, Seattle, serial number 154, Model W-2. It is powered by a four-cylinder Waukesha gas engine.
But where would I find information? Information on the engine was no problem, but the tractor itself was another story. Phone calls to Western Gear Works in Seattle proved to be a dead end, as were most other leads.
Then a miracle happened! A tractor-nut friend of mine, Carter Provo, showed me an article from a September 1949 issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine about a tractor and tractor-like machines designed and made by the U.S. Forest Service in Portland, Oregon, for fighting forest fires. There in the article was a picture and some information about my Beetle!
Also, a picture was located in Vintage Garden Tractors, a book by Dave Baas, with the notation 'no additional information currently.' Not much help, but now I knew that at least one more of these tractors existed.
From the Popular Mechanics article, I learned that the Forest Service had a Regional Equipment Laboratory at Portland, Oregon. After many calls to the F.S., starting in San Francisco, and many fruitless calls to the F.S. in the Portland area, I hit pay dirt!
Talking to a mechanical engineer in Portland, when asking about the developing lab and the Beetle tractor, I learned that the lab has been closed down for years, but that he might have some information about the Beetle. He said he would call back. Indeed, he did. He was most helpful. He was even able to furnish me with a copy of the original fifty-page shop manual.
The shop notes indicate that there were twenty tractors made, but I think the notes are incomplete because my tractor, number 154, is not listed. They all appear to have Waukesha four-cylinder ICK gas engines.
The shop manual states the following about the Beetle: 'it is a small, rugged, track layer, equipped with a hydraulic operated dozer blade; it is more economical to operate, store, transport and service than larger machines, and, due to its extreme maneuverability, can out-work and out-perform them in many types of work.
'Originally designed for building trails,' states the manual, 'trenching on rough ground along steep slopes, the Beetle is especially adapted to farming, landscaping, spreading top soil, backfilling and light concrete work. Distribution of weight has been carefully considered in the Beetle design. Its low center of gravity permits it to be used on side slopes up to 50%. With a total weight of only 1,850 lbs., it may be easily transported with a -ton pickup truck.'
From the manual:
'The Beetle is made in two models the narrow gauge and the wide gauge. Both models have the same engine, clutch, and transmissions, differing only in the width of blade, width of tracks, and the distance from the out-side-to-outside of the tracks.' Still from the manual:
4-cylinder, 4-cycle, liquid cooled
61 cubic inches
15BHP at 1900RPM
40 ft. lbs.
7-gal. capacity, gravity feed to carburetor through porous stone filter
Electric Starter, Generator, Hydraulic Oil Pump for Dozer Power, Air Cleaner and Muffler
Flyball type built into motor with friction type hand control for variable speed setting.
'The Beetle does not have a frame in the ordinary sense of the word. Its 'backbone' is formed by rigidly bolting the engine, clutch housing, transmission, and steering differential into one unit. A leaf spring mounted on the underside of the clutch housing transfers the weight of the engine to the frame of the track assembly on each side. The final drive assemblies, which mount the final drive sprockets, are attached to each side of the steering differential housing. The final drive housings also mount the dead axle on which is mounted the track frame and the pivot point of the bulldozer blade. A wishbone ties the engine and the front tow hook to the dead axle. The seat post is bolted to the rear of the transmission. The draw bar fastens directly to the dead axle.'
Width, outside-to-outside of tracks
Overall length, cutting edge to back seat
Width of blade at cutting edge
Height of blade
Length of track on ground
Width of track plates
Weight of tractor, bare
Approximately 1,600 lbs.
Weight of tractor with dozer
Approximately 1,850 lbs.
Speed with motor Turning 1,900 RPM:
Draw Bar Full
Draw Bar Horsepower
All drawing parts (two transmissions, two clutches, differential) seem to be off-the-shelf Clark Equipment Parts.
It is interesting to note how the Forest Service viewed the patenting of the machines they developed. When a machine was developed and approved by the Equipment Laboratory in Portland, it was blueprinted and patented in the name of the United States. That meant that the patent rights were open to anyone. For any person definitely interested in manufacturing one of the inventions, the Portland Equipment Lab had blueprints available and would give all help possible.
These Beetle tractors traveled far a field. One company in Seattle had manufactured the powerful Beetle for other uses. There were Beetles sent to Canada, French Equatorial Africa, as well as to our national forests. And on the east coast, they lowered Beetles into coal barges to scrape the last few tons of coal.
The original engine of my tractor was bored 0.03' oversized and tired. However, I was fortunate to find a used Waukesha engine that was in good condition and standard in specifications. As of this writing, I have checked all sizes and tolerances, and Ed O'Sullivan, my genius mechanical neighbor, volunteered to grind the valves and valve seats, and I have cleaned the motor inside and out.
One main problem that I had and did not realize: Oren Nevins, a Kansas prairie electronics savior, discovered that the distributor cap was marked for a different firing order than the firing order of this Waukesha engine. As of now, I have reassembled and installed the engine into the tractor and, in the very near future, will fire it up.
Since this metal monster of mine is so different and has such an unusual history, I would be interested to hear from anyone else who has one and what sport they have had with it.