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
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
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
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
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
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
Richard Backus is editor of Gas Engine Magazine. Contact Ed
McLaughlin at: 13362 Montagne Dr., Santa Ana, CA 92705-2016, or